Officials preparing for long weekend campers

Strategically placed trash bins and peace officers packing plastic garbage bags will greet people out for a wilderness camping experience in the West Country this weekend.

Strategically placed trash bins and peace officers packing plastic garbage bags will greet people out for a wilderness camping experience in the West Country this weekend.

Clearwater Forest officials in recent years have been working with a group of oilfield companies to provide big, industrial bins to encourage weekenders to clean up after themselves, public information officer Rita Stagman said from her office in Drayton Valley.

A team of peace officers including RCMP, county patrol officers, Fish and Wildlife officers and park rangers will leave garbage bags at the sites they visit and will tell people where the bins have been set, said Stagman.

By Monday, they’re all overflowing, she said.

And on Tuesday, they’re gone — hopefully before the bears and ravens have rifled through the bags and scattered their contents.

The trash bins are just part of ongoing efforts to limit the destruction from the Victoria Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to summer.

Along with the pre-emptive strike on trash, the team will be visiting as many sites as possible to keep a lid on the big bush parties that have become almost a ritual among people looking to shake off the winter doldrums.

Working together, the agencies do everything they can to keep the West Country safe and clean for people and wildlife, said Stagman.

Michelle Honeyman, community services manager for Mountain View County, said co-operation between various law enforcement agencies helps prevent bush parties from getting out of hand.

“We actually have quite a collection of enforcement officers who go out and control the west area during the May long weekend . . . as well as some search and rescue.”

Resource include a trailer the RCMP takes out to serve as a central station for all of the agencies involved in the task force, said Honeyman.

“There are certain areas where people like to camp that they know can get out of control, or there’s more quad activity or that kind of stuff than they would like. Ultimately, everybody wants it to be safe for everyone who’s out there,” she said.

“We get a lot of people out there. We get the great family campers who come out to enjoy the long weekend and just have fun, and then we get some of the, I’m going to say yahoos, who go out and try and wreck if for everybody else.”

Staff Sgt. Gord Glasgow from the Red Deer Rural RCMP said he doesn’t anticipate any huge problems on the weekend. One of the biggest factors in resolving party issues was the province’s decision in 2004 to ban liquor at some of its campgrounds, including Aspen Beach at Gull Lake, for the May long weekend.

Aspen Beach was among the campgrounds where the ban went into effect because they have a history of problems, said Anne Douglas, communications director for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation.

The operator at Aspen Beach is seeing more families coming back to the campground, now that they know there will not be any parties next door, said Douglas.

Anyone still hoping to book a provincial campsite online for the weekend may be out of luck. Since starting its online reservation program, Alberta Parks has received 12,000 bookings at the 25 campgrounds now online. The province also has 38 other campgrounds and recreation areas, some which offer phone-in booking. All campgrounds usually fill up on the May long weekend.

Stagman also warns people who plan on random camping in the West Country to watch for trail restrictions. Clearwater Forest has not issued any fire bans, but there are restrictions in place on use of motorized vehicles, including on the trails south of Hwy 11 throughout the Bighorn Backcountry, she said.

Campers are advised to check the SRD and Tourism web pages at www.alberta.ca for updates.

bkossowan@bprda.wpengine.com

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