A group of seasonal campers at Nopiming Provincial Park says a private campground operator is charging high fees and Manitoba Conservation has turned a blind eye to it, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
Jim Ilasewich, spokesman for the Caribou Lake Seasonal Siteholders Association, said Tuesday (Aug. 30) the province allows private contractors that operate campgrounds in provincial parks to charge whatever fees they want without requiring them to provide any of the traditional campsite services such as potable water or washroom facilities.
“It’s hard to deal with government,” Ilasewich said. “If they reply (to your complaints), they say the private operators can do whatever they want and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.”
Ilasewich and his friends have seasonal campsites at Caribou Landing on Quesnel Lake, north of Winnipeg. Ilasewich has been going there since 1970 and some of his friends have been there since 1958. There are two other seasonal campsites in the park, at Beresford Lake and Black Lake, both of which are operated by Conservation. Seasonal fees are much lower.
Ilasewich said the association began protesting the high fees in 2000, when the former private operator raised the seasonal fee to $1,000 from $270. The seasonal campers protested to the province, pointing out the Provincial Parks Act capped fees for private operators at an amount double that charged by the province.
Ilasewich said the province ignored their complaints. They took them to the provincial ombudsman, who sided with the seasonal campers in a 2004 ruling. The province then refunded each of the 25 seasonal campers about $2,120 — a total refund of $53,000 — but later amended the legislation to allow private operators to set their own rates.
Ilasewich said a new contractor took over the site in 2010 and increased the annual fee to $1,522 from $1,000 and suggested it would climb to $2,100 next year.
“It seems that the government has no regard for the average Manitoban and has given complete control of this lake to the private sector even though this is… in a provincial park.”
Ilasewich said the former and current private contractors have not provided any amenities to the campers that weren’t put there by the province, adding the campers cleared the sites and maintain them.
Peter Slobodzian, the private contractor who operates the seasonal campground at Quesnel Lake, said he does provide amenities to the campers but refused to elaborate.
“This is free enterprise and it will be free enterprise,” Slobodzian said.
A Conservation department spokeswoman said private contractors determine their own fees. The spokeswoman said the Provincial Parks Act was amended in 2004 following the ruling by the provincial ombudsman because the government disagreed with the ombudsman’s interpretation of the legislation.