Hidden gems in Westlock County

    The place we know the least about is often the place we live. The hidden gems are as much the people as the places. At the end of this year’s Westlock County tour, July 20, Dennis Mueller said to us, “Note the importance of volunteers in this tour visit…and of individuals with a vision and purpose and drive.” It’s those people that have provided the county with five or more places of interest to tour, for 26 years in a row.

Dom Kriangkum is so excited to see the Canadia men's gymnastic team training in the world class athletic center he's built.

Dom Kriangkum is so excited to see the Canadia men's gymnastic team training in the world class athletic center he's built.

     Dom Kriangkum, a private entrepreneur, is realizing his dream of building a world class athletic center at the tiny hamlet of Tawatinaw. We had the awesome privilege of watching the Canadian men’s gymnastics team train as they prepare for the Olympics qualifications. Wow, right here in Westlock County!
     Our county covers 12,000 square miles. Les Breadon’s job is to keep its many culverts free of beaver activity. We gathered around one culvert through a creek as he pulled up a beaver in a live trap. He says he traps around 200 beaver a year. Thanks Les, for keeping our roads safe!

The new Redwater bridge, built entirely by volunteers, connects the historic Athabasca Landing Trail running through Westlock County.

The new Redwater bridge, built entirely by volunteers, connects the historic Athabasca Landing Trail running through Westlock County.

     At an adhoc camp ground near Bouchard Lake, Adam Esch shows us what happens when such places aren’t managed. A ceramic toilet up against a spruce tree is used to set off fireworks into the bush. Quad trails run all over, and the ground is strewn with broken glass. It’s a beautiful place, but could be destroyed quickly. The country is working on a management concept for the recreation areas, especially on crown land.
     We stand on the new Red Water Bridge the Athabasca Landing Trail society has built, all with volunteer labour – mostly 10-12 older men. This trail was used to transport goods from Edmonton to Athabasca, where it was transferred to boats to Fort McMurray. It’s an important part of Alberta history, and is being restored in its entirety.
      Homemade soup and sandwiches are served at Half Moon Community Hall, which was the evacuation center for the Opal fire victims a year ago. Nearby is the Half Moon campground, run entirely by volunteers after the Thorhild County wanted to sell it. We’re glad this beautiful lake is still accessible to the public.

These boys have fun at the Half Moon campground, which is still open thanks to the tireless efforts of local volunteers.

These boys have fun at the Half Moon campground, which is still open thanks to the tireless efforts of local volunteers.

     At Erdmann’s Gardens and Greenhouses we loaded up on garden fresh carrots and other produce. This is Rony Erdmann’s 29th season. He and his family grow vegetables and strawberries on 62 acres.
     Rainbow Equitation Center offers 27 kilometres of riding and hiking trails in natural habitat. Richard DeSmitt’s passion is much of what made this possible. There are several well fenced staging and holding areas for horses; even one riding area especially for handicapped.

This beautiful church in the tiny community of Waugh is another testimony to what can be done where there is vision and drive.

This beautiful church in the tiny community of Waugh is another testimony to what can be done where there is vision and drive.

     And the gem of the tour? – The Ukrainian Catholic church at Waugh. The outside facade is impressive enough for a country church with its large silver dome. But it’s the inside that surprises one – the large paintings over the walls remind one of old European churches. Each painting was donated by a family, and dates back to l957-58.
     Like many other tour participants, I didn’t know most of these places existed. I have a new appreciation for our county and for the people that make it the fascinating place it is.

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