Prairie Fun Days uncovers local attractions
Jeff Sheppard of Beaumont gasses up his 40 per cent Cub air plane at Alberta’s Littlest Airport during a Prairie Fun Days tour stop in Bawlf on Saturday. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
People are often so focused on seeing the rest of the world, they miss what’s happening in their own backyard.
Sometimes it is even a matter of being so comfortable in their own surroundings that people miss what’s just down the road. Other times certain venues are not open to the public except on special occasions.
The organizers of Prairie Fun Days has been doing their best for the last decade to introduce local residents — and tourists from other areas — to Camrose County.
This year the whistle-stop bus tour went Saturday and Sunday making 20 stops between the two days, and as the case is every year there were long-time residents discovering new nooks and crannies.
For local senior Dennis Meadahl, the big surprise was Alberta’s Littlest Airport just outside of Bawlf.
“They put on quite a show here, I didn’t know they did this,” said Meadahl, who has lived in Camrose his whole life. “They say you can drive by the Littlest Airport in Alberta and not even know it.”
The airport has been in business for 38 years and serves planes of a much smaller variety, open to certified radio-controlled air plane pilots. They hold competitions a few times a year for the public, making sure Prairie Fun Days is one of those days just about every year.
Reg Blackwell and his family have farmed the land for 90 years. The RC plane obsession is in his blood, with his dad flying the miniatures on the farm back in the 1950s — just don’t ask him how many planes he owns personally.
This weekend’s event was their annual Corn Roast and has been a staple on the property for 30 years and normally attracts between 30 and 40 pilots.
“Most of these (pilots) come from somewhere else, so having the local community know what we do is really neat,” said Terri Blackwell, Reg’s wife.
“It’s funny how close people can leave and not know what this is.”
It is a similar story at many of the stops for Prairie Fun Day, which included tours of old churches, out of the way rural shops, local provincial parks, farms and museums.
Janine Carroll and Barb MacDonald started the tour as a self-driving tour about a decade ago, as a means to open up some of the old historic buildings and churches that people drive past every day to the public. Tourism Camrose introduced a bus to make the tour more accessible a few years ago with the assistance of Camrose County and Prairie Fun Days continues to evolve.
On Saturday this year the tour traversed the north part of the county up to the Augustana Miquelon Lake Research Centre, while on Sunday they travelled the southern regions, down to Pelican Point Park and Campground.
Every year there are changes to the tour to introduce new stops and to highlight different attractions.
The tour was sold out with all 58 seats on the Prairie Cruiseline bus filled with extra cars following close behind.
It’s not just local residents on the bus, however. Cail says there are always new people from communities outside of the region that hear about the tour and make a point of taking it. One couple turned it into a four-day weekend, staying in Camrose through Monday.
“They’re staying here extra days just so they can shop and be here longer,” said Tourism Camrose volunteer Hazel Cail. “That’s what it’s all about.”
For Cail, showcasing everything the region has to offer is a passion. She retired as Tourism Camrose Executive Director this spring, but continues to volunteer and lend her support to the cause.
“If I can do anything to increase the interest and visitation to Camrose and area, that’s what my goal is,” she said. “I’m a volunteer now, and it’s just as fun.”