Today I returned from a pleasant (though unfortunately foggy) climb up Mount Gardner. I’d read a while back that there was no camping permitted on Bowen Island, and we’d elected to do the hike as a day trip from Vancouver. Yet on our way back, we saw two groups with full backpacking gear on their way to the hike. So what gives?
There actually isn’t a clear cut answer about whether camping on Bowen Island is permitted. So, I took to the internet to do a little investigation.
Updated: May 23rd, 2021
The Current and Future States of Bowen Island Camping
In a post about Bowen Island by HelloBC, British Columbia’s official tourism website, they say camping is not allowed. It’s pithy, but vague, and doesn’t offer an explanation of whether camping is strictly prohibited or not. Here’s the line:
“There’s no camping on Bowen.”HelloBC
Currently, there is no law against camping on Bowen Island
But I wanted something a little more concrete. I came across an article that discussed a proposed change to the municipality’s bylaws on camping. The thing that stood out to me in the article is that there are currently no official restrictions around camping on Bowen Island.
“The bylaw came out of a January direction to staff ‘to develop a bylaw to restrict camping or and/or the creation of encampments on public places.’ While it has long been the assumption of Bowen Islanders that camping isn’t allowed on-island, it’s not specifically addressed in bylaws, BIM CAO Liam Edwards told the Undercurrent back in January.”Bowen Island Undercurrent on April 5th, 2021
While there are no official bylaws prohibiting camping though, the residents have made it clear that they don’t support camping on Bowen (the reasons of which I’ve detailed below).
The Bylaws are being updated to explicitly prohibit camping on Bowen Island
I scanned through the bylaws and used CRTL+F to search for “camping”, “backpacking” and “shelters” and found exactly zero references. However, in my quest, I did come across the February 25th, 2021 memo about the January 22nd, 2021 council meeting, where there were proposals to amend the bylaws.
Specifically, there are recommended amendments to Bylaw No. 538 to explicitly state the prohibition of camping.
“That Council direct staff to develop a bylaw to restrict camping or and/or the creation of encampments on public places.”Bowen Island Civic Web on February 25th 2021
The amendment also states that the proposed penalty for camping is $200 ($100 if paid early and $250 if paid late).
What does this mean for you?
Okay, so with all this in mind, how does this affect you as a person who wants to go camping on the island?
In the meantime, can people camp on Bowen Island?
If you ask the residents on Bowen Island, they will tell you that camping is not allowed on Bowen Island at present. However, as we’ve explored above, there isn’t a bylaw explicitly prohibiting camping. So if you did choose to pitch a tent on the Mount Gardner trail, there’s no way to fine you or force you to leave.
But is that how you really want to camp?
Bowen Island is home to 3,700 people. Part of ethical camping and Leave No Trace principles is respecting others, which also means respecting the people who live and reside where we want to camp. So no, you shouldn’t camp on Bowen Island.
Once implemented, is the fine enough to keep people from camping on Bowen?
Once the amendment to the Bylaw does come into effect, will the penalties be enough to prohibit people from camping? That will depend on how it is enforced. A $200 fine isn’t bad if there is a low likelihood of getting caught. However, if the restriction is enforced it likely will be enough to keep people from camping. There may still be the occasional groups who choose to take the risk to camp.
Why isn’t camping allowed on Bowen Island?
There appear to be few reasons camping isn’t allowed on Bowen Island.
Ecological – When you set up a tent and sleep on the group, you do a little bit of damage to the vegetation underneath. If lots of people are setting up camp, it compounds and can damage an already sensitive ecological area.
Wildfires – Campfires are strictly prohibited on hiking trails on Bowen Island. I did find one Reddit comment about why this was the case, however I couldn’t find anything to back it up further. Here it is: “The whole island has a sub-surface lichen network that is ancient and extremely flammable. Therefore there is zero tolerance for camping as the risk of some bozo lighting a fire that burns the whole island is too great.” (source)
Human Waste – The community wants to avoid a situation similar to what’s happened on Tunnel Bluffs. If you aren’t familiar, there are a few unofficial campsites up at Tunnel Bluffs. And there is a huge human waste issue (i.e. poop and toilet paper) since there aren’t facilities and people don’t know how to properly go to the bathroom in a Leave No Trace method.
Where can you camp instead?
While you can’t camp on Bowen Island, you can camp on Gambier Island (the next island over). You’ll need a water taxi to access it, but it’ll feel much more remote and secluded than Bowen Island. There’s also campgrounds and backpacking trails on the Sunshine Coast and along the Sea to Sky Highway. Alternatively, you can camp in parts of the Howe Sound Crest Trail, which has some incredible views.
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