Entwistle overrun by Pembina River tubing enthusiasts

EDMONTON – Parkland County starts construction next month on a new road through Entwistle to handle heavy summertime visitor traffic that’s upsetting many local residents.

On hot summer weekends, thousands of visitors flock to the hamlet of 570 people, located 100 kilometres west of Edmonton, to go tubing down the Pembina River, most on their own and some with the Pembina River Tubing company.

But many guests leave messes behind, park their vehicles throughout the tiny community and drive through the Entwistle Cemetery to get onto the river, sometimes camping in spots not properly equipped for visitors, say members of the Pembina Interest Group which has been lobbying government officials and RCMP for a solution to the problem.

“I’ve seen people walk into the bush with toilet paper,” said Entwistle resident Ken Marion, 78. “You don’t have to be a scientist to figure out what’s happening.”

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Marion contacted Alberta Transportation last year asking that parking restrictions be put in place, particularly on a route where vehicles block pedestrians walking to church. Marion also wants to see more enforcement to make sure people aren’t throwing garbage in the river or causing problems around the Entwistle Cemetery.

“The policing has to be really, really stepped up,” said Marion, who retired to Entwistle around 1960.

“With that road being built, at least they’re bringing one solution in.”

Robyne Fraser, 48, grew up in Entwistle and still visits the community often. There has been a dramatic increase in problems since a surge in the number of visitors tubing down the Pembina River, she said.

“I grew up by that park. We’d go float down the river like it was our back yard and it’s just being trashed. That park used to be a really nice park. Now it’s getting out of control. You can’t even take your kids there and enjoy it because it’s just overrun and understaffed. The river … is nothing but trashed flotation devices, broken tubes, bottles, cans, garbage,” Fraser said.

“You can’t go sit in the graveyard at a gravestone in quiet because it’s like a freeway through there now.”

Concerned Entwistle residents have been calling and writing to Parkland County officials, federal officials responsible for enforcement on the river as well as the provincial government, responsible for cemeteries and the Crown land where tubing visitors enter the water.

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Tourists drive through the main cemetery gate along a road that leads to Crown land where they launch tubes onto the river. A guardrail separates that road from the grave sites, which are behind a locked gate, said Parkland County council Coun. Tracey Melnyk. Tourists “are not weaving in and among the gravestones,” Melnyk said.

Parkland County council voted in May to address worries about the cemetery traffic by building a new road to the tubing drop-off point that bypasses the cemetery and residential areas. That road should be open by next summer and construction costs will be recovered through a development levy, said Melnyk.

The county also installed speed bumps to slow visitor traffic through residential areas, said Melnyk, who lives on one of the busy roads in Entwistle and whose grandparents are buried in the cemetery.

Residents shouldn’t overlook the tourist dollars that flow into Entwistle thanks to tubing, Melnyk said.

“On a hot summer day, we probably see 1,000 people, easily, coming down to tube, so it is a lot of people. It’s a beautiful ride,” she said.

“The provincial parks, the rivers and the Crown land – that’s for every Albertan. Some people would like us to stop the (tubing) activity. We don’t have that jurisdiction to stop anybody and we really don’t want to stop them. We want to get people to respect the area.”

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Pembina River Tubing sends paid staff out at least once a week to thoroughly clean the river and empties garbage cans at the tubing drop-off point, said Cheryl Harris, whose husband owns Pembina River Tubing Ltd. The company, established six years ago, also provides community volunteers with kayaks and a boat to clean the river.

“We know what people’s issues are because we have the same concerns,” Harris said. “We need to manage it as a community.”

The Friends of the Pembina Society has about a dozen volunteers who collect litter in and around the Pembina River, said society director Floyd Fausak.

“Most of it is picking up the tubes that have been punctured – there’s lots of those – and of course the bottles and cans and the plastic bags. We’re always looking for volunteers.”

The society, established four years ago, is also building trail systems so residents in the hamlets of Entwistle and Evansburg can walk to the river.

Drayton Valley resident Trent Hofmann, 50, said he regularly goes fishing off the shore of the Pembina River. He is worried visitors who go tubing are causing environmental damage. “I kick garbage aside to fish.”

Hofmann said he has seen “garbage, human feces, trees chopped down” in the area.

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Perhaps all visitors who want to go tubing should have to do so through the tubing company, so the process is more tightly controlled, Hofmann suggested.

“It’s a free-for-all right now. Anybody can come out there with a tube and drive through the graveyard to the drop-off point and go.”

Tubing traffic has increased dramatically in the past two years and long weekends can be particularly busy, said Peter Morris, supervisor with enforcement services for Parkland County.

County patrols visit tubing hot spots regularly, checking for infractions such as open alcohol and traffic violations, and working closely with RCMP, Alberta sheriffs and provincial fish and wildlife officers, Morris said. “It’s going to be zero tolerance from our end.” 

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