While so many operations have been hurt by COVID-19, the campground at the Cumberland Lake Park remained strong, especially once it re-opened for the summer.
Cumberland Lake Wilderness Society (CLWS) executive director Genevieve Burdett recently presented the organization’s annual report to council in Cumberland.
“It was a challenging year, but we were surprisingly quite successful in the end,” she told council at a recent meeting.
Occupancy rates actually rose in 2020 over the previous years. In 2020, the rate was 88 per cent compared with 63 per cent in 2019 and 50 per cent in 2018.
“Our dividends were also up,” she said.
For 2020, this worked out to more than $27,000 to the village, the highest amount yet in the five years the society has been managing the park.
The society puts money toward helping to cover programs and work at the site. For the year, this amounted to $32,000 for programming and $22,000 for capital projects.
The success came in spite of the fact the campground had to be closed in May due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was partly opened in June and fully open later in July. Burdett said they had full occupancy during the summer.
“Camping’s been on the rise for many years in North America,” she said.
This summer, it was popular with people looking for socially distant, outdoor recreation holidays. However, while travellers from afar have been restricted, many park visitors came from closer to home.
“We have campers from across the Comox Valley,” she said. “Camping is on the rise, and so is day use, and so is the boat launch,” she said.
Their data show that 24 per cent of campground guests came from the Comox Valley, 54 per cent from the rest of Vancouver Island and 22 per cent from the rest of B.C. There was some discussion about looking to other local government partners help with the costs of running the park, especially in light of all the visits by local residents out of Cumberland.
The park visits did present some logistical challenges, such as parking and overcrowding. One solution, Burdett added, might be to have more day use sites around the lake.
CLWS also runs outdoor education opportunities, and they added a park interpreter position. It also has a community program with students from School District 71, which has been updated with First Nations content. Program size and delivery did have to be modified this year.
The organization was also able to land some support this past year, such as funding for a couple of voyageur canoes and matching funding from Island Coastal Economic Trust for establishing six new walk-in campsites. CLWS also invested in an outdoor amphitheatre and two outdoor nature classrooms for programs.
“As we become more financially sustainable, we’re able to put more and more money back into the park,” Burdett said.
This year, despite the odds, made for another strong year for the site, even after a strong 2019 when visits were up by 13 per cent from the previous year.
While CLWS has the contract to manage the site, this is set to expire in 2021. One of council’s actions was to approve a motion to begin formal discussions for a 10-year operations and improvements agreement between the village and CLWS.
Council members were pleased with the work the organization has done so far to manage and develop the park.
“I’m very thrilled about the wilderness society running it,” Coun. Gwyn Sproule said. “I think it is already a ‘world-class’ place.”