West Country campgrounds are filling up, Mother Nature seems ready to put on a shine, and enforcement officials are prepped and ready for action on the first long weekend of the season.
The thing to remember, for those headed into the Rocky Mountain House RCMP detachment area, is there will be no tolerance for illegal alcohol or drug use, and other actions such as mud bogging in waterways.
Rocky Mountain House Cpl. Wayne Howse said on Tuesday that a joint task force will be operating in the West Country and Clearwater County areas over the long weekend.
“The most important thing is we want to ensure everybody’s safety. We’re looking at a lot of enforcement, making sure people are insured and registered, no consuming liquor and driving.
“But we also want to protect our resources.”
The task force is comprised of RCMP, Alberta Sustainable Resources personnel such as fish and wildlife officers, Clearwater County officers and search and rescue people.
They will be doing patrols on public lands in teams, with off-road vehicles.
Howse, a 33-year RCMP veteran, has been stationed in Rocky for the past six years.
He’s seen the problems in the West Country related to everything from rowdy campers to damage to public lands.
A proposal has been made by the detachment for resources to establish a special permanent task force devoted to protecting the West Country.
“It’s still in the works. There’s no timeline,” Howse said.
“We have a lot of issues back there. All the quadding and land issues, trappers’ cabins broken into, (traffic on) closed logging roads, which are quite dangerous.”
Howse points to a recent incident where a logging truck driving down False Creek road came around a corner to suddenly find eight off-highway vehicles in front of him.
“It’s closed for a reason.” Oil and gas roads are also closed to the public.
People are ignoring signs and skirting barriers to make their way onto these roads, Howse said.
Last fall, two individuals were each fined $1,150 for driving on a closed logging road.
“Any recreational user should not be on these roads.”
Howse said it’s quite common to find off-highway vehicle drivers consuming liquor.
“A certain group does not adhere to the rules … the education has always been out there. People know right from wrong, some just choose to ignore the warnings and the law.”
He noted that a recent fatality involving off-highway vehicles involved liquor.
Protecting waterways, fisheries
As for the land, some people have not chosen to stay out of muskegs and rivers and waterbed, he said.
“And they continue to drive in them without realizing the impact that they’re having on our fisheries.”
This weekend, officials will also be enforcing the Public Land Act, and Forest and Prairie Protection Act, he said. Littering fines under the Public Land Act are more significant, requiring an automatic court appearance.
“The majority are really good at cleaning up. A lot of people are picking up messes left by others.”
But still, the large bush parties known to occur in the West County are still happening.
“Last year, we had a party site in the Rig Street area (west of Caroline) that was just a complete mess,” he said. “Unfortunately a lot of those kids are from the Red Deer area.”
Young persons drove a car “extremely dangerously” along quad trails in the South Fork area. They later abandoned the vehicle when it broke down, but not before smashing it up, he said.
“We’re pretty lucky we didn’t have any major incidents out of that.
“A lot of these people get quite angry when we do charge them for driving in the rivers. You hear the excuses about how industries cause so much more damage.
“You also have to remember that industry, when cutting logs and trees, they’re replanting them.”
Last fall, a man from Red Deer and one from Olds were charged under the Public Lands Act for driving in a stream. A Rocky judge recently handed them the largest ever such fines, $1,500 each.
“People should know that you don’t drive in a river. It’s where the fish live.” And the rivers in the West Country are the source of drinking water for many communities in Alberta, he said.
Howse also said that people can be fined for driving around with loads that aren’t secure.
A piece of firewood went through a windshield of a vehicle that was following a truck hauling firewood and a quad last year. It could have been a fatal, Howse said.
The fines range from $465 up to $776, depending on which act the charges are laid under.
“People should familiarize themselves with the laws. They all available on websites,” Howse said, although he says most people do follow the rules.
Another problem law enforcement has encountered is people camping at wellsites. They’ve found people smoking around them, and also having campfires beside them.
“It’s not very smart.”
A lot of times, oilwell workers will try to talk to these people but they end up meeting a lot of opposition, especially if the campers have been drinking.
Also, people cannot randomly cut down trees on public lands. A permit from ESRD is needed.
A man who chopped a tree down for no reason last year was fined $500.
“There’s a lot of laws out there,” Howse said.
With a forecast of warm weather, it’s expected the West Country will be busy this weekend.
Sylvan prepares for onslaught
Closer to Red Deer, Staff Sgt. Gary Rhodes, in charge of Sylvan Lake detachment, said he expects they will see a busy weekend also in the town because of nice weather.
“If it’s raining out, we don’t have any issues.”
“It’s the first long weekend since the winter so psychologically people are ready to get out and go camping and do outdoor things. … On a busy summer weekend, we have somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 extra people coming out here,” Rhodes said.
“The long weekends may be a little different than say July 1. A lot of people go camping out west that would normally have come to Sylvan.”
During the summer and this weekend, too, more officers are brought in to Sylvan. A dedicated group of them will patrol the beach and not deal with other calls.
The enhanced policing has been done for about seven years now. “It’s challenging now sometimes to find infractions,” Rhodes said.
“I think the word is out … you see policemen throughout the day … and they’re in the bars, so it kind of puts a damper on people that might be inclined to break the law, social disturbances and that kind of thing.”
There is extra funding also to do boat patrols however the RCMP won’t be doing that this weekend.
Even though the ice went off the lake two weeks earlier than normal, the water is too cold, thus no one is boating, he said.
“I don’t know if people will even be swimming.”