The Unrecognized Recreation Value of Wilderness: Defining the Future Recreation Needs of Ontarians

Adam White July 17, 1991

Executive Summary
Defining the future demand for wilderness recreation means defining demand – identifying the Ontarians that value Ontario’s wilderness, and the value they place on it – and defining supply – identifying the amount of wilderness available, its accessibility and its value for recreation.
Ontario’s provincial parks, though they only comprise 5.5 percent of the province’s land area (less than half the amount that the World Commission on Environment and Development recommended be preserved) represent a vast and valuable resource. Ontario has one of the oldest and largest park systems in Canada.
Ontario’s Provincial Parks received nearly 8 million visitors in 1990. The number of visitors increases every year, at an average rate of 1.7 percent – 245,000 more visits every year. The number of campers at provincial parks has also increased dramatically over the years, increasing at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent – over 61,000 more camper nights each year. By the year 2010 – using the most conservative assumptions – Ontario will demand space for more than 5 million camper nights per year, an increase of 32 percent over current levels.
Ontario’s population is also changing, growing larger, embracing new cultures and ideas, and growing older. The changes in Ontario’s population will require changes in the supply of outdoor recreation. Not only will more parks be required, but they will cater to a different clientele: one that will be older, more affluent, better educated, more widely travelled, and a more sophisticated consumer of wilderness recreation.
A large proportion of Ontario’s population is prevented from enjoying wilderness recreation in Ontario’s provincial parks for one reason or another. Ontario’s special-needs community -especially those facing physical challenges – requires barrier-free wilderness recreation. Waiting lists at organized private camps, like those offered by the Ontario March of Dimes, represent hundreds of special-needs campers whose needs are frustrated by the inaccessibility of provincial parks.
Ontario’s provincial parks could provide for this special-needs community. An estimated 8.5 percent of Ontarians are physically challenged in one way or another, but only 0.8 percent of park visitors in 1990 reported being physically challenged. Though most of Ontario’s provincial parks will soon have barrier-free washrooms, simple modifications or services are often all that is needed to make the wilderness barrier-free as well.
By surveying the costs incurred by park campers at five provincial parks – Grundy Lake, Darlington, Quetico, Killarney and Rondeau – estimates of demand and social value for these parks for 1990 were derived. The values obtained represent park fees (the value accruing to government), consumer surplus (the value accruing to park campers), and total trip cost (the value of the park to society). These values are presented in the table below:
Table I The Cost of Visiting Selected Provincial Parks 1990
Park Fee Paid
Consumer Surplus
Total Trip Cost
Quetico, one of the best and biggest wilderness parks in North America, was the most highly valued at $9.60 million. The least valued, Grundy Lake, a smallish park remote from major population centres and lacking distinguishing features, was valued at $1.58 million.
On the basis of value per developed campsite, indicating the capacity of each park for camping, Quetico remained the highest valued, at nearly $74,000 per campsite. Killarney followed with a value of nearly $38,000 per campsite.
Table II The Economic Value of Selected Provincial Parks 1990
Value per
Value per
Value per
Value per
On the basis of value per camper night, a measure of the attraction of each park for camping, Killarney became the highest valued park, at $87 per camper night. Quetico followed with $72 per camper night, while GrundyLake was once again least valued at $29 per camper night.
These figures represent park values for 1990 only. If they are predicted to increase with the projected increase in population (using Statistics Canada’s most conservative assumptions), and to yield benefits over only 50 years, discounted at a rate of 5 percent per year (allowing for inflation), the present value of Killarney, per camper night, is $1587, while the’present value of Quetico is $1314 per camper night.
Ontario’s provincial parks entertained over 3,780,000 camper nights in 1990. Assuming that the average present value per camper night is equivalent to that at GrundyLake (the lowest of the parks surveyed at $526 per camper night), the present value of camping at all Ontario provincial parks is almost $2 billion. Assuming that the average is higher, say, the average of the five parks surveyed, or $1034 per camper night, the present value of camping in all Ontario’s provincial parks exceeds $3.9 billion.
These are conservative estimates – they don’t include day visitors, who also value parks, and they don’t include Ontarians who value parks but are unable to visit for one reason or another.
Wilderness recreation is a valuable, renewable natural resource. Only 5.3 percent of Ontario’s total area is protected in provincial parks. Much of its remaining wilderness is jeopardized by consumptive use, such as logging or mining. This study recommends that more of Ontario’s wilderness be protected from industrial development and established as provincial park.
The government allows logging in Algonquin and other provincial parks. Multiple-use planning in parks is a poor and distant relative of wilderness preservation. This study recommends provincial parks be devoted to wilderness preservation and recreation and that resource extraction be banned.
Seniors and special-needs Ontarians are prevented from enjoying Ontario’s wilderness and Ontario’s provincial parks by lack of accessibility. The study recommends that the Ontario government survey seniors and special-needs Ontarians with the objective of alleviating barriers to their park use.
Most importantly, the study recommends that the value to society of alternate uses of the public’s wilderness be estimated, so that wilderness can be allocated to its highest valued use. It should no longer be assumed that Ontario’s wilderness has little value for all but lumber and nickel.

Note: The full text of this study has been divided into three PDF files. To read Part One, click here. To read Part Two, click here. To read Part Three, click here.

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