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Alberta

Camping, RVing a popular option as the summer of COVID-19 approaches

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EDMONTON — Sandy Grunleitner and her family love camping, hiking and being in the outdoors.

She spent hours on the Alberta Parks website last week trying to rebook some camping reservations that had been cancelled after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“It took forever,” Grunleitner of Okotoks, Alta., said in an interview.

Alberta Parks reopened its campground reservations May 14, but at half capacity to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Nearly 40,000 campsite and 2,500 backcountry bookings were made the first day.

“The demand for camping in Alberta Parks is exceptionally high this summer due to limited capacity for physical distancing, national parks not accepting reservations at this time, and out-of-province travel discouraged by health officials,” Alberta Parks said on social media.

Grunleitner was able to book a few spots by selecting a campsite and picking random dates.

“It was totally possible to get sites, but you had to be really patient and keep trying.” 

She nabbed hike-in spots for her and her four children — eight, 11, 12 and 14 — and two campgrounds where the whole family can set up a tent trailer.

“There will be a lot of space between trailers,” she said.

One of the campgrounds is on a reservoir with a sandy beach and Grunleitner wonders whether they will be allowed to go into the water and whether washrooms will be open at campsites.

No one from Alberta Parks responded to a request for an interview, but the website notes that washrooms and garbage pickup will be available by the time campgrounds are to open on June 1.

There are similar opening dates for parks across Western Canada. Some provincial governments are only allowing residents to reserve to prevent non-essential travel between provinces.

Parks Canada has said campgrounds in national parks will remain closed until at least June 21.

Governments reopening provincial parks earlier that month have said any communal facilities will have enhanced cleaning protocols. Shared cooking facilities will remain closed in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. campgrounds.

Some campgrounds have also asked people to use their own washroom facilities in RVs as much as possible.

Concern about COVID-19 has led to a high demand for RVs this year — either for camping or as a way to travel across the country.

Earlier this spring, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid rented an RV and drove to Ontario with his girlfriend and dog.

“The purpose is just to avoid planes and airports and all of that,” he told a hockey podcast in early May. “I also just finished building a place in Edmonton, so I am trying to save a couple bucks.”

Others have decided to purchase their own RV.

Rob Minarchi, sales director of Arrkann Trailer and RV in Edmonton, said business was quiet last month, but website traffic increased by 100 per cent on April 30 — the day the province announced that campgrounds would reopen.

“It’s just been incredible,” he said. “People were just waiting for confirmation that they were able to use RVs this year. Once they had that, everything just spiked.”

Minarchi said some customers have said they had to cancel out-of-country travel plans. Others had been considering an RV and finally decided to buy one.

“Everybody is just craving something to do right now,” he said. “They want to get outdoors. They want to spend time with their immediate family if they can. They don’t want to sit at home anymore.”

Minarchi said people are buying RVs because there are more options available, including smaller units that can be towed more easily. It also poses fewer health concerns.

“People have told me they are little nervous to rent because they don’t know who had it before them.”

Arrkann offers a deep-cleaning service, which has been busy with people who rent out their RVs, Minarchi said. Solar panels and generators are popular purchases by people who want to be able to camp anywhere.

Grunleitner said her family has talked about buying an RV, but doesn’t plan on getting one this summer. It’s still being considered for road trips down south once they know when the U.S. border will open.

“If it’s not going to open in the fall, we’ll wait until next year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2020

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press


Alberta

Indigenous chief alleges RCMP beat him during arrest that began over expired tags

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The chief of a northern Alberta First Nation is calling for the government to investigate after he alleges RCMP assaulted him during an arrest that he says began over a simple matter of expired registration tags on his truck.

Athabasca Chipewayan Chief Allan Adam says in a news release that he, his wife and his niece were getting into his truck in the Peter Pond Mall in downtown Fort McMurray early on March 10 when officers confronted him.

