Campgrounds have become a safe bet for Albertans looking to get away this spring and summer amidst a pandemic.
James Lee, chair of the Bob Lochhead Memorial Lions Campground in Black Diamond, is already noticing the trend.
“I believe it’s going to be a record year,” said Lee. “It’s been packed.”
The riverside campground opened May 1 and the sites are filling up fast. Lee said they’re already 70 per cent booked for the season.
“We’re probably 15 to 20 per cent over what we normally experience by this time of year,” he said. “Because of the restrictions in B.C., Albertans are staying more local. At least 95 per cent are Albertans.”
While making his rounds and speaking with campers the past three weeks, Lee has learned that many are new to the camping world. He said most want to get out and spend quality time with family away from home.
“I think, like all of us, after a long winter of basically being in lockdown, people are looking forward to that time with their families outdoors,” he said. “The trails aren’t crowded here so there’s lots of space to walk and bike.”
The campground boasts 52 spacious sites along the Sheep River. Forty per cent are occupied by campers staying the entire season and 10 sites on the north side are currently occupied by crews doing construction work on Highway 22 near Longview.
An advantage the Black Diamond campground has over some others in Alberta is it’s opened all of its bathrooms and showers for the season, which means they’re being cleaned at least three times a day, said Lee.
“We want people to enjoy the experience and we certainly don’t want them getting COVID,” he said.
Just three kilometres west, the Turner Valley Municipal Campground is having a slow start, but the Town’s community services and business development manager Monique LeBlanc expects that will change.
“By the number of inquiries, and based on last year’s usage numbers, Turner Valley Municipal Campground is becoming more popular as camping activity increases in the area,” said LeBlanc. “We are forecasting a busy season as it serves both as a destination for families wishing to be close to Kananaskis and facilities such as the pool, and it also serves to absorb some of the overflow from Sandy McNabb and Bluerock sites.”
The Turner Valley campground opened May 1, with an estimated maximum capacity of 40 per cent in the 18 sites the first three weeks.
LeBlanc said sites cannot be reserved in advanced due to insufficient staff resources to manage the work needed to reserve sites. Instead, a campground host is on site to greet campers, provide information and collect fees.
Similar to the Bob Lochhead campground, LeBlanc said the Turner Valley facility has opened its shower and washroom facilities to patrons this season and is adhering to the COVID-related measures including frequent sanitizing of the bathrooms, showers, picnic tables and other public areas.
“Most camping units are self-contained, however, the opportunity to have the option of using the facilities is important to many campers, especially during COVID where it may limit tenters from camping here,” she said. “It is a benefit often taken for granted until it isn’t available. The more services we can keep open the better the camping experience will be for all our visitors.”