Decent year for campgrounds, in spite of fires and fish factors

Joe McWilliams

Lakeside Leader

In spite of fires, recurring smoke and strict fishing restrictions, 2023 was a decent season for campground operators around the area. At least that’s the impression we got from a phone survey of several of them last week.

Interestingly enough, the Slave Lake Region Tourism Society got a different impression when it talked to operators over the summer.

“Mixed bag,” is how Shauna Fiddler, the SLRTS Executive Director put it.

“Some were way down this year,” she said, and they blamed the new regs that make pike catch and release only on Lesser Slave Lake, and allow one walleye at a certain ‘slot limit’ length.

But most owners we talked to last week figured 2023 was a good season in spite of the fish limit factor.

“Our numbers were higher than last year,” said Spruce Point Park Association President Bumpy Churchill.

“Good season,” said Grant Gramiak of Norm’s Walleye Camp.

Asked if the fishing restrictions caused people to stay away, Gramiak said, “Not really. People are mostly used to it now. Some people grumble, but they come back again.”

On the catch-and-release only reg in force for pike on Lesser Slave, Gramiak said from what his customers have been telling him, there are plenty out there, and big ones.

“Our campers never caught so many pike!” he said.

The fires probably had a depressing effect on camping visits to the area in the spring, and the smoke certainly didn’t help. But did they hurt that much? Not if you ask Betty Lessard of Roland on the River.

“It’s been a very good season,” she said.

People talk about the fishing restrictions, “but there haven’t been any cancellations,” she said. “It turned out to be a good year.”

Not that the picture is entirely rosy. Fiddler said she heard from an operator or two who said people who would normally come for a week were only booking for three days, due to the fishing situation.

That might also be the case on Fawcett Lake, which is well into a multi-year catch-and-release only situation for pike, and tags for walleye. Crystal Twa of the Anchor Inn Resort said it “definitely” had an affect on her season, which she describes as “fairly quiet.”

The same goes for the provincial campground next door, Twa said. Speaking of provincial campgrounds, we were hoping to get some numbers from the Parks department, but that had not happened by press time.

Low water was a concern early in the season. Churchill says it was looking iffy for a while on lake access from the marina, but it never actually got so bad that boats couldn’t get in and out. You just had to be careful. Overhead drone photos helped, he said.

Similar concerns at the east end of the lake might have had something to do with the M.D.’s decision to go ahead with its boat launch-extension project next door to Norm’s Walleye Camp on the Lesser Slave River. That’s been completed and should allow trouble-free launching even when the river gets quite low.

So, all in all, in spite of low water, fires, strict fishing limits and other factors, it was a decent season for campgrounds in 2023. We’ve already reported on Big Fish Bay Resort, which on some weekends had completely booked out all 450 of its sites.

As for visitor services, we don’t have many details (those are being held until after a report to town council), but we heard last week the Visitor Information Centre saw 79 per cent more visitors than last year!

Lakeview Campground and Marina in Slave Lake had a decent season, though wildfire smoke (or the threat of it) did keep some people away earlier in the summer.

Something new by the lake

The M.D. of Lesser Slave River recently had a contractor in to build camping sites by the lake at Wagner, next to the new pumphouse near the mouth of Nine Mile Creek. How it came about is the M.D. had 130 truckloads of rock dredged out of the lake behind the old hotel in Canyon Creek last winter and needed a place to put it. So instead of taking it to the landfill, they spread it out at the Wagner campground site, after removing wood and metal bits from it. Then they had the Mourad Group in to build the RV stalls, with topsoil in between, sow grass, plant trees, build fences and (still to come) fire pits and tables.

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