With a timeless and ticking sense of adventure, I felt recently it was time to get up north again. Combing over the rocky edges of Georgian Bay, one can find plenty of stunning provincial parks. With nearly all of Ontario’s parks emerged from COVID hibernation, people are back out and exploring, but with some odd modifications.
These changes range from a lack of washrooms, to social distancing guidelines, to clogged online booking systems.
This was made comedically evident when I tried to book some backcountry paddling sites. It took multiple tries to reload pages, two people, two phones, and a computer to register a camping site. It seemed impossible to get through to the parks’ staff to pay over the phone. Embarrassingly, this took over an hour, and made me vexed. Oh, the irony of technology peeving me off, as I try to book some time away from it in the woods!
I teed up the bookings, a click away from payment. There were very limited sites remaining due to the resurgence of people getting outside again and summer holidays upon us. The online maps showed plenty more red than green for space, but I liked what I had lined up.
I walked away for a few minutes, and by the time I had returned to the screen, that camping spot had been reserved by someone else.
Maybe some of you reading this would agree to disagree, but technology is supposed to have the intention of making things easier. Okay, that part is my fault. In saying that, I swear every year I go online to book a camping reservation, it gets more complicated. And now, COVID-19 is not helping. Later on the same evening, once the bookings went through, my parents shared their disappointment with this year’s booking process. Maybe it’s system overload. Maybe it’s an inevitable shift to get us doing even more online than we already do, which I believe will be a global byproduct of this pandemic. It’s already happening, from groceries to education.
Here’s me on my screen, though. I just watched a CBC News video titled “How to camp safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.” You can search it on YouTube if you missed it. It made my mind stretch in about 10 directions at once.
The presenter makes a tight-knit professional video about how to pack your masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes, hand soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, garbage bags, and tissues. Then, we hear the basic reminders of washing your hands before cooking and touching camp materials, as well as before and after you leave your campsite.
Wait. Isn’t this just usual camping protocol? Sounds like basic hygiene to me. When you’re camping, if you’re not cleaning up your site for yourself, at least do it for the animals and upcoming campers. Keeping yourself, as well as your site, clean also benefits the ecosystem by keeping black bears, racoons, and other curious mammals safely away from humans.
Then, there are the gloves and masks. Admittedly, these are not your ordinary camping items. However, I always carried them before COVID, as I like to have a properly loaded first-aid kit for emergencies. I feel this video did a proper job of reiterating physical distancing in places like park buildings, and wearing flip-flops in the shower. I would sincerely hope people would be keeping their physical distance in any public washroom.
Everyone in the park coming to the same outhouses and touching the same handles could be worrisome, though. I also wonder if all of those gloves and masks will be properly disposed of, and not left as dead bluebirds floating down the Muskoka River.
Next, the video encourages using your own hand-washing stations to prevent contamination and spread at common touch points in the park. I understand the logic, but I also I envision a lot of people not having a second thought about what kind of chemicals are in their soaps, which will seep into the soil. Eco-friendly soaps are a little trickier to come by, and who knows what kind of sprays and suds people are using to clean to the extreme these days.
The most bizarre comment to me was that if you’re camping with kids, you might want to review the campsite boundaries with them, and make sure they stay within them. I’m not a parent, but does this sound like a pro parenting tip glazed over in COVID precautions? I would like to think anyone who has the capacity to book a trip and drive north would also have the intellect to set those kinds of boundaries. COVID or not, northern Ontario’s woods require respect and safe exploration with kids.
So, what was this video? News? A public service announcement? A helpful plea from the CBC?
This leads me full circle to a question during the pandemic: what is going on with the triangle of nature, the government, and the people?
I imagine that this video could be perceived as any of the following: helpful tips on how to avoid COVID outdoors; a friendly reminder on how to pack basics for camp; a beneficiary to our day-to-day hygiene knowledge; a reminder to fear the virus, even in the safest of places; or perhaps, insulting to our intelligence.
I’ll be curious to visit some of Ontario’s provincial parks over the coming two weeks, and get a better feel at ground level as to how we are responding, and hopefully reciprocating, with the landscape.