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Be safe (and read the signs) at BC Hydro rec areas

Beach and grass area at Seton Lake Recreation Area
Beach and grass area at Seton Lake recreation area, located on a reservoir that's part of the historic Bridge River hydroelectric system.

As pandemic eases, visitor centres reopen and Buntzen parking gets a reboot

Pent-up demand for access to the great outdoors in B.C. could make 2022 the busiest ever year for our recreational areas. So if a hike, swim in a lake, or free camping are on your list this summer, plan your adventure carefully.

"Last year, we had an increase of about 30,000 people at our rec areas," says BC Hydro public safety advisor Jamie Mair. "We're really happy to be able to provide access to the public at our reservoirs and facilities, and pleased that they're popular."

"When you get there," he adds, "we ask that you pay attention to our safety signage. The signs are there for a reason, and we continue to see people creating dangerous situations by trespassing into areas they shouldn't be in."

With the popularity of recreation areas comes a need for both planning by those who use the sites, and changes in the way that traffic is handled. So in response to neighbourhood complaints about traffic jams – and challenges to emergency vehicle access – we're piloting a new parking reservation system at our busiest recreation area.

Starting June 27, all drivers will be required to make a vehicle reservation the day before their visit to Buntzen Lake. Passes are free and will be good for half days – either the morning or afternoon – and are aimed at addressing long-time traffic problems in communities near, and en route to, the lake. Select full-day passes for hikers to enjoy the many trails in and around the area will also be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Popularity isn't limited to Buntzen Lake, however. Visitor numbers were also up significantly in 2021 at the likes of the Puntledge River, Hayward Lake, and Upper Campbell Reservoir rec sites.

Popular visitor centres reopen at WAC Bennett and Revelstoke

COVID-19 closures are over at our visitor centres, and several are returning to seven-day-a-week access through the summer.

WAC Bennett Dam Visitor Centre and Revelstoke Dam Visitor Centre are both open daily, including weekends and holidays, through September 5.

In the Lower Mainland, the Powerhouse at Stave Falls is open daily through June 27, then shifts to five days a week (excluding Tuesdays and Wednesdays) through September 14. Popular with school groups, Stave Falls returns to seven-day-a-week access September 15 to October 22.

'Don't expect to find a free campsite on a Saturday'

One of the great things about our free campsites – aside from the fact that there are no fees to use them – is that they don't require reservations. But that means you should adhere to the "early bird gets the worm" strategy if you hope to find an open camping spot at popular campgrounds.

"Everyone wants to try to find free camping, and with BC Parks recreation areas filling up quickly – especially on weekends – campers will look to BC Hydro campgrounds," says BC Hydro's Mair. "Our campgrounds saw significant increases in numbers last year, and it's not going to be any easier to get in this year. If you want a spot, get there early – don't expect to find a free spot on a Saturday."

At some campgrounds, such as Jones Lake, and Upper Campbell Reservoir, it's a good idea to arrive on the Thursday of a long weekend. And even that's no guarantee you'll find a spot open.

Be prepared for a rustic camping experience. There's no drinking water at most sites, and if you want to build a campfire, you'll need to bring your own wood or collect shoreline debris. And the only places you'll find flush toilets are at our Hayward Lake and Buntzen Lake day-use areas. Other campgrounds have well-maintained outhouses.

Campfires are wonderful, but keep them small, and check for fire bans that are now a regular occurrence in B.C.'s tinder-dry summers. A good fire that provides ambience and warmth on a chilly night doesn't have to be big. After a while, one or two larger pieces added will last a long time and offer lots of warmth, plus a platform for the stick you used to toast your marshmallow, wiener or smore, over coals.

Bonfires may be spectacular, but they're a waste of fuel and are dangerous. Always use the designated campfire ring. Have water nearby for emergencies, ensure your fire is out before you go to sleep or leave your site, and never leave a campfire unattended.

How to ensure you and your family are safe when swimming, boating, hiking

BC Hydro reservoirs make it possible to provide 98% clean energy to the province. And while designated recreation sites are also there for your enjoyment, it's important to be aware of the hazards to stay safe.

  • Obey all warning signs and keep out of restricted areas.
  • Stay on clearly marked, designated trails and within observation areas.
  • Always supervise children and teach them how to stay safe.
  • Be aware that water levels and flows may change suddenly. Sirens and strobe lights may be used to alert you that water levels will soon be changing.
  • Outdoor recreation can bring you in contact with wildlife, including bears and cougars. Never feed wildlife. And to prevent your pets from getting into dangerous confrontations with wild animals, please keep pets under control at all times.
  • Out of respect for others who use our recreation sites, please keep your pets under control and out of areas where they're not allowed, such as beaches designated for swimming.