Campers, time to leave the gravel pits

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Just last week we had an incident in a gravel pit on the Witless Bay Line in which an exploding barbecue injured one person, destroyed three campers and almost started a forest fire.

Even the camper who was interviewed expressed concern that the resulting fire would spread down into the community of Bay Bulls.

Fortunately, the quick work of the Witless Bay Fire Department averted what could have been a very serious incident — especially considering the dry conditions, overcrowded area and the lone point of access/egress. Kudos to the firefighters.

With this incident in mind, I have to wonder whatever became of the provincial government’s efforts from a couple of years ago to end what’s known as gravel pit camping? At that time, citing safety and environmental concerns, the government started evicting these campers from the various sites around the province and closing off the entrances to these areas.

Now it seems that the government’s position is that of “come back, all is forgiven.”

The problems and dangers concerning these sites are obvious to everyone and aptly demonstrated in last week’s incident.

In a provincial park or an RV park, there are strict rules in place to ensure the safety of all the users. Parks are required to have at least one emergency exit in case the main exit is obstructed; campsites are spaced far enough apart to avoid a fire at one campsite spreading to another; campgrounds are required to have a certain amount of emergency fire equipment like back tanks, pumps, hoses, etc. for every number of campsites, and accessible to the staff and campers; as well as other regulations to ensure the safety of the park’s users.

As well, forestry officers make ongoing inspections to ensure that all these requirements are met. In a gravel pit, there are no safety rules, no safety equipment and no inspections.

There are also the environmental factors to be considered. In a provincial park, the campsites will have either a hookup to a sewage system or an RV sewage dumping facility. Garbage is collected and the campgrounds are well maintained and cared for.

In the gravel pits, there are none of these amenities. The pits general look like dump sites, especially after the camping season is over; some campers are left in place all year around, contrary to Crown Lands regulations, and giving the impression of being scrapyards for condemned school buses; and finally, and most importantly, where is all that untreated sewage going? I doubt very much if the campers are “holding it” for an entire weekend, which indicates that sewage is either being dumped into or onto the ground, and in large quantities; which should be raising considerable health concerns.

In pretty much every other situation, if someone was dumping untreated sewage into the ground they would be overwhelmed with the charges laid against them but in these gravel pits no action is taken.

I have travelled extensively in other provinces and in the U.S., and nowhere else that I’m aware of is this sort of thing present or permitted.

So, why is it permitted here?

How much longer is the provincial government going to allow these roadside ghettos to continue? Why did the government make such an effort a couple of years ago to stop this, and then appear to give up on it? The government advertises this province as being clean and beautiful, but one look at these gravel pit campgrounds certainly contradicts this.

If there are regulations in place to stop this then they need to be strenuously enforced. The time is long overdue for the government to do something about these blights on the landscape once and for all.


William Power


Organizations: Witless Bay Fire Department

Geographic location: Bay Bulls, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Virginia Waters
    August 15, 2014 - 00:51

    I find there are times I'm a conservative - other times a liberal or a socialist. And then there are times I'm a libertarian. To me, libertarianism doesn't mean the right to keep kids out of school or drive faster than the speed limit. But it does mean that, so long as people act responsibly, they should be afforded maximum freedom to roam public lands (and waterways) and to avail - for personal consumption only - of whatever resources those lands have to offer. That is the spirit in which this province - and the nation that preceded it - had traditionally viewed the rights of the individual. It was one of the compensations for the minority of immigrants who chose to move here and to remain here in spite of the inordinate challenges. Many of the rights our forefathers took for granted - the right to hunt, fish, cut wood, operate a boat without beholding to government have gradually been whittled away and - in the vernacular of the dot-com crowd - 'monetized'. We can still pick a few berries - government having been forced to retreat from a plan some decades ago to license even that innocuous past time. Some of these restrictions might be justified but when it comes to gravel pit camping, I'm of the view that if it's not broke - don't fix it. Mind you, I don't think parking in a gravel pit is the best way to commune with nature. I can't really see the thrill and have never warmed to it. But, hey, each to his or her own. Government was right to back away from outlawing it, and with all due respects to Mr. Power, I see no reason to interfere with people who find enjoyment in it. There is a caveat. If they abuse that privilege - if they leave their garbage, if they damage the environment, if they risk the safety of others - then they might well lose it. But let's cross that culvert when we come to it.

  • The country singer
    August 14, 2014 - 20:05

    I agree totally that this practice is out of control. Ever drive by Connaigre Bay on the Hermitage road? This is a city of campers that are there full time, summer and winter. Five gallon buckets in the ground for sewer, some just have holes dug, fires going all the time, atvs going around everywhere with drunken sailors on them, children all over the place and on atvs as young as 7-8 years old etc; People have had cabins built there for years with no crown land permit, people building on the local ponds right to the water's edge without crown land lease.Some who do have a lease have their cabins built in different areas than the lease allows. We have a forestry department who sees all this but say it is crown lands responsibility. Where is the co-operation between agencies? There is none and we have a terrible state. There is no respect for the environment at all and the dangers that exist in this pit is over the line.

  • campground camper
    August 14, 2014 - 18:50

    I have a seasonal site in a great park but agree most parks are no different in resources than your average gravel pit...while the health concerns of waste dumping is truly a valid point ...a BBQ accident causing fire could happen anywhere! and in some campgrounds could be worse due to close proximity to other campers...I am not against anyone camping in gravel pits as long as they follow common sense and leave the spot they are camping in as untouched and clean as when they parked

  • Morris
    August 14, 2014 - 15:58

    The body of 2-year-old boy was found in this pond on Sunday near the Featherbed campground, off Witless Bay Line. (Gary Quigley/CBC) THIS DEATH OCCURED AT THE SANE LOCATION REFERRED TO IN LETTER. This camp area is notarious for drinking parties, drug use and general bad public behaviour. Why the Govt permits this illegal occupation of crown land to continue is beyond belief! ONLY IN NL! ANOTHER GREAT CULTURAL EMBARRASSMENT

  • harry
    August 14, 2014 - 11:31

    check out cocharne pond and northern pond worse thn gravel pits ffs

  • Red
    August 14, 2014 - 10:50

    William your neighbours bbq could blow up too, does that mean we should also ban bbq's? Get a life and stop bickering about nothing. If you had more hobbies then maybe you wouldn't notice. Also how can you accuse people of dumping raw sewage when you have no proof?

    • Dolf
      August 14, 2014 - 13:39

      Lame answer Red.

  • Harnum
    August 14, 2014 - 09:01

    Parks are to hard to get a camp site in and the cost is terrible for those on lower incomes.... you know that's their holiday... no down south for most of them. Camping and trouting. Yeah who are they to enjoy life...

  • we need more camp sites
    August 14, 2014 - 08:42

    there arn't many provincial parks anymore and some of the prov. parks that were sold off are not much better then the gravel pits. campers are indeed stacked on top of each other and one park i know off does not have an accessible emergency exit. If forestry officers make ongoing inspections to ensure that all the requirements are met then someone needs to do a better job.

  • observer
    August 14, 2014 - 07:44

    And the govt seems to be tone deaf and asleep on a lot of issues that drive law abiding people crazy.

  • Observer
    August 14, 2014 - 07:40

    These places are disgusting. Only in Nfld.....

  • True Newfoundlander
    August 14, 2014 - 06:29

    .. but campers, please clean up after yourselves and respect your environment!

  • True Newfoundlander
    August 14, 2014 - 06:25

    Yeah, I hate seeing other people enjoying their lives too.