Editorial – Opportunity is knocking

Jeff Burgar

In the good old days of one of Alberta’s periodic boom times, it was common to hear leaders of various expanding communities whining about their problems.

Grande Prairie. Lloydminster. Red Deer. Even Beaumont and Vegreville.

“Gosh,” they would say, “we’re so busy building streets and sewers and intersections to handle the growth, we don’t know where we’re going to get the money for all this.” So off they all trotted to government in Edmonton. Sometimes bigger centres went to Ottawa. All to plead for cash.

Of course, many communities were not enjoying the boom as much as these favoured folk. Favoured folk, it has to be said, who did nothing to create the incoming wealth. So it was fair to ask, “Why not just borrow? Why not tax your citizens? They are all enjoying the new services, the new stores, the new facilities, why can’t they pay for it? Why should the rest of Canada, including many other small towns in Alberta, not so favoured, have to pay?”

This of course, always fell on deaf ears. If the matter was pushed, those hard pressed leaders scurried off, eager to find another community in their same predicament. And certainly, a community much more sympathetic and eager to join the “hands out” parade.

Which brings us to our tourism industry in northern Alberta. Ah, if only this industry had the “customers” now plaguing parts of southern and central Alberta. In normal times, community leaders would not be seeing the, literally, thousands of campers and hikers despoiling certain wilderness areas. The particular incident getting news attention these days is a 5,000 square kilometre area around Nordegg west of Rocky Mountain House. Not exactly close to a major city.

This region has seen up to 10,000 campers and hikers daily during summer months. Now it is three and four times that amount invading this prime wilderness area. In fact, it was once planned to be a provincial park. The visitors are leaving trails of garbage, human waste, and deforestation as they cut trees for campfires. Simply put, there are no facilities to handle them.

5,000 square kilometres isn’t really a huge area. It’s 50 x 100 kilometres. Northern Alberta bush could suck up space like that and lose it completely in a heartbeat. Economically speaking, how would 10,000 or 20,000 new tourist faces, daily, look spread between Grimshaw, Falher, High Prairie and Slave Lake? Handled properly, not bad at all.

Naturally, it’s a different story down south. Instead of seeing opportunities, like pay toilets, hot dog stands, guided hikes, canoe adventures and even firewood and medical attention, all the way up to hotels and restaurants and more. Instead, it’s that familiar story of whining and complaining.

As was always said to those complaining about their “hardships” every time there was a boom “Gosh, we would sure give an arm and a leg to have your problems.” Isn’t that the truth. We would figure out how to deal with all this, and do it happily. Send them to the north!

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