Long weekends typically see Albertans heading for cottages and campsites in droves, but that’s not happening this Easter weekend as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches on.
While provincial and federal parks have closed their gates, at least one privately owned campground says it’s open for business.
Aspen Crossing, a campground southeast of Calgary, is gearing up for a busy weekend as staff expect to be at 50 per cent capacity.
The campground sits on 300 acres of land with 121 campsites.
“Not everyone has the luxury of having lots and lots of acres to self-isolate on,” Aspen Crossing director of development Jodie Gateman said.
“Let’s get some of those people that are in apartments, in condos, things like that, a safe haven where they can take a break and not be confined within four walls. We’re worried about people’s mental health as well as keeping them safe.”
The campground has laid out strict rules for those looking to camp out during the first long weekend of the pandemic.
Staff have set safe social distancing measures between each campsite, the on-site restaurant will only serve take-out for campers, and potlucks and bonfires are banned.
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Group gathering places on site, including the playground, are also closed, and campers are not allowed to visit other campsites unless they are keeping six feet between them and other campers.
To help gauge social distancing, the campground is also handing out walking sticks cut to be six feet long.
According to staff, the laundry room and bathrooms are limited to one person at a time, with extra cleaning in place.
The staff is also working to limit in-person interactions with campers.
“Nothing is done face-to-face or in-person, everything is done online,” Gateman said.
“Your consent form you sign says: ‘I understand this is a pandemic. I understand all of these rules.’ It goes in a drop-box. We’re following every precaution we can to keep people safe but still allow them to get out, get some fresh air and get a little bit of a breather to help themselves recharge so they’re ready to finish this pandemic off.”
Global News has confirmed that Aspen Crossing has been in contact with an Alberta Health Services inspector about opening for the long weekend.
According to AHS, campgrounds are not required to close at this time as long as they protect staff and patrons from the risk of transmission – but they still recommend people stay home.
The only facilities that should consider remaining open are sites that offer long-term residency and where the sites are primary accommodation for users, AHS said.
“Safe Healthy Environments (AHS-SHE) recommends that privately owned and municipally operated campgrounds in the province of Alberta follow the precedent set by Alberta Parks and the National Parks and remain closed for the upcoming 2020 season due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak,” AHS said in a statement to Global News.
“Albertans are encouraged to stay home on the long weekend and avoid group settings and non-essential travel.”
AHS recommended campgrounds that remain open should limit to self-contained camping only, including water supply, holding tanks and personal washroom facilities like RVs and travel trailers. The health authority also recommended that all shared washroom facilities should be closed, and group camping should be prohibited.
According to the province, AHS is exploring potential restrictions on recreational camping at private campgrounds, and further guidance is expected in the near future, as federal and provincial campgrounds are closed.
“They’ll be watching very, very closely. They’ve told us that,” Gateman said. “We’re reminding people as they come into the campground that any little infraction can shut us down.”