SASATOON -- With the May long weekend coming up, the provincial parks system is gearing up for a busy few days with an influx of first-time campers expected.

Dan French, the executive director of park operations with Saskatchewan Provincial Parks, says booking started on April 12 with the two-week launch and in that time they had 43,000 bookings compared to 2019 when they had 26,000.

“In talking with my colleagues who work with bookings and reservations this is unprecedented,” French told CTV News.

Overall numbers were down last summer at the start of the pandemic because of the late start in opening and campgrounds operating at 50 per cent capacity, he said.

There is a liquor ban at all provincial campgrounds during the long weekend. Fire bans are also in place, but that could change for the weekend, depending on weather, French said.

He stresses that it’s important for all campers, especially new campers, to familiarize themselves with camping etiquette and rules.

Jay Merritt has been running an RV campers page on Facebook for four years. This year they saw the biggest jump in followers from 7,000 to 14,000, he said.

Merritt says he’s seen a lot of questions posted from people new to camping since the pandemic started.

Some are returning to camping after many years while others are first timers, but all are preparing for another summer of staying close to home.

Merritt says one question that he’s seen on his site a lot this year is a tell-tale sign someone is new to the camping life.

“It’s always a hotly debated topic on what you can and cannot use for your RV septic system. So as soon as you see what kind of TP I can use, you know they are brand new to the RV world,” he said.

Merritt has been camping for seven years and this year he couldn’t book sites for some of the usual weekends because they’re all booked up.

Saskatchewan Provincial Parks says sites are available during the week at most of the province’s 36 parks and there are some openings at certain parks on weekends. The July and August long weekend are fairly full.

Tom Oakes is the general manager at Oak Centre RV Mall in Martensville. He says many people are finding themselves coming into the market.

“Quite a few people are saying if this is the way we can visit friends and relatives or just get out of our house, then we’d like to look at what you have. Maybe not too expensive, but some people are all over the map when I comes to pricing.”

Oakes said the camper and trailer market is in a unique situation this year as few new units are available, with used and consignment sales making up most of their current business.