Prices for visiting New Brunswick’s provincial parks, along with campsite and cabin fees, are increasing this year — and in some cases doubling.
The province is also introducing a tiered pricing system.
“It doesn’t seem like a fair system,” said Salma Burney, a moderator on the Camping New Brunswick Facebook group, which has about 19,500 members. She also co-owns a private campground.
Burney said she’s seen nothing but frustration in response to the cost increases at provincial parks.
“If they’re owned by taxpayers, then why do taxpayers have to pay twice as much to use something where their tax dollars have gone to?”
For example, renting the Maple heritage cabin at Mount Carleton Provincial Park used to cost $113.04 a night in August. Renting that same cabin during the same month this year will cost $225, almost double, and that doesn’t include taxes.
Seasonal rates are also going up.
A seasonal RV campsite with electricity at Mactaquac Provincial Park cost $1,652.17 in 2022. This year prices vary between $2,000 and $3,250, depending on water and sewage availability and the type of electrical hookup requested. Again, those prices don’t include tax.
Park entrance fees are increasing by 50 per cent, from $8.70 to $13.04, plus taxes.
And at Parlee Beach Provincial Park, a fee designated for beach maintenance that is tacked onto the entrance fee is increasing by 66 per cent, going from $2.61 to $4.35, taxes extra.
The province has also proposed raising some of these fees annually until at least 2025.
New Brunswick is introducing high-season and low-season rates this year. According to the province’s website, May 19-22 this year and July 1 to Sept. 4 are considered high season.
It means that camping sites will cost about 25 per cent more during those summer months and the May long weekend compared to the rest of the year.
Visiting Sugarloaf Provincial Park and using an unserviced campsite, a site designated for pitching a tent without electricity or water, will cost $24 during the low season. But during the high season the cost of that same spot will jump to $30.
A site for a night at New River Beach with access to a 50-amp electrical outlet and sewer hook-up will cost $44 a night in June, but increases to $55 a night in July.
“I was a bit shocked to say the least,” said Matt Richard, who has had a seasonal spot at Mactaquac Provincial Park for his family’s camper the last two years.
He said his family has loved their time at the park, but watching prices increase is a tough pill to swallow when services haven’t improved.
“Everything is going up, but to go from $1,750 to now $2,250 and you still have no sewer hook-up, that’s a drastic increase.”
He said he expects he and his family will only get a camping spot for the occasional weekend this summer and will likely pass on the seasonal camping.
“Camping is one of those nice things that is an affordable thing to do with the family,” Burney said. “It shouldn’t be cost prohibitive, but now they’re putting it in a level where, you know, the lower-income people can’t just enjoy a simple camping trip with their family.”
Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace would not be interviewed about the fees. Instead, spokesperson Mark Taylor sent a statement about what the fee increases pay for.
He cited new accessible family washroom buildings at several campgrounds, upgraded and winterized shelters, “significant capital improvements to power/sewage/water services onsite” at the largest campgrounds and “an accessible playground, washrooms, family area and other infrastructure at Parlee Beach.”
That email also said, “many of the new spring/fall rates are lower than the previous rate for the entire camping season.”
As a comparison, an unserviced tent site at Mactaquac Provincial Park cost $26.96 last year. This year that same site will cost $2 less outside the high season. But between July 1 and Sept. 4, and the May long weekend, it will cost $30, or $3 more than last year, not including taxes.
Burney said creating a price tier between July and September precisely targets when kids are out of school for the summer and family vacations begin. She worries that could mean lower income families will suffer the most, either having to pay more or schedule time away from school and work in order to avoid paying steeper rates.
“It can frustrate the parents because they’re trying to get everyone together,” said Burney.
Fees, fees, fees
Burney said she’s also seen sentiment sour toward increasing fees.
“There is a fee to make a booking and then if you cancel there’s a fee to cancel. There’s a fee for everything. They charge for firewood. They charge for this, they charge for that, they nickel and dime you,” said Burney.
These increases come at a time when New Brunswick’s Provincial Parks have become wildly popular. An increase in people getting into outdoor activities came during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the department’s annual reports the vast majority of campers in provincial parks are New Brunswick residents.
The email from the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture also stated, “Most fees have not been increased in several years and these fee increases impact nine provincial parks.”
But campsite fees for those parks were raised in 2020, according to the province’s annual report on fees. Prices increased three years ago at Mount Carleton, Mactaquac, Herring Cove, New River Beach, Parlee Beach, Sugarloaf, Murray Beach and La République provincial parks.
Fees are being introduced for North Lake Provincial Park, where there have been none since it opened last July 1.
Park entrance, beach maintenance and cabin fees were last raised in 2016.