Recreation & Parks

Which Reservoir are You Camping At This Summer?

Last summer, I was at Crawling Valley Reservoir near Bassano for the first time and was quite surprised to see so many boats on the lake and at the boat dock in the small, but attractive, constructed harbour. Fishing rods were set with bells to alert their owners when they should pay more attention to the fish on the other end of the line than to the stories their fishing buddy was telling. Kids were swimming, and splashing each other, and others were dangling a line hoping to catch a fish themselves.

As I looked over the campground, two families on bikes whizzed by, a puppy with an inquisitive look came up nonchalantly seeking some attention, and the smell of barbeques and their sizzling contents made me wish I was invited for supper. My wife sat in the shade of an accommodating tree reading a book, while I checked out this oasis that the Eastern Irrigation District had constructed. We left later in the evening just as the sunset began to fill the western sky with its flaming orange and reds, and campers gathered to share the warmth and congeniality of their campfires. There’s just something about sitting around the flickering flames of a campfire in the evening, enjoying the relaxing, mesmerizing, dancing flames. There’s just something about being by a lake having a lazy day without phone calls or cares.

A recreation study done by AIPA in the past found that the average distance people travelled to get to Crawling Valley was 224 km; those traveling to Kinbrook Park drove on average 237 km, while reservoirs like Stafford Lake drew more local people with an average travelling distance of only 27 km. Calgary residents made up 81% of the campers at Crawling Valley, 54% of the people visiting 40 Mile Coulee were from Medicine Hat, and 71% of the people camping and boating at St. Mary Reservoir were from Lethbridge. These reservoirs meet the needs of locals for recreation as well as those willing to travel some distance to enjoy the wonders of water. About one-quarter of recreationists come to fish, another 25% come to boat, water ski, windsurf or jet ski, another quarter are just out to enjoy the out of doors and visit, about 15 per cent come to go swimming, and the rest come to observe wildlife or other purposes.

Park Lake, Kinbrook Island, and Little Bow, all Provincial Parks on irrigation reservoirs, boast over 450 campsites. Twent y-two other developed campgrounds or day-use areas exist on the 89 water bodies owned by irrigation districts or Alberta Environment. AIPA has produced a booklet complete with photographs that describes twenty of these campgrounds and their locations. Use the “Contact Us” link to request a booklet. Counties, towns, villages, private associations, and businesses, as well as Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation and the irrigation districts, operate these recreational facilities to increase the quality of life in this region. Some reservoirs or water bodies fed by irrigation water are not widely recognized as such, for example, Henderson Lake, Payne Lake, Nicholas Sheran Pond, Chestermere Lake, and Lake Newell.

Water and tourism go hand in hand. Alberta Tourism Parks and Recreation recently joined forces with AIPA to fund a study on the feasibility of novel recreational uses for the irrigation system. Options like a windsurfing/kitesurfing park, a network of bird watching platforms among the 82,000 acres of irrigation-created wetlands, and cable-drawn wake boarding are some of the ideas for new ways to enjoy the irrigation-based recreation potential of southern Alberta. While you wait for these and other ideas to change from dreams to reality, you can do your own dreaming as you enjoy your day at the reservoir.

AIPA has produced a booklet with pictures and descriptions of 22 campgrounds and day use areas in Alberta’s irrigated region.