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Future of municipal campgrounds under review in Greater Sudbury

The new city council elected on Oct. 24 will decide next year on what to do with three municipal RV campgrounds, including Whitewater Lake Park, Centennial Park and Ella Lake Campground

The future of three municipal campgrounds is under review in Greater Sudbury, with the new city council elected Oct. 24 expected to make a decision next year.

“They’ve been operating status quo for decades,” Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland told 

“That’s a matter of ensuring there is a community benefit, that there is economic development tied to the RV campgrounds that we’re helping bring people into town for tourism, that we’re highlighting some of the most beautiful places in our city in these beautiful parks.

“If we can get the balance right, the operation of the campgrounds will be reasonable, they’ll cover their costs and the capital upgrades to bring them up to modern standards.” 

The RV campgrounds in question include Whitewater Lake Park, Centennial Park and Ella Lake Campground, two of which McCausland said are likely viable for the city to continue operating in the long term. 

With only 14 RV sites and limited room for expansion, McCausland said the Ella Lake Campground has a real “limiting factor.” The campground also has two daily/weekly sites.

“There aren’t a lot of realities where that can make sense while maintaining a reasonable price point,” he said, later clarifying he has no intention of advocating for the closure of any parks, but that Ella Lake Campground might be repurposed. Options could include the installation of picnic areas, a disc golf course or general park area.

Centennial Park has a seasonal capacity of 52, which can be expanded to 60. It also has seven daily/weekly sites and seven tenting sites.

Whitewater Lake Park has a seasonal capacity of 20, which can be increased to 48. It also has four daily/weekly sites.

While McCausland said there are some great things already happening at these campgrounds, such as the free concerts at Whitewater Lake Park every Thursday this summer at 7 p.m., they’re not meeting their potential.

On Thursday, Brinley Finch was at his seasonal campsite next to a fire alongside family members who joined him for the weekend for a visit, where they took in a performance by Chicks with Picks from a distance. Hundreds of people gathered closer to the musicians to take in the show as others took in the nearby beach.

“It’s perfect,” Finch told, adding his site has proven an ideal location, next to the lake, for him to spend the summer while in the area for a job opportunity. 

His grandmother, Beverley McNab, shared a similar review, noting the park attendant, Jeannie Boucher, went “over and above” in accommodating them for the weekend.

Despite these positive reviews, McCausland said these parks have even greater potential.

“As times and trends and community needs change, we can pivot our parks to make sure that they’re always serving current needs and the greater community.”

The city’s municipal campgrounds entered the public spotlight early in the pandemic, when they were closed as a cost avoidance measure. This drew attention to the fact they were being subsidized by the taxpayer.

In 2021, the seasonal rate for RVs increased from $1,557.52 to $1,911.50, to achieve 100-per-cent operating cost recovery. This rate increased to $2,000 per season in 2022.

A report by city recreation manager Cindy Dent informed city council last week the three parks require a total of $1.8 million in capital work to things such as water, shower, electrical, accessibility and grey water upgrades, as well as landscaping and a 20-per-cent contingency. 

Spreading the cost of these upgrades over the course of 18 years, would require an increase in user fees of $101,978 per year over the asset’s life to hit full cost recovery, which would require the seasonal rate to increase to $3,449.75.

This price jump and which capital projects the city moves forward with will require further public consultation and the new city council’s direction, McCausland clarified.

Last week’s community services committee saw the city’s elected officials pass a motion presented by McCaulsand whose preamble notes it “contemplates revitalization and rationalizing of our municipal RV campgrounds.” In a business case the next city council will factor into 2023 budget deliberations, they will consider the implications of the following potentials:

  • Expanding the number of camping sites available at Centennial Park to 60 and at Whitewater Lake Park to 48
  • Centennial Park and Whitewater Lake Park continues their operation starting with a 60/40 split of seasonal vs daily campers
  • A phased improvement plan to prioritize potential capital investments into electrical, water, whitewater, Wi-Fi and other amenities be implemented
  • Staff be directed to work with economic development and tourism to determine the potential benefits of the increased number of daily camping sites
  • The potential for Centennial and Whitewater lake Parks’ septic systems to be used by the general public for RV dumping on a fee-per-use basis be investigated
  • Information regarding the impact to the municipal tax levy for the continued operation of Ella Lake Campground and compare the impact with the costs associated with converting the campground to staff’s recommended alternative uses, and
  • With the additional benefit to the community as a whole, the potential user fees for RV campgrounds in the business case reflect the “less community / primarily individual” category of benefits in council’s adopted user fee framework

Once the city has all of this pertinent information, McCausland said the city should go to the public to find out what they want to see take place at these parks. 

“We shouldn’t be making a decision about what’s going there,” he said. “That should be a matter of public consultation.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for