The warming weather and sunny skies have everyone eager for summer. Many of us are looking forward to the smell of a campfire, the sound of wind rustling through the trees, and the taste of roasted marshmallows. These are all sensations many Albertans have experienced and enjoyed. Get ready to pay more for that experience this summer.

The Alberta government has introduced an increase in user fees for campsites for 2021. According to a Global News article from March 4, “In the Alberta budget tabled Feb. 25, the province is raising camping fees by $1 to $3 in 2021-22.” A Daily Hive article notes, “As outlined on the Alberta Parks’ website, camping fees vary by site and services. There is a $12 non-refundable booking fee for every reservation in addition to nightly costs. Basic sites run from $8 to $29 per night, while hookups such as water, sewer, or electricity each add another $8 per night.”

After a year that has put a strain on nearly everyone’s income, an increase of even a few dollars will be heavily felt, and it will be felt the most by low-income Albertans who will see one of the few low-cost activities get more expensive. This comes at a time when record numbers of Albertans are unemployed or recovering from lost work due to the pandemic. Insurance rates have increased, cost of living has increased, and the prospect of even more job losses is on the horizon. 

As a kid, camping was one of the few family activities we could afford to do as a family because my mom single-handedly raised two kids. I treasure those camping memories when we were able to get out of town together. We couldn’t afford long hotel stays or plane tickets, so all we had was camping. I remember a summer when the fees for camping had increased. My mom didn’t know about it ahead of time so when we arrived, she was upset. When you are a low-income household, even a small increase makes a big impact on your budget. My mom told us we could only stay three days instead of five. We were justifiably upset, as kids can be, that our one summer vacation trip was being cut short. I remember the pained look on my mom’s face as she told us the news, her eyes slightly watery from tears.

Raising camping fees without a way for low-income Albertans to offset the extra cost is a slap in the face to many Albertans already dealing with reduced incomes due to the pandemic. The justification is increased maintenance costs, but that doesn’t fly when a government can fund a “war room”to protect the oil and gas industry, and spend another $1.5 billion in preferred equity investment, with a $6 billion loan guarantee on a pipeline gamble they lost. It is hard, then, to accept this government can’t find a way to keep camping costs at the same rate. 

The UCP are estimating the increase in camping fees will bring in an additional $20 million in 2021, but the numbers don’t add up, even when factoring in the exceptionally high use we saw in 2020. Many provinces offer discounted camping rates for low-income residents. Our neighbouring province, British Columbia, offers lower rates for seniors and those with a disability. We should be offering a similar program here, not increasing costs. The Leisure Access Pass program gives low-income Edmontonians access to the city’s recreation centres and pools at a discounted rate. This could be used as a framework for all low-income Albertans, including seniors, those on disability support, and single parents like my mom.Studies have confirmed, time and time again, that being in the outdoors and connecting with nature has huge benefits for our physical and mental health. We hear the constant refrain of how important mental health is and yet those very same people are making it more difficult to access one of the key things we need for that good mental health. All Albertans should be able to easily and respectfully enjoy the natural world at low to no cost. For those of us who live in the city, it is even more important to reconnect with the natural world. It is ours, and it is there for us to explore, experience, and enjoy.