Ghost Reservoir boat launch opening sparks hope 'horrible' year can be salvaged

Mike Weinert hopes the new $2.5-million, three-lane boat launch finally opening this week will revive what's been his worst year as operator of Ghost Lake Recreations.

Business owner, villagers say flood mitigation for Calgary ruins summer water fun

A number of empty boat slips on Ghost Reservoir illustrate the type of year it's been for Ghost Lake Recreations, a boat sales and service operation at the reservoir. The owner says business has been down significantly since plans to lower the reservoir were put in place in 2014. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Mike Weinert hopes the new $2.5-million, three-lane boat launch finally opening this week will revive what's been his worst year as operator of Ghost Lake Recreations.

Access to the man-made Ghost Lake Reservoir has been blocked this year due to threats of flooding.

Weinert says that as a result, his boat rental, repair and campground business has seen an 80 per cent decline this year, despite being a popular boating destination less than an hour's drive west of Calgary.

"It's a horrible year," he said.

Longer launch allowed

The longtime Cochrane resident has a 40-year lease with the province to operate his business and the nearby 80-site campground within the Ghost Reservoir Provincial Recreation Area.

The reservoir on the Bow River is used as a major flood mitigation tool every spring. This year the reservoir was lowered by six metres to help spare Calgary from flooding.

The agreement between the provincial government and TransAlta prevents water levels from being raised until early to mid-July after the threat of significant flooding has subsided.

The new 25-metre wide, 90-metre long launch will allow boaters to use the launch anyway. The old one was nine metres shorter, and so it couldn't be used during low water levels.

'All about boats'

That's meant a very lonely spring and early summer for Weinert. An already short boating season was cut even shorter, and several three-day weekends missed.

"We've already come through the May long, we've already come through the July long. In theory, it seems like summer's just started but my summer is more than half over," he said.

"My business is all about boats."

Mike Weinert says this year has been his worst since signing a 40-year lease with the provincial government to operate Ghost Lake Recreations. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Weinert hopes boaters and campers will return, but he's frustrated it's taken government five years to support recreational boating on the reservoir. The Trans-Alta agreement has been locked in until 2021.

"Hopefully we'll have a bit of a season." he said.

A spokesperson for Alberta Environment and Parks said the new boat launch will extend the post-2013 flood season from three months to five. 

'It's not waterfront property anymore,' says landowner

While the new boat launch may bring some relief for Weinert, several of the 100 or so property owners in the Summer Village of Ghost Lake are growing tired of their shortened lakefront season.

"Nobody wants to be here if they can't use their boats. It's not waterfront property anymore," Andre Vryheid said.

A new $2.5 million boat launch on the Ghost reservoir is set to open Wednesday, July 11 2018. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Vryheid, who's lived in the village year-round for 30 years, said he doesn't think he and his neighbours should be responsible for protecting those who live downstream.

"They're putting the burden of the cost of the mitigation on those upstream, not the people who've decided to build within flood plains," he said.

"They [the provincial government] seem to be fixated on dams rather than downstream mitigation."

'Not getting a lake'

He suggested the government should instead consider digging up channels along the river and building dikes.

Vryheid said some of his neighbour's water wells have been affected by the lower reservoir levels and the government has brought in water tanks for a temporary supply.

Two very different views from Andre Vryheid's property in the Summer Village of Ghost Lake. The image on the left shows his waterfront property during normal water storage periods. The image on the right was taken this month. (Andre Vryheid, Bryan Labby/CBC)

He said it's become "virtually impossible" to sell a property in the village. He said two side-by-side lots recently sold for $735,000, a steal for the new owners but with one caveat.

"Some people are getting deals, but you're also not getting a lake," he said.


About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.