Taming the wild West Country

Have those dumb, marauding anti-eco campers really grown up ­— or just moved further west, into B.C.?

Have those dumb, marauding anti-eco campers really grown up ­— or just moved further west, into B.C.?

For anyone who uses the West Country responsibly, it is sort of encouraging to hear from those who patrol the forests that there isn’t as much disrespect shown by some of those who use the forests. Some of the “good old boys and girls” have grown up, apparently.

After years of trying to get people to understand the wild outdoors isn’t an open quad track, the message seems to be getting through some thick skulls.

There’s an incredible wilderness that lies west of Rocky Mountain House and beyond, to the foothills and the mountains, through places like Nordegg, along the Forestry Trunk Road, Abraham Lake and Kootenay Plains, inhabited by such creatures as bears, sheep, goats, deer, elk, cougar, numerous types of wild fish and birds, and, unfortunately, the party animal.

Head straight west out of Red Deer a couple of hours and you truly are out in the wilderness. The area along the David Thompson Hwy remains one of Alberta’s pristine green areas.

You only have to pass through Rocky Mountain House between May and September to know how popular the West Country is getting to be. Every gas station has a lineup, as does every highway fast food outlet. Drive west on a Sunday, or long weekend Monday, and every second vehicle coming at you is a truck and camper heading home.

During the Victoria long weekend, traditionally a time for all hell to break loose in the West Country, things were much quieter this year. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) told the Advocate that, in part thanks to social media, law enforcement was alerted quickly in some cases to bad-ass campers.

Some people have even taken it upon themselves to help clean up after party animal campers leave.

It’s getting to be a better educated camper out there, with more people showing an understanding that they should leave the forest just as pretty as when they arrived.

But part of that has to be because of the huge policing effort that goes into every long weekend out there now. Rocky and Rimbey RCMP wrote 750 tickets on the May long weekend — for alcohol, vehicle, off-road and camping violations. Still, there was at least one report in the Cow Lake area of a couple’s trailer being extensively damaged by a band of destructive campers.

To me that doesn’t quite say the problems of party animal campers is anywhere near resolved. As well, the weather was not terrific, and only about 30,000 people, instead of as many as 60,000 some years, visited the area. But in that there were no fatalities or critical injuries, ESRD was happy to note that seven years of cracking down is starting to pay off.

After the public grew weary of the terrible behaviour and destruction caused by some campers who see the wilderness as a great place to test the limits of their 4x4s, and/or ATVs, destroying land and water, the province began to respond with massive bursts of law enforcement on the big camping weekends.

It’s great that things seem to be improving, but without the big show of force, would the wild party camper types, and those who think the forest, streams and rivers are a big mudhole waiting to be created, return?

Sadly, they are still out there.

It may be that many of those who used Alberta’s West Country for such activities have moved on — to B.C.’s East Country, the Fernie area.

Young adults for the most part, and a lot of them inebriated Albertans, took to the forest there on the Victoria weekend, leaving behind a scene that looked more like a landfill than the beautiful outdoors.

Sigh — B.C. will have to start doing what Alberta has had to do to try to maintain peace and tranquility in the forest.

Maybe if the deadheads are pushed far enough, they will just stay home.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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