Alberta Parks Brace for Victoria Day Long Weekend
Jesse Merriam and Ryan Ahlstrom had their long weekend all planned out.
Returning to a favorite spot, the Calgary, Alberta, roommates eyed a treed lot, away from the family crowds and with space for their party of 12.
“Our shenanigans can be loud and disruptive,” Merriam, 24, told the Calgary Herald.
They ended up paying for an extra space, away from their desired spot.
“We didn’t get the sites that we wanted,” Merriam said. “A lot of the good sites were filling up quickly.”
That was in March.
Time’s now nearly up to book a spot for the camping season’s first long weekend, May 18-21.
More than 30,000 reservations have been made at provincial campgrounds since February — up about a quarter during the same period last year.
About 1,400 bookings were made on opening day and things have stayed busy.
“People are calling now and it’s too late,” said Carol Herman, director of Riverbend Campground near Okotoks.
After a winter spent hibernating indoors, Herman said city slickers are always raring to break out their camping gear.
This year’s balmy winter has only fueled interest in the Victoria Day long weekend.
“I think it has to do with the weather,” Herman said. “Everybody is out in the garden already.”
“It’s been a very, very good start to the season for us,” said Erin Larson, spokeswoman for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation
Larson believes the province’s online reservation system has boosted the number of pre-bookings in recent years.
Eight more campsites were added to the site in 2012 for a total of 59.
Another 78 group sites were included for the first time.
“That’s expanded the options for people for sure,” she said.
There are nearly 500 parks within the provincial parks system.
There’s still hope for those who haven’t booked. First-come, first-served sites are offered at 170 provincial campgrounds.
About 360 first-come, first-served sites are also offered at national parks in southern Alberta.
Three campgrounds are open in Banff on the May long weekend. However, Tunnel Mountain Village 1 is the only one still accepting reservations as of Sunday.
Park officials also say a dose of nasty weather may chase away fair-weather campers.
“Depending on the weather, we could do a lot better or a lot worse,” said Mark Merchant, spokesman for Parks Canada.
“We always have cancellations,” said Cassandra Hayward, general manager of Spring Creek Mountain Village, near Canmore.
Hayward suggests last-minute campers sign on to wait-lists immediately.
Camping fees are returned for cancellations if given 24-hours’ notice. However, there is a non-refundable, $12 fee.
Some say they’ll stick it out rain or shine — on one condition.
“It depends on how full the cooler is, of course” Merriam said.
Those planning a boozy excursion with Mother Nature will have to check out liquor bans scheduled for the long weekend.
Alcohol is banned in at least nine Alberta campgrounds including Cypress Hills, Jarvis Bay and Pigeon Lake.
The ban starts at noon on Thursday and goes until 6 p.m. next Monday.
Fire bans are also planned for Dilberry Provincial Park and Buffalo Lake Provincial Recreation Area.
RCMP say they’re expecting to be busy keeping notoriously wild spots under control.
Last year, traffic units laid 3,263 charges across the province from May 20 to 23.
Charges included speeding, impaired driving and non-hazardous violations such driving with a suspended license.
Staff Sgt. Patricia Neely said this year’s May long weekend crackdown is timely, given the “recent spate of fatal collisions.”
“There will definitely be a noticeable police presence throughout southern Alberta,” Neely said.