Winter has released his icy grip on the Yukon, and that brings my favorite season: camping season.

In early May I along with several friends pitched our campers and tents at Lake LaBerge. We lucked out and got choice sites along the lakeshore. As we settled in with dinner on the fire and a beverage in hand, the ominous white truck pulled into the campground.

Out stepped two Yukon Park Officers. At first they ignored us and spoke with other campers. Then it was our turn. The older Park Officer, Ken, announced his presence by saying, “That’s right, it’s us, get ready, you’re about to be checked.”

At first we thought maybe we had done something wrong. It turned out nothing could have been further from the truth. Their presence was a simple visit, and an educational one at that.

They came to welcome us to the 2017 camping season and ask if everything was okay and even if there was anything they could do to help make our stay more pleasant. A pleasant conversation ensued with a bevy of questions that went back and forth.

Ken has been a Park Officer for seven seasons, while his partner Katie is a new arrival in the Yukon with five years experience working in the Alberta park system.

The conversation hit some hot button topics for K & K. First, their number one complaint in recent years is about people who drop their trailers or tents on a Monday or Tuesday and don’t return until Friday.

This practice is poor camping etiquette, frustrating to campers looking to camp mid-week, and leaves beautiful space empty. It is also illegal under the Parks Act, as the Park Officers explained.

Under the current rules a person can legally leave their unit unattended in a campground for up to 72 hours. They believe this is about to change. The changes being proposed could see the time limit go from 72 hours down to 24 hours and the fine go up from the current $50. For those interested and want a say in the matter, there is presently an online survey on Environment Yukon’s website with three quick questions and an opportunity to comment.

Another problem that has seen an increase over the past few years is dogs. More and more dogs are enjoying our Yukon campsites. This can be explained in part by the occupancy rate in Yukon campgrounds having risen more than 100 per cent in the past decade. Ken & Katie did not tell us our dogs had to be tied at all times, but they did stress all dogs must be under control at all times.

This, as I understood it, meant that they had to be safely within our site, and attended to. I was happy to hear Sydney and the other dogs could enjoy some freedom at the campground, but it sounded like further enforcement with dogs can be expected this season.

Last year a young girl was bitten by a dog at Wolf Creek. Ken recounted a tale from another Park Officer in Marsh Lake that a dog fight between five dogs had broken out as he was explaining dog issues to a camper.

Another issue, and one I feel strongly about, included persons failing to register. Regardless if you have an annual permit or not everyone must register. The registration and information on it is extremely important to the Park Planners. If you want to see our campgrounds grow to meet the new demands, we have to be sure the Park Planners have accurate numbers of how many people are using those sites.

Ken & Katie also told us some people have the wrong idea about quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. In fact, quiet hours, within reason, are 24/7. Constant dog barking, loud music and loud generators are reason enough for someone to be fined or evicted.

I mentioned wood and Ken went pale. I guess I had hit a nerve. As gracious as he could be, he said, “Yes, the wood is free, but not unlimited. Like everything else, the Parks Branch runs on a budget. Wood costs us a lot of money and is a big part of our budget,” he said “and we are likely the only camping jurisdiction in North America where firewood is free.”

He said he would hate to see that change and the only way to prevent that is for people to start using wood responsibly. There are wood hoarders, people who burn it like there is no tomorrow, some leave fires unattended and others who have moderate fires burning all day in plus 20 degrees for no other reason other than it’s free and to watch it burn. I like a good fire as much as the next camper, but I’d hate to get stuck paying $20/bundle for wood. That $20 is better spent on a pack (or case) of something else.

So far, none of the rules sounded complicated, more like good camping etiquette. There are, of course, many other rules and regulations – just like anything else in life.

Katie told us that a new booklet produced this year lays out all the most important rules and more info on Yukon Parks and Campgrounds. You can pick one up at the Environment Office, the Parks Office or from any Park Officer you see on patrol.

Later that evening the white truck drove slowly past our sites again. This time they didn’t stop to chat, but only simply smiled and waved. We must have been doing it right.

Have a great and safe 2017 camping season. Keep it clean and keep it green.