The Strathcona Dam campground (at the tip of the peninsula between the spillway on the right and the outlet from the dam on the left) will be closed and relocated to ‘Little America’ above and on the approach to the dam. Photo: BC Hydro

BC Hydro to relocate popular Campbell River-area campground to ‘Little America’

Immediately below the tallest dam on Vancouver Island – Strathcona Dam – is a recreation site that consists of 11 campsites and an overflow camping area.

BC Hydro is looking to close the recreation site and replace it with a similar site upstream of the dam on the Upper Campbell Reservoir by 2020.

BC Hydro is working on the proposed Strathcona Dam Water Discharge Upgrade Project that may begin construction in early 2021. The project includes a new low level outlet, developed through an open cut channel into the rock, that will go deep into the reservoir to allow for water level drawdown in a post-earthquake scenario.

Hydro will also move the function of the three spillway gates at Strathcona Dam, operated for flood risk management conditions, to the new outlet.

“The existing campground site will become a designated construction zone for the project that will be ongoing for a period of years,” says BC Hydro spokesperson, Stephen Watson. “But before we permanently close the campground we are looking to develop – and have operational – a similar style campsite, though with better views of the watershed, on the Upper Campbell Reservoir.”

Watson added another reason for closing the existing campground was that, until the dam is upgraded, it is at risk of failure following a major earthquake.

BC Hydro says it looked at 22 potential sites. The approximate 30 criteria used to select a site ranged from cost, the ability for the new campsite to be safely developed with adequate setback from reservoir operations, potential community support as an acceptable alternative, being close to Highway 28 for easy access, close to BC Hydro’s facilities at Strathcona Dam, provision of continued free camping, and having attractive and spacious sites with good views.

At the end of 2017, BC Hydro landed on two potential sites that could suitably be re-developed into a BC Hydro recreation site.

“We then held some meetings in January and February to collect feedback from TimberWest, BC Parks, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, and the Strathcona Regional District, and found the formerly-known Little America site was the best location. It was an informal and unauthorised site created by people that was subsequently closed down by us and TimberWest in 2015. The local government and agency representatives preferred this site that was also our preferred site, so it was good we were on the same page, and of course, we will create a new name for the recreation site.”

Consultations with First Nations continue.

BC Hydro formally introduced the campground relocation issue with their community liaison committee, with about two-dozen agency, local government and stakeholder representatives, on Feb. 28. The response was positive.

“We conducted a thorough search and arrived at a preferred location, though we may consider another location on the Upper Campbell Reservoir if brought forward and that it’s suitable,” says Watson. “In looking ahead, we are planning to confirm the former Little America site by this summer. This all leads to concurrently having the new campsite up and running and the existing campsite site closed off in 2020.”

The Strathcona Dam campground was created in 1996 and is used year-round with about 30,000 visitors per year.

People are encouraged to enquire or provide comment on the new campsite location to steve.watson@bchydro.com or 1-250-755-4795.