Trouble in paradise: rough road deters campers

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Things could be a lot worse for the Anchor Inn Resort at the west end of Fawcett Lake. Their seasonal camping spots are 100 per cent subscribed by a solid clientele of folks who know how good they have it and have the means to negotiate some nasty ruts and don’t mind doing it.

On the other hand, owners Mike and Crystal Twa have abandoned management of the nearby provincial campground this year. It has gone in the past few years from being busy most weekends in season to being mostly empty. The condition of the West Fawcett Road is apparently the main culprit.

“There’s a big problem,” says Mike. “If you don’t have a four-wheel drive, you’re not going to get out without doing some damage to your vehicle.”

That’s when it rains. When it isn’t raining, you might just be driving through a lot of dust.

What’s happening is a lot of heavy industrial traffic. Log hauling is happening all summer now, and hauling fluid from a well or wells in the country beyond Fawcett Lake is going on “twenty-four-seven,” Mike says. The road is taking quite a pounding.

The Twas bought the campground from Jean and Roy Ahlstrom 12 years ago. The road was in good shape back then, says Crystal, and the lake and its fish were a good draw. They still are, although the new tighter restrictions on pike and walleye have put a bit of a damper on it. The downturn in the economy might have played a role too, but the irony now is that an upswing in industrial activity in the area is causing problems for the tourist side of things.

Mike and Crystal aren’t sure what could or should be done to improve the situation. More gravel on the road would certainly help. Of course they’re aware that lots of roads in the M.D. are crying for attention. Or at least that the people who drive on them and live on them are. The other thing that would help is to restrict heavy truck traffic to the winter.

“Stay off the road for the season!” says Mike.

“We just need good roads for four months,” says Crystal.

It is true that the road appears to be more dust than gravel. It gets graded more or less constantly. But all that does is smooth out the ruts until the next heavy load comes along, says Crystal.

It’s a dilemma for the M.D. It has road use agreements with some industrial haulers, by which they contribute to maintenance.

In the case of the West Fawcett Road, M.D. transportation director Bill Klassen says there’s a sort of consortium of energy companies that have teamed up to provide daily maintenance on the road. It results in a much higher level of care than the M.D. budget allows. And not just the daily grading.

“Industry paid for all the dust control,” Klassen says.

More gravel would be nice. The road got some last year (thanks again to industry, Klassen says) and will be on the M.D. graveling schedule again in a couple of years. It won’t be nearly enough, but that’s the way it goes. Klassen points out that the re-graveling budget of the M.D. has grown by 1.5 times the past couple of years. This year’s budget for crushing is $800,000. West Fawcett is 17 kilometres out of 690 the M.D. looks after.

Leaving the road aside, the location is pretty nice. There’s a lovely view of the lake from the boat launch, where a loon floats unconcernedly. A short walk, drive (or paddle) from there is the provincial recreation area, the site of a sawmill and camp during and after the Second World War. It was (and is) historically significant due to the fact it housed prisoners of war for about three years. Stories about that period in the history of West Fawcett appear in Echoes Along the Athabasca.

“’We get people asking about it,” says Crystal.

If it’s been raining, her advice to them (if they are calling) is probably not to risk the ruts.

Anchor Inn Resort owners Mike and Crystal Twa, with their daughter Allyson and a pet or two.

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