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Is Rowdiness Ruining Your Camping Experience?

When most of us think about camping in Alberta’s great outdoors, visions of pitching our tents in idyllic locales, swimming in pristine lakes and rivers and preparing our food over open fires often come to mind. Increasingly however, campers have been experiencing the unpleasantness of being awoken by rowdy campers partying well after quiet hours have begun and feel powerless to do anything about it.

For several years now my wife and I have been woken from our sleep by drunken partying, loud talking or even generators running after 11:00 pm when quiet hours were supposed to begin. Despite being surrounded by fellow campers, the noise will often continue late into the morning hours unabated until the noise makers run out of steam and head off to bed themselves.

Are we the only ones lying awake wondering how long it will take for someone to complain or waiting for the campground attendants to make their rounds and shut the offending campers down? I don’t think so, but Alberta campers do seem to be unwilling to speak up and it seems there is even an unwillingness or at least an inability on the part of some campground operators to ensure an enjoyable experience for Alberta campers.
A number of years ago while camping in the Elbow Valley west of Calgary, we were woken at midnight by a number of people running up and down the campground roadway and even through our campsite. It was a group of young adults that arrived earlier in the evening and hadn’t even bothered to pitch a tent, presumably because they weren’t going to sleep anyway.

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From the yelling, laughing and screaming in pain (yes pain) we surmised they were shooting paintballs at each other in the moonlight. Shortly thereafter fireworks were added to the mix and the “merrymaking” seemed to go on forever.

After realizing the campground attendant wasn’t going to make an effort to quiet the partiers, even though fireworks were going off less than 100 metres from his RV, I made my way over to his campsite and requested assistance, at which point he pulled out some paperwork (a formal complaint form) for me to fill out before he would call the conservation officers for assistance.

I was assured help was on its way and I snuck back to my trailer avoiding the drunken, paintball shooting teenagers along the way. At day break the police arrived and the offenders were charged with a number of offenses.

Needless to say, too little too late for my wife and I to get any sleep.

Another time, again in the Elbow Valley, I set the trailer up for my wife and kids mid week while I worked in town. They were to spend a couple of nights there until I could join them on the weekend.

Again, there was a group of young adults without a tent, drinking heavily mid afternoon. Knowing there could be cause for concern my wife spoke to the campground attendant who assured her he would advise the conservation officers to keep an eye out for any problems. My wife felt relieved, enjoyed the rest of the night with the kids and retired early.

Shortly after midnight the partiers started racing around the camping loop in their truck. Revving their engine and actually crashing into several of the boulders meant to keep vehicles off the grass. Assuming the campground attendant also heard the noise she waited until help arrived. By daybreak no help had arrived.

It turned out the campground attendant had taken the night off and he and his wife decided to spend the night in Calgary without letting the Conservation Officers know. Here was my wife, kids and an elderly couple in their own trailer alone in a campground with drunken hooligans, no cellphone coverage and their only link to help was the pay phone 200 metres from their trailers. Needless to say we were not impressed.

Our most recent experience with the ineffectiveness of Alberta Parks staff to quell drunken behavior was this past weekend at a central Alberta campground, when dutifully we called the emergency line to report some campers who at 2 in the morning had just set off their second volley of fireworks. I waited at our picnic table for the conservation officers until 3 while the partying continued and no one arrived to quiet them down. This despite the presence of the regional Alberta Parks office being a stones throw from the campground. Something is seriously wrong with how complaints are handled at Alberta campgrounds and it, in my opinion, is putting the safety of Alberta campers at risk.

Upon speaking with the Conservation Officers the following day I believe it’s a mixture of human error, aMorning! complicated legal system and the lack of a province-wide standard on how after-hours noise complaints are handled that led to our sleep-deprived night.

I hesitate to repeat anything Park’s staff has said to me about the issue since inconsistencies have been glaring, there’s no black and white and I know we have a group of people working as hard as possible given the budget, the direction from their superiors and the need to apply the law fairly. But, I just want to sleep!

It seems to me all involved have an obligation to correct this. From the campers who wedge their earplugs deeper in their ears at every whoop and hollar, to Park’s staff and campground operators that have a vested interest in making sure things go well for their guests, to you I say;

Campers – Make note of the emergency number when you arrive at the campground and USE IT day or night at the first sign of trouble. Disturbing the peace is disturbing the peace – day or night. Rowdy behavior during the day almost certainly equates to rowdy behavior at night.

Campground Operators – Your bread and butter comes from the campers – ensure their experience is a pleasant one by keeping the lines of communication open. Who do we call and what will the response be when we do experience rowdy behavior?

Alberta Parks Management – Please make sure your message to the public is consistent and your processes are clearly outlined to your staff. I know how the legal mumbo jumbo can be debilitating at times for you to effectively perform your job and believe it’s why the public is hesitant to report offenders. We just want to enjoy the little time we have to spend in your parks. Help us help you and make sure complaints are dealt with quickly and effectively.

Wow! Ten years of pent up frustration gone!

Seriously, rowdy behavior and liquor bans will be a thing of the past if all involved do their part to send the message that respect for all, by all is how to enjoy our beautiful Alberta Campgrounds.