By Tom Sheppard
Those who love Kejimkujik will be happy to know that its superintendent is doing everything he can to expand the open hours for the park.
Eric Le Bel told the annual meeting of the Friends of Keji that 20 back country sites will open on the first of April. These sites will be appreciated by anglers, who have loved getting into the park when fishing season opens, but who were unable to do so last year due to budget cutbacks. The twenty sites will give campers a seven-week head start on May 16, when camping in the rest of the park will begin.
Le Bel accomplished something similar last year, when he was able to get permission to extend the camping season from Thanksgiving to the end of October. He said that the extension was a big success, and due to that success, he will be able to maintain the extra two weeks for the coming season.
I know that people had been bitterly disappointed when government policies changed Keji from a national park open all year to one open with services less than six months of the year. However, they understand that it is not an easy job to juggle finances so that the maximum public benefit can be derived from the monies available to run a park.
Opening the twenty sites early this year will be something of an experiment, Le Bel told the Friends of Keji, and if successful, site numbers will be increased. He said that he was not able to justify opening the Jeremy's Bay campground early. When such a request is made he has to present a column of figures representing costs and one representing revenue. Opening Jeremy's Bay earlier means you would have to bring back more staff earlier and that put the cost beyond the potential revenue, he said.
"Having said that," he told the group, "I think it is a step in the right direction, and if we make a good case, and if it works this spring we can ask for a little bit more next year. That's my plan. I want to gradually demonstrate that we have the potential to grow."
It is good to see someone working to make the park more available to users. One can only hope that the federal government, whatever political stripe it may happen to be, will revisit the issue of funding for national parks, and restore it to levels that will permit year-round operation. Canada's national park system is a jewel that defines us as Canadians, and seeing it decimated is not only sad but unacceptable.
A side issue from budget cutbacks is that it is difficult to make a career out of working for Parks Canada if much of the work at the park is only part time. That applies to employees from biologists to maintenance workers. Proper funding will attract more good people who can see a future in working for Parks Canada.
The Friends of Keji meeting was held at the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute in Kempt last week, as the park visitor centre was not available. There was a packed room for the meeting, which was presided over by chairman Norm Green, of Tantallon. Green was re-elected chairman at the meeting.
Eric Le Bel pointed out some other changes to Kejimkujik. He said visitors would notice a protective fire buffer zone created around the Jeremy's Bay campground, where a trench was put in the woods and burning material removed. There is a new dump station, he said, a great project that will be appreciated by campers.
He said also that, with the help of the Friends of Keji, the park would be revamping the internet canteen, located near the shower buildings. It will provide some of the services offered by the canteen at Merrymakedge Beach. The Merrymakedge canteen has been losing more and more money each year, he said, as visitor usage patterns changed. He said, "We are trying something new, trying to bring some of the canteen functions closer to the campers." The Merrymakedge canteen will close.
Le Bel said the park had three new otentiks, the camping structures now located in what used to be the walk-in tent site in the Jim Charles campground. They will be erected near the others. One of them will be fully wheelchair-accessible. The otentiks were hugely popular last year, with a 95 per cent occupancy rate in July and August.
With the changes at Merrymakedge, lifeguards normally on duty there will be moved to Kedge Beach, which is near the group campground and which is easily reached from the campgrounds by children on bikes. Eric said that before there were entry fees to the park, Merrymakedge was a very popular place, but that over the years there had been a drop in the use of that site. "It is a bit sad. We have other plans for Merrymakedge in the long term," he said, "but they require more money, more investment, so for this year we have decided to take the lifeguards from there and try them over at Kedge Beach. It is a trial."
Another big change is that the service buildings in the campgrounds are going to be upgraded, on a gradual basis. The buildings there now are nearing the end of their useful life. Eric said that as they are renovated, showers will be added to the buildings. Showers are currently available in the shower building across the road from the campground loops. Eric said that one service building would be done this year, and the idea in the long term is to move the showers closer to the campers. It is also planned that the renovations will be done using green technology, like solar panels. Work will begin in the fall on the building closest to the otentiks.
Eric Le Bel had a number of other plans which he outlined for the Friends of Keji. I will get to those as time goes on.