The camping season, in Alberta, unofficially kicks off during the May long weekend.
It’s the time of year when people afflicted with cabin fever decide to get their recreational gear out of storage and head for the national parks, provincial parks and other public lands.
Not surprisingly, while taking in the great outdoors, some Albertans enjoy a glass of beer or wine. A few campers consume a number of drinks and get rather noisy — disturbing their neighbours.
As a result of complaints about such behaviour, the province is imposing what critics are describing as a draconian temporary liquor ban at 10 provincial parks.
The ban will apply on other long weekends, but apparently not be quite as extreme then.
Parks Canada is also banning booze in Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks this May long weekend.
“The May long weekend in Alberta has the highest number of liquor-related enforcement interventions with problems like vandalism, impaired driving, assaults and other crimes,” says Camille Weleschuk, spokeswoman for Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation.
Callers urged to share their views on the issue by a Calgary radio station recently mostly supported the ban. Those with young children, in particular, said they were concerned with the misbehaviour of drunken louts during past long weekends.
On the other hand, a woman who explained that both she and her and husband are 61 years old, said it’s ridiculous that she and her mate can’t enjoy a bit of vino when liquor is a legal product.
Officials ought to be enforcing existing regulations and cracking down on troublemakers instead of penalized law-abiding citizens, she added.
Admittedly, people on both sides of the issue made compelling arguments during the radio talk show. That said, banning alcohol on long weekends while allowing it to be consumed on other occasions seems like a reasonable compromise.
Temporary booze bans have been used at some sites in Alberta since 2004.
Campsites that have had liquor bans in the past have seen on average a 90 per cent decrease in alcohol-related problems, according to Weleschuk.
If the camping experience is improved for the majority of people by prohibiting booze a few times a summer, then it’s likely a good idea.
Permanently banning alcohol at campgrounds wouldn’t work and wouldn’t be fair to the majority of campers who behave themselves, having consumed alcohol or not.
In any case, Albertans will all know after the Victoria Day weekend if the booze ban was effective.
Perhaps many people will face fines of up to $256 and eviction from parks. Or, just maybe, there will be few incidents.
If the ban works, great. Keep it in place.
If not, it’s back to the drawing board for the authorities.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.