A decaying stage surrounded by an overgrowth of trees is fanned by cool breezes blowing off Sandy Lake. At the opposite end of Alexander First Nation Sandy Lake campground two new, shiny regulation baseball fields patiently wait for gung-ho players and cheering crowds.
In a way, these two structures symbolize the past and future of Alexander First Nation, recipient of a $500,000 Aboriginal Business Investment Fund. The tribal band is one of eight Indigenous First Nations to receive the Alberta-government-sponsored funding to support community-owned economic development projects.
Alexander Business Centre stated the funding will assist in revitalizing and expanding Alexander RV Park and Campground, located on the east shore of Sandy Lake. The now-closed campground is located 17 kilometres west of Morinville.
The goal is to expand 30 old camping sites to 75 modern, fully-serviced RV/tenting lots. Proposed plans also include building two additional baseball diamonds. The main feature will be a multi-use recreation facility accommodating a banquet hall, full-sized commercial kitchen, concession area, office check-in, and parking.
Once the campground’s main features are installed, feasibility studies suggest growing it into a summer tourist destination with a swimming pool, lazy river, rock-climbing wall, walking trails, and an ATV area.
“It’s exciting. It’s going to employ a lot of people. It will boost our economy and put us on the map. Especially after COVID, it will be good for our community to gather in unity, celebrate, and have a good time,” said R.J. Arcand, the business centre's business development and marketing specialist.
The total projected cost is $2.7 million, with $2.2 million coming from multiple levels of government and provincial fund. The remaining $500,000 is provided through in-kind funding.
Joseph Jobin, director of First Nations relations for provincial fund, and a Sucker Creek First Nation member, has worked for the Alberta government in several positions balancing environmental stewardship with economic development.
He forwarded an email statement to The Gazette which said, “This support will help the Alexander First Nation develop a multi-service recreational campground at Sandy Lake. The community owns 100 per cent of the campground, and it will provide a way to improve the economy and employment of community members,” said Jobin.
As a campground offshoot, band members who own businesses or make crafts may be offered employment opportunities selling their products or services on site.
“It’s coming full circle. We started very small with the gas bar in December 2019. But we’re diversifying very quickly and we are attempting to get into the heartland area to provide our services. We’re very focused on economic diversification. We want to be the first point of contact for all industry,” said Arcand.
Since 2019, the business centre has expanded to providing services in construction, commercial development, pipeline, and construction safety, as well as security, horizontal directional drilling, forestry, agriculture, and utilities.
“It’s busy. Now that the economy is looking up, we’re looking to cash in on projects. We want to build our community. We want to give our members long-term jobs,” said Arcand. “As we grow, we’ll be able to do more in terms of services and programs available to our members.”
The provincial funding will allow project employees to start site preparation cutting out lots, installing services, and hauling gravel for roads.
“We’re waiting on next year’s funding from the province and the federal government to start construction. Everything (next round of applications) is pretty much in place except for a few minor details,” said Arcand.
Although this is an Alexander Business Centre initiative, Arcand pointed out numerous tribal departments are involved in delivering this project to fruition.
“We’ve had input from the capital projects team, our public works team, and our council leadership. About 15 people have been involved so far, including Indigenous contractors. This has been a true team effort to capitalize on this initiative.”
The newly developed campground is currently slated to open in the spring or summer of 2022.