For years, Bill Carr’s Sylvan Lake cabin in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, close to Edmonton, Canada, was a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Carr has fond memories of visiting the cabin and watching bald eagles, moose and elk from his boat with his children and grandchildren. “It was very, very peaceful.
We’d hear loons on the lake constantly in the evenings,” he said.
As summer in Sylvan nears, locals are bracing for the long lineups of vehicles that congest the roads leading to the lake’s two official boat launches. On hot summer days, the lake is packed.
“The ambