RVing meets cottage life at Pigeon Lake (Excerpts taken From an article published in the Edmonton journal)
Bob Allen knows it's only a matter of time before he's soaking up the sun on the deck of his little cabin near the lake.
"I'm doing my happy dance right now," Allen laughs, as he awaits the opening this month of a resort, half a kilometre from the shores of Pigeon Lake, where he has spent the last nine summers.
Allen, 57, travels much of the winter with his job as a pipeline-construction inspector.
But once the weather warms, there's nothing he likes better than relaxing in his log home, nestled among towering spruce trees at Mulhurst Bay on the east side of Pigeon Lake, one of central Alberta's most popular summer playgrounds.
"In the summertime, when I've got days off, it's straight to the lake," less than an hour's drive from Edmonton.
The resort Allen returns to each year is the Hilah Ayers Wilderness RV Park, an eight-hectare retreat that offers one-year leases on lots.
Many of them, like Allen's, are tucked away in a forest setting.
"I always call it Alberta's best-kept secret," Allen says. "It's such a nice little community. I've got friends galore in there, and I just love it."
The recreational-vehicle resort has been operating over 20 years, says co-founder Darlene Sticklemier.
Built on land her homesteading great-grandparents, Oliver and Hilah Ayers, settled in 1912, the park has many repeat customers.
"We have some that have been here probably 12 to 15 years," Sticklemier says. "It is just a nice little place for you to come and enjoy with your family and do whatever you like."
That includes boating, fishing and swimming in the lake, or driving to the nearby Village at Pigeon Lake, brimming with one-of-a-kind boutiques, restaurants, collectibles shops and a resort-style spa hotel.
Guests can hang out at Hilah Ayers, which has a playground, showers and laundry facilities, or visit sandy Ma-Me-O Beach, on the south side of the lake.
There are also, says Sticklemier, five golf courses within a 10-minute drive.
Because lots are rented, customers can't build permanent homes. But that doesn't stop them from making the most of their surroundings, Sticklemier says.
"I've got a big deck and an open firepit all rocked in, and I have a little guest house that I put all my tools and gardening in," Allen says. "It's very nice. "If you picture camping in those campsites in Jasper and Banff, it's the same thing."
The RV resort fit Allen's lifestyle and budget.
"With a cottage, you need an initial outlay. In Alberta for anything close to the lake, you're looking at $400,000 (to) $500,000."
"I pay $2,700 a year for my place to park and that includes power and sewer and water and year-round storage. A cottage year-round is beneficial, but I'm working all winter, so this suits me perfectly."
The resort appeals to a growing number of people who don't want the hassle of travelling long distances with an RV, Sticklemier says.
"A lot of people come in because they want to settle down," she says of Hilah Ayers, which is open from May to October.
"They don't want to have to take these big rigs with them anymore, and they just want a place to camp."
Add to that a laid-back, friendly atmosphere and Allen is sold. He spends long, leisurely days walking with the grandkids to the lake and barbecuing on his big cedar deck.
He couldn't imagine summers anywhere else.
"It's not so much where I'm going, it's more what I'm leaving behind for a week or two," he says of his sojourns at Hilah Ayers. "You know -- the hectic pace, the traffic lights. It's beautiful."
There are about 230 lots at Hilah Ayers spread over four phases. Yearly rentals start at about $2,700.
It's a popular place, Sticklemier says.