LACOMBE COUNTY — Council has rejected a land swap proposed by the Gull Lake Baptist Camp to provide better beachfront access for campers.
The camp is located a short distance from the lake and has been using the land for years to get to the beach.
Allan Williams, Lacombe County manager of planning services, said as the lake has receded over the years shoreline areas have grown. The Baptist camp asked the county to survey the land to establish a fair distribution of rights to the new shoreline.
The survey determined the county had a right to a stretch of shoreline, including an area with roads to the beach used by the public and Baptist Camp users for many years. The camp was given rights to a lot further south.
Camp executive director Jeff Dyer appeared before council on Thursday to make his pitch to swap the camp’s lot for the one with existing beach access routes now to be considered county.
Dyer said during the summer, more than 300 trips to the beach are made daily by camp residents. The camp is concerned about liability involved in trying to run programs geared to minors on a public beach.
If the swap was made, the camp would have secure access to the beach and could then invest in upgrades to improve the area. The camp has been reluctant to make improvements to the public beach because it would only attract more public users, which would increase liability.
The camp has already been managing the area and trying to keep a lid on the partying and to deter quad riders. The county has given the camp keys to a gate that has been installed to deter off-road vehicle users. If the camp is left to use its designated lot, it will have to abandon its efforts to keep an eye on the existing access area, he said.
“If we give up our role as managers down there, it will become an increased problem rather than a decreased problem.”
Councillor Bill Knight was concerned that allowing the land swap would amount to creating a private beach for the camp. “I’ve never voted to close a private access so people could have a private beach.”
Dyer said the public would still have access to the beach through the camp’s lot, although quads and similar vehicles would be kept out. There were no plans to fence off the lot.
County planners recommended that council reject the request because it would create a gap between other public lands the county has along the shore.
Planner Amanda Brea-Watson calls the newly designated county shoreline a “wonderful windfall” in her report to council. “This creation of (a) large area of municipal lands adjacent to the lake is a rare opportunity, which not only offers potential in dealing with lake access concerns, but creates a fantastic opportunity to develop better public spaces.”