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Camping at It`s Best
By: Jim Alseth

● An early June weekend took us to the town of Okotoks and the Okotoks Lions Campground in the foothills of southwestern Alberta, not far from Calgary and the Rocky Mountains. The Town is a young, vibrant, friendly community of 17,145 residents and is the second fastest growing community in Canada with a 46% growth rate since 2001.

The campground is situated in town quaintly on the southern bank of the Sheep River, amidst large, aged, poplar and oak. The washroom and shower facilities were spotless. In fact, grooming and upkeep of this resort and it`s amenities were so meticulous you`d have to look hard to find a single weed in the lawns separating the individual sites. The riverside is lined with a playground, pleasant day-use area, walking/bike paths, and all are underneath a large treed canopy.

This RV resort suits those who like quiet, comfortable rving with most amenities (including golfing) within minutes of the resort.

● We just came back from a week of camping at one of our favorite spots, Marten River Provincial Campground on Lesser Slave Lake. It`s been called "oceanside camping in the middle of Alberta," because of it`s sheer size and natural, soft-sand beaches.

The lake itself is ideal for all kinds of water activity. In spite of it`s great expanse there is a shallow shelf extending out quite a few yards which then drops off only gradually, allowing small children to play safely (under parental supervision of course). The fishing is excellent for walleye; just be aware of limits and regulations. And again, because of the size of the lake, pleasure-boaters, anglers and swimmers alike all have lots of space, keeping everyone happy.

The campsites in my opinion are optimal, balancing the maintenance of lush, unspoiled habitat with functionality. Each site is as close to level as possible, graveled (allowing for excellent water drainage), has a firepit and large picnic table and is surrounded by large conifers and deciduous trees averaging 40 feet tall. This year rates are $20 non-powered, $26 powered. For tenters, many sites have an earth pad at the back for easy stake-pounding. Firewood, which used to be free, now costs $5 per large bucket-full. Showers are coin-operated.

There are more powered sites this year and they`ve added full-time park staff, replacing the awkward and oft-abused self-registration system. Park rangers, staff and volunteer camp hosts are friendly and do a good job of keeping the park safe and well-maintained. Quiet times and respect for other campers and habitat are well-enforced. Throughout the summer conservation staff also provide a regular schedule of informative and entertaining programs at the amphitheatre.

Keep in mind this is north-central Alberta camping. There are some horseflies and mosquitoes. And it`s bear country. Proper food storage and common sense when on trails will minimize risky encounters. Having said that, I know of few areas in North America (other than the Rockies) where one can more fully enjoy the majesty of God`s country and observe some splendid wildlife. For most of the week both campsites on either side of us were empty. A large, adolescent, mule deer buck would stroll through the site west of us, munching on the foliage while we stood there in full view. He would allow us to edge within 6 feet before casually sauntering off.

This is camping at it`s best and it`s why we keep coming back to this pristine facility. For those who like natural rustic camping combined with a few excellent basic amenities, you`ll love Marten River Provincial Campground on Lesser Slave Lake.

● The last couple of years we`ve upgraded our camping units. First, we sadly parted with our 1975, 17` single-axle Triple E trailer which we pulled with our 1993 Aerostar minivan. The thermostat on the furnace never worked, the cams on the crank windows were shot and I had to light the propane fridge from the outside, but it never leaked. It kept us warm and dry and we compiled a lifetime of memories in that dwelling from the time our high-school-aged daughters were babies. Actually the toilet and the fridge never worked really well until a couple years ago when we blew a tire on our way to Slave Lake and shook everything up real good as the trailer rolled to a bumpy stop riding on the rim... both toilet and fridge worked well after that!

This year we`re pulling a 25` Flagstaff Ultralite with a 2003 Expedition. The added weight and power of the Expedition handles the job of towing the 3800 lb. trailer nicely. However, our trips to Okotoks and Slave Lake contrasted well the importance of proper weight distribution when towing.

On the first trip we carried 7 adults (very comfortably in the Expedition by the way) while having very little extra load in the trailer. On the second trip we had more stuff in the trailer with a portion of that weight in the back (four bikes), while having three fewer passengers in the vehicle. This redistribution of weight combined with some bad weather made a surprising difference in the amount of fishtailing. If it were not for the sway-control device (tightened heavily) we would have had to travel at about 50 mph (80 km/hr) instead of maintaining normal highway speed. The lesson: keep as much weight as possible in the tow vehicle and position load in the trailer as far forward as possible.

● Another positive note to our Slave Lake trip was an experience we had with one of the businesses in the Town of Slave Lake, which is about 15 minutes from the campground. I always try to get a sense of the pulse of business in any locale and had opportunity to do this at the Kal-Tire center. Two years earlier we had to buy a trailer tire at this location so it was natural for us to go back (today we had a slow leak on the right rear tire of our vehicle).

They gave us a reasonable quote, fixed the tire, put the tire back on (and put the spare back underneath where it belonged instead of throwing it in the hatch), and topped up all the other tires to boot. When I went to pay they said, "There`s no charge today, Sir." Well, needless to say, I needed some help picking my jaw off the floor.

Now, the people at Kal-Tire don`t have a clue who I am or that I`m writing about them. And I don`t go into any business expecting freebies. The point of this story should be quite obvious, but I`m always amazed at how few businesses really get it. Where am I going to go for vehicle service next time I`m even close to Slave Lake? How many people am I going to tell about this experience (even apart from this column)? Yes, some things never change--the Golden Rule and superior customer service reaps rewards. Way-to-go Kal-Tire!

Published: 7/16/2008
Source: Great Camping Spots

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