Adam says the tags on his truck weren’t up-to-date, but instead of simply reminding him to renew the tags and let him take a taxi home, he says the officers “used the occasion to beat and arrest” him “in front of family and a number of witnesses in the parking lot.”

The chief released video of the confrontation as well as a picture of himself that he says was taken after the arrest showing him with a large bruise around his right eye and dried blood on his cheek.

RCMP say in a news release that they initiated a vehicle stop on an unoccupied and idling vehicle with an expired plate on at around 2 a.m. on March 10, and that there was a confrontation with Adam when he returned to the vehicle which they say resulted in him resisting arrest.

Police say members were required to use force, and that Adam is charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer and will be in Wood Buffalo Provincial court on July 2.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2020.

 

The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Just went crazy:’ Group gets lots of interest in random camping on public land

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EDMONTON — Ryan Epp started a Facebook group in early April to find some new camping buddies and meet some new friends.

Two months later, his group named Crown Land Camping Alberta has more than 31,000 members.

“I was hoping for maybe 50, 60 people to join up,” Epp, who lives in Calgary, said in an interview this week. “I had over a thousand by the third day — and it just went crazy from that.

“It’s been growing for the last while between 500 and 1,000 new members a day.”

Group members share tips on where and how to camp on public land in Alberta — a longtime practice that’s commonly known as random camping.

Epp, 46, said he created the group after the COVID-19 pandemic led to closures at national and provincial campgrounds.

Parks Canada has said campgrounds in national parks will remain closed until at least June 21, while Alberta Parks reopened its campgrounds earlier this month, but at half capacity.

“It’s hard enough to find spots when all of the sites are available,” said Epp. “With Crown-land camping, there’s a million sites and you just pick one … and it’s free.”

Alberta Environment and Parks said its staff did see an increase in public-land use — including hikers, mountain bikers and families picnicking — in parts of southern and central Alberta on the May long weekend.

“It remains to be seen if campers that traditionally use our provincial parks will increasingly move onto public land for their fill of outdoor recreation,” spokeswoman Christine King said in an email. “Camping in provincial parks versus public land is a different experience in terms of amenities and services.”

Mounties, who patrol public land along with Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers, say they haven’t noticed a major difference in the already popular Ghost-Waiparous area near Cochrane, northwest of Calgary, but officers further to the north in Rocky Mountain House are preparing for a busier summer.

“We predict we will see an increase in the numbers of people involved in this activity this summer due to the restrictions in organized campgrounds and the out-of-province restrictions still in place,” said a statement from the detachment.

Several provinces, including British Columbia and Saskatchewan, have restricted campsite bookings to residents only.

Police remind people heading into Alberta’s random camping areas to be prepared because there are few services and not much cellphone coverage.

“People should also know how to describe where they are to emergency services if they are needed.”

Epp said random campers need more equipment than regular campers because there are no washroom facilities, no running water and no power.

“You have to be set up to be able to handle that.”

The province notes there’s also a 14-day limit on how long a camper can stay in the same spot.

The potential increase in random camping has raised some concern about the areas becoming too busy.

“We encourage people to be out and using our public land responsibly and enjoying nature,” said Katie Morrison of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “But … it’s something that can have a heavier impact on land and water, even other users, if folks … aren’t as experienced.”

Some concerns include damage to the landscape if campers remove trees for fires or make ruts with vehicles. There’s also potential for conflicts with wildlife if campers don’t pack out their garbage or leave human waste, she said.

Morrison said many random camping areas are already busy, and she expects that will increase as the province fully or partially closes 20 provincial parks and hands off 164 others to third-party managers.

“It’s something that should be a sign to the government that removing more of these areas … is contrary to what Albertans want.”

Epp said he’s heard similar concerns from some members in his Facebook group, but he and the other moderators are doing their best to keep political debates off the page.

Instead, he said, they’re trying to teach new random campers how to be respectful on public land — even organizing some weekend trips with first-timers.

“We want to teach people the right way to do it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2020

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

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