Tourism industry weathering challenging summer

A spot of grass or sand on the water’s edge was tough to find at Sylvan Lake over the weekend.

Rafts and the shade were the preferred means of staying cool in a very busy Sylvan Lake Provincial Park Monday.

Rafts and the shade were the preferred means of staying cool in a very busy Sylvan Lake Provincial Park Monday.

A spot of grass or sand on the water’s edge was tough to find at Sylvan Lake over the weekend.

Lorrie Hafermehl, of Onoway, said some families came prepared to stay as long as possible to soak up the sun.

“I’ve seen people with tables and chairs, full-sized barbecues, cooking full chicken,” said Hafermehl on Monday afternoon as the beach continued to fill up.

Michelle Nielsen, summer intern with the Town of Sylvan Lake, said people head to Sylvan Lake when it’s hot.

“It’s all weather related. Water is great for swimming. The grassy area is just as nice as the sand to lie on,” said Nielsen about beach that has lost most of its sand due to the lake’s high water level. The water now stretches up to the retaining wall in most areas.

Cynthia Leigh, owner of Sylvan Cruises, said the weekend was probably the busiest for the beach this season, but Sylvan Lake has lost some beach tourism because of the lack of sandy spaces to sit.

“People will opt to take their families over to Gull Lake where beach is not an issue,” Leigh said.

Rain storms have also deterred tourists, she said.

“Last year the weather was really bad. We couldn’t buy two days of sunny weather in a row. This year the weather has been better except for those daily storms that knock a hole into your operation,” Leigh said.

Nicolette Thiel, Splash Mart manager, said redevelopment along Lakeshore Drive has frustrated business owners and tourists.

“Nobody wants to come here anymore because of the construction. This year is definitely going to be a write-off,” Thiel said.

Doug Bos, owner of Discovery Wildlife Park in Innisfail, is waiting to see what August has to bring, typically the busiest month for the park.

“The weather is killing us,” said Bos about the frequent thunderstorm warnings that result in brief downpours.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of people that don’t go anywhere because they heard the thunderstorm warnings.”

But some tourists are determined despite the weather and the park is getting to be a bigger international attraction.

More Americans are coming after international wildlife celebrity Jack Hanna did an television episode at the park last year, he said.

This season a couple came after seeing animals from the park listed in movie credits.

“They Googled it and they drove all the way from Colorado to see the bears. They did everything. They had pictures with every bear. They bought cat paintings. Did the beaver photos.”

The park is like an anchor store in a mall, attracting people to Central Alberta. The park also educates people on bear safety for when they visit provincial parks, he said.

Susan Steen-Turkington, visitor experience manager Tourism Red Deer, said people have made the best so far out of a wet summer.

“The amount of rain we’ve had is quite a bit, but it has still been not that bad. It’s still been pleasant enough to sit out under a tent or tarp and have a campfire at least once a day,” Steen-Turkington said.

“Where are you going to go where it isn’t raining. Summer comes only once a year and we’re going to enjoy it.”

szielinski@bprda.wpengine.com