BC Hydro and TimberWest are “glamping” down on Little America.
BC Hydro and TimberWest property along the shoreline of Upper Campbell Reservoir has been used for years by unauthorized campers, turning the areas into DIY-enhanced recreational sites.
Both landowners have encouraged people to use the managed campsites elsewhere around the watershed, including those operated by BC Parks and Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.
But the unauthorized camping in two areas has grown to be a problem, according to BC Hydro.
The locations are known by locals as Little America – near a wooden trestle – and Eagle Point, which is between Strathcona Park Lodge and the Highway 28 bridge over Buttle Narrows.
“BC Hydro is aware of the informal camping and we deal with the odd camping or squatters issue from time to time when it becomes problematic, but we were very surprised this summer to see the amount of roads and campsites along the shores of the reservoir,” says BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson. “We thought it was a handful of campers. But over the last 10 years or so it has grown to about 60 campsites and perhaps 150 or more people on weekends in the four areas of Little America. We’ve never seen it to this extent.”
This summer and fall Watson spoke to some of the people, many of them from Campbell River, and the vast majority of the campsites appear to be set up in the spring and taken down in the fall.
People are staying at one campsite location for months at a time.
The majority of the sites are now vacant.
“There are perhaps a handful that seem to stay there as some sites look to have been occupied for years,” says Watson. “By and large the users seem to be somewhat coordinated, with even a sewage truck coming bi-weekly. However, this has become a large liability to BC Hydro. This includes wildfire risks, improper grey water disposal, fuel spills, to inundation of belongings and equipment when the reservoir level increases from the fall storms. It’s causing damage to our property.
“This unauthorized and uncontrolled clearing and use of our land is not something we can allow.”
The Eagle Point site has about 40 campsites, bring the total unauthorised campsite to about 100 (including Little America). Watson said BC Hydro and TimberWest have worked together over the years to close off other areas around Upper Campbell Lake. BC Hydro owns the land along the reservoir shoreline and TimberWest the inland areas and road networks. About three-quarters of the campers appear to be on BC Hydro property.
“People are camping for free but as the property owner it isn’t free as there are impacts,” says Watson.
The extent of the situation came to light in June when BC Hydro, TimberWest and drinking water authorities met to visit the areas.
The Campbell River system is the source of domestic water supply for the City of Campbell River and areas of the Strathcona Regional District.
“In talking to some of the campers it seems people started going there years ago and over time friends and family started to expand the camping areas,” says Watson. “With no one really stopping them, it went from there. Now it’s a significant campsite. We decided to wait this summer until the season was over and then permanently close off these areas. TimberWest and BC Hydro will discuss things over the winter to see if TimberWest would consider managing one of the main Little America sites, with camping fees, for the May to September period.”
Watson says BC Hydro is unable to manage these unauthorized recreation sites because of limited resources and budget.
He pointed out Hydro already has year-round and free campsites below Strathcona Dam.
TimberWest and BC Hydro are sharing the cost to install gates, post signage, and remove any belongings from the land that are still there past Dec. 9.
“The signage will be in place on Oct. 27 and the gates, left in the open position, will be installed a week later,” says TimberWest’s Oyster River Operations Forester, Bill Grutzmacher. “The signs will essentially say that occupants have six weeks’ notice to remove their belongings.
“The gates will be placed not on the main hauling road but where these side roads are located that lead down to the reservoir.
“In some areas the roads will be decommissioned by ditching and rock placement, like we’ve done in the past. The gates will be closed on Dec. 9.”