WASAGAMING — After a lengthy and divisive battle within a tight-knit community of cabin owners, Clear Lake’s old campground will get full sewer and water service by the end of the year.
While many are happy to have access to creature comforts, cabin owners in Riding Mountain National Park feel as though it’s another step in moving the community away from what it once was.
Louise Hembroff, who along with husband Bruce sold their cabin in June, said the community has lost its flavour and has "changed for the worse."
"They’re building too big cottages on too small of lots, it’s becoming very dense, and it’s not what it used to be," she said.
While the Hembroffs didn’t necessarily sell their property because of the area’s transformation, Louise said she hasn’t missed the campground — even after going for more than 40 years.
"I don’t like how they’re clearing greenspace so people can park their cars and boats because their cabins are so big," she said.
The park plans to expand the area to accommodate up to 30 new lots.
Among old single-room cabins, new and modern two-storey cabins continue to pop up.
"It’s just changed, it’s not what it was," Hembroff said.
The 600 cabin owners in the old campground area will have to shell out $5,000 by this time next year to fund the sewer and water work, but owners are not required to hook up their cabins to water lines if they don’t want to, according to the association.
Work is slated to start in September and completed in November.
While some are lamenting the area’s evolution, others are happy to see the service.
That includes Tim McLachlan, who purchased Hembroffs’ cabin. Full water service in the future didn’t close the deal for McLachlan, but he considers it a plus.
"It wasn’t a determining factor, for us it was a bonus and we like the conveniences of having a toilet," he said.
The cost of the project, which was also a sore point for some cabin owners, is not a concern for McLachlan.
"I’ve got no problem with that, things cost money, and there's going to be costs associated with everything," he said. "I’m all right with it, so it was an easy decision for us."
The real estate investor said he’s also poised to see the value of his newly purchased property — for which he paid $80,000 — rise significantly.
He pointed to Waskesiu Lake cabins in Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park, which went through a similar transformation more than 15 years ago when a sewer system was added.
"At least 90 per cent of the cabins are new, two-storey big units and they sell for $400,000," he said. "Before they put the water in at Waskesiu, cabins were going for $50,000."
Tempers flared last year during a Clear Lake Cabin Association meeting when the board process came into question. However, current association president Brian McVicar said he and the board made a concerted effort to make sure members were better informed during the decision process.
"Myself and the new board decided we were going to operate in an open and transparent manner and provide people with as much accurate information as we possible could," he said.
"It’s hard to believe in this day and age you have to try and defend basics such as water and sewer, but that’s the way it was. It’s understandable there would be some kind of strong opinion."
Since last year, McVicar said Riding Mountain National Park has agreed to keep the community’s public washroom and shower buildings open. But he said many won’t be replaced once they become too old.
"The washroom stations will remain open as long as feasible," McVicar said, adding there is money to make sure the shower building remains open.
Riding Mountain National Park, which has the final say in the area, supports the hookups, citing environmental concerns from waste water in the community.
According to Parks Canada, federal regulation requires buildings in national parks to be hooked up to sewer and water where there are existing lines in front of the property, and since the park installed new plumbing in the 1990s for shared washrooms, a large portion of the campground falls under the regulation.
The area has also switched from one-year campground permits to 42-year leases through Parks Canada, allowing cabin owners to mortgage properties because they are now considered real estate in bankers’ eyes.