Park Once campaign at Ontario Provincial Parks

Park once when you go car camping and don’t get into your car until you leave to go home. Doesn’t this sound like a good idea? I love the idea…sad thing is, it’s best suited to people who think camping is parking a monstrous motor home in a lovely bit of nature. Or maybe just those who camp smarter than we do?

Car with canoe on roofrack
I'm talking about car-camping, in this case. Here's our car, with our trusty hand-me-down canoe, being trussed before departure earlier this month. We don't have a trailer, so it all has to fit in here.

That includes: tent, tarp, canoe, lifejackets, sleeping bags and thermarests, clothes and swimming stuff, food and cooking items, water, a very few beach toys, whatever we’re reading, and I think that’s about it. By the time we tie the canoe on (and boy do we tie it on compared to many folks, but that’s another story), that’s it – don’t think about asking for anything back there until we’ve unloaded and set up camp. We’re still pretty old fashioned in our camping – it’s just us and the bugs when we’re cooking or enjoying the campfire. (We do look at people eating in their little bugnet “kitchens” enviously when it’s really buggy – I don’t know where we’d put one though!)

While it’s possible to pack all that we need to eat and drink during a five-day camping trip in this scenario, it’s tight. Running out of milk or realizing that we could really do with some more fruit is not uncommon.

Anyway, registering at our site at Bonnechere Provincial Park this year was the first time I noticed the Park Once campaign (which may well have been introduced before this year, as I’m notorious for missing the boat on these things, but I think it’s fairly new). Now, assuming that you don’t plan to do anything during your trip that isn’t actually at the Park or have other, non-motorized means of getting around (eg bikes or canoe), this is certainly a very workable idea. We didn’t even try to do it on this trip as several day trips in the immediate region were a big part of our plan and necessitated using the car. But, I really chewed this one over and wondered if we could do it in future for a trip of similar length.

Here are the things that I can see that make it impossible to do this properly for people outfitted in the way that we are for camping of this kind:
1. Firewood. We just don’t have room in the vehicle for a stick when we arrive, never mind two bags of firewood. The kind folks at Bonnechere told me that someone could deliver the wood to our site, but of course that person would be driving, which sort of defeats the purpose. What I really wanted to do was to be able to buy our wood at the park store, which at Bonnechere is at the beach. We always get a riverside site, and so canoeing to and from the beach is a daily occurence and it would be easy to get firewood back to the campsite in this way. I left the suggestion in my Comments form.

2. Park store hours. Which brings me to my second point. Store hours at the parks are not the same across the board and Bonnechere, we found (after having been away for several years), has quite restricted hours from Monday to Thursday (closing at four in the afternoon). Not end of the world stuff, but hardly helpful when you are asking people to stay put.

3. Park store inventory. Once again, not all provincial parks are created equal in Ontario, and some of them don’t carry anything resembling food, just junk and coffee. This is certainly true at Bonnechere. Other parks sell bread, milk, eggs, hot dogs, condiments and such like. I’d like to know what would prevent the parks from stocking good basics and making the focus on them local and healthy. Being able to pick up fruit instead of candy bars would be A-MAZ-ING. When I asked someone at Bonnechere about this, they hesitated and said that they couldn’t compete too much with other local businesses, which seemed like a dumb answer to me. “Bring on the milk from Brum’s and some local strawberries!” is what I wanted to shout.

4. Weather. If I’m honest, bad weather would make it difficult for us to stick to ‘parking once’ at our campsite. I love an overnight or early morning thunderstorm, and have some great memories of my children when they were younger playing in the rivulets of mud tracking around our picnic table in a downpour, but if it were to rain all day, we’d want to skedaddle and go do something as staying out in it or in our tent all day does not help with building family-wide sanity. On this past trip we were blessed with gorgeous weather and only had one day when we awoke to a fantastic thunderstorm. We went into Killaloe for breakfast and enjoyed a bit of time exploring Barry’s Bay before returning to enjoy the beach after it had dried up.

So, I’ve shared my comments with staff at one particular park and submitted them in the form that Ontario Provincial Parks provides on each visit. I can’t find anything about the program itself on their website, so I can’t even point to it here (or verify how new the program is – I’m pretty sure it is brand new this year). I also took the opportunity to point out that a coffee station that is entirely based on disposing massive amounts of plastic is not really a good idea and hope that others have done the same. (Seriously, single use plastic pots that hold the coffee/tea/hot chocolate, and then zillions of mini plastic milk and creamers? I felt like I was in a stale office or boardroom, not at a park devoted to preserving nature.)

We’re still committed to doing more bike camping as it’s more in the spirit of what camping is all about in terms of the energy expended and the footprint made to enjoy it, but it is a treat to take our canoe and visit more distant parks once in a while. Maybe next time we’ll see if we really can just park once.

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