A Coalmont area man who opened a small private campground on his property over the Easter long weekend – garnering considerable media attention – told The Spotlight he’s not sure what all the fuss was about.
Ernie Rice said he regrets that people were upset about the campers, but insisted all his visitors behaved responsibly.
“They all knew the situation. They were all spaced out and they were social distancing.”
Rice holds the maintenance contract for the adjacent Granite Creek recreation site, and said these campers stay on his own property each year.
All provincial camping sites remain closed during the COVID 19 crisis.
However a group of 14 friends were invited to the Rice property to camp for the weekend.
He said they brought their own food and supplies.
Rice stressed the stay-at-home direction from the province is “not an order, it’s an advisory.”
He added there is no reason to assume his visitors were sick or had been exposed to the virus.
“People all figure if you come from the coast there is a virus trail, like a chem trail that follows you.”
Getting away from the congestion of the city is important for peoples’ mental health, he added.
Police visited the Coalmont property Friday. An officer found approximately nine trailers, according to Princeton RCMP Sgt. Rob Hughes.
“It’s private property….Yes, the people broke the (rule) about non-essential travel. They are practicing social distancing and the information will be forwarded to the provincial health office on Tuesday.”
RCMP don’t have the authority to make arrests or recommend charges under the circumstances, he said.
Hughes explained in some jurisdictions police are able to ticket offenders under municipal or city bylaws. However, there are no such bylaws in Princeton or the RDOS.
He added social media photos of the makeshift camping area did not fairly illustrate the distance between the trailers.
Many people took to social media to express concern about the situation, amid related reports of a flood of visitors pouring into area holiday communities like Tulameen.
“What the hell are these people doing here?” asked Bob Coyne, Area H director for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS).
“The federal government has asked them to stay at home. The province has asked them to stay at home. What is wrong with these people?”
Coyne reiterated his concerns that out-of-town visitors create stress on the supply chain of Princeton’s only grocery store, put first responders at risk, and could easily overwhelm the town’s small hospital in the event of an outbreak.
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