Alberta Wants Developers to Build New Campgrounds
To you, it's the fragrance of fresh pine, and the aroma of the crackling campfire.
To an entrepreneur, it's the scent of pure profit.
At least that's the hope of the Alberta government, faced with a overwhelming demand for camping and recreation areas, and a tight budget when it comes to developing new space in the wilderness, according to The Calgary Sun.
The solution, says Alberta Parks Minister Cindy Ady, is to open the park gates to private enterprise — allowing developers to build and operate campgrounds under license.
"The policy hasn't been completely nailed down yet, so I can't say how it will work, but what we know is this: It could be anywhere in the province," said Ady.
"If somebody can bring to us a solid plan, there are private campground opportunities.
"They would build it, they would run it."
The private campground scheme is imminent — Ady said she plans to bring it forward in the fall, as part of her capital budget plans.
"I'm hoping within this year to have that policy work done, so we can at least tell people the rules of engagement," she said.
Images of neon signs and Seattle-based coffee chains may have wilderness lovers horrified, but Ady assures those who head to the woods to escape the rat race, that respite won't change.
"It will absolutely be the same standards as now — any time we let anyone in on contract, we'd be very careful because they're still on park land or crown land," said Ady.
The main difference then, is your camping fee going into a private pocket, rather than the public purse.
Some may balk at the idea of for-profit business among the pines and babbling brooks, but it seems that any hope of extra space for tents and trailers in this province rests with the private dollar.
Near the cities, campgrounds are crowded from the moment the frost ends to late fall.
Yet earlier this year, Ady's ministry was forced to cut services and campsites at 19 provincial parks and recreation areas, just to save money.
The bid to trim the fat off a $65.3 million budget has forced the province to rethink plans to expand the camping system, something it announced two years ago when the economy was still robust.
Then, there was talk of opening new campgrounds in K-Country and the Waiparous area, including possible family-only sites where a peaceful time was guaranteed.
With little cash to proceed, Ady said the province is still budgeting for extra camping loops in the busiest parks — Kananaskis and Carson Lake near Whitecourt being two — but private developers are needed for the rest.
She says her department is looking around the province, to determine where private campgrounds might fit.
"It wouldn't be in what I call our traditional campgrounds, if I'm going to do another loop in Kananaskis, obviously we would build that," said Ady.
"But that's what I've asked my department to look at — where are the pressure points and is there any opportunity there for additional campsites."
To entice private investment, Ady said she's looking at lucrative camping models that have succeeded elsewhere.
One she's especially keen on is the combination campground-RV storage site, where regular users can leave their trailer or motorhome behind.
"One of the models I'm looking at quite carefully is one where you can buy in and keep your camper there, and they pull it in and out of the spot, and they have a storage area for the camper," said Ady.
"Those models work very well, so where are those opportunities in Alberta?"
And then there's untapped waterfront — Ady says the province's long-term water conservation plan, which will result in new irrigation ponds across Alberta, may be ripe for camping.
"That's the other thing we're looking at, if the government starts to do a lot more water storage," said Ady. "They see it as an irrigation ditch, I see it as recreation property."