ATHABASCA – They came armed with numbers, facts and a desire to correct false information about their businesses in the Wandering River area that have been at the centre of a discussion in the community and around the Athabasca County council table for years.
First and foremost, said Kevin and Monique Mosich on behalf of the Wandering River Campground Owner Committee at the county’s July 27 regular meeting, stressed that there is a distinction between the permitted campground owners in the area, who operate their businesses with the full knowledge of county, and private campgrounds that operate without the county officially knowing about them.
The Wandering River Campground Owner Committee is open to all campground owners in the area, but currently consists of the operators of Better Den Ome Campground; Haywood Campground; Hidden Spruce Campground; Highway 63 RV Park; Round Lake Campground; Northern Lights RV Park; SRS Storage & RV Park; and River’s Bend RV Park, who all contributed to the presentation, Monique said.
The group was formed in 2020 to share information and establish consistency and best practices; address valid concerns from the community; address false and negative information; and to speak about the benefits their operations bring to the area.
In the last two years, Athabasca County has dealt with several instances of already developed campground operators approaching the municipality to request zoning changes and permits to expand. The council has also been approached by several other entrepreneurs hoping to further develop or expand other campgrounds and amenities they say would continue to bolster the area’s economy.
Almost all of those applications have been met with opposition from other residents, sometimes dozens, who say they’re affected by the increased traffic, crime, ATVs, and want to preserve the land for agricultural use. Some of the concerns that keep coming up though have been found to be fabricated or exaggerated, Monique said.
They took issue with comments made by Coun. Gary Cromwell during a March council meeting that were subsequently reported in the Town and Country and laid them out one-by-one, as per the information they had gathered themselves.
The first was the assertion that there were 29 known campgrounds in and around Wandering River. In fact, said Monique, there are 20 permitted campgrounds containing 815 stalls.
Another claim made was that a 50-stall campground can conservatively add up to 300 people travelling on the roads during a long weekend. The Mosichs refuted that saying it would likely only add 19 vehicles to the roads on any given weekend.
Further, another claim that all of the permitted campgrounds in the area contribute an additional 5,000 on any given weekend is also untrue, they said, saying there are only 927 additional people in the community during a good weekend.
The development of permitted campgrounds is a great benefit to the Wandering River area and Athabasca County, said Monique, as property sales have surged resulting in economic spin-offs for the community. It also breeds an entrepreneurial spirit that has prospective developers thinking outside the box.
She also added members of the campground owners committee donated $22,900 to local charitable causes in 2021.
As responsible business owners the group is also trying its best to tackle what members have deemed to be among the most legitimate of the concerns that seems to come up again and again — ATVs.
Since forming they have been pushing detailed rules for driving ATVs at all their campsites, which seems to be making a difference, as Monique showed in an e-mail exchange with Boyle RCMP Cpl. Gavin Bergey that said the detachment was seeing “a significant decrease in complaints” regarding ATVs in the area.
“People will continue to camp in Wandering River area, whether they're in a campground with rules restrictions and accountabilities or if they’re on private land without those rules, restrictions and accountabilities,” Monique reiterated to council. “That said, why not retain some sort of control by encouraging campers to camp in campgrounds through new, responsible developments and expansions.”
Councillors seemed impressed with the information overall and thanked the Mosichs for taking the time to share it with them. They agreed to forward the request for signage to 2023 budget deliberations.
Cromwell did offer an apology of sorts, regardless of the vote though.
“One thing I will apologize for is the grouping of campgrounds, RV parks and the non-permitted land camping,” Cromwell said, referring to the information he brought to the March 8 meeting.
He noted that he was using the campground loosely and didn’t make the distinction between permitted and non-permitted sites.
“So, I apologize for the misconstruing of how that came back across to you. I definitely value the work and the contribution that you and your group have done in the community specifically. And as I've told you, I definitely support your legitimate campgrounds and their expansion and will assist you in the business model that you're doing. So, I value very much everything that you're doing. We'll keep in touch we'll make things happen,” Cromwell said.
Another motion by Coun. Ashtin Anderson following the delegation asked council to direct Coun. Cromwell to issue an apology for the inaccurate statements made at the March 8, 2022, regular county council meeting, which failed with a 5-4 vote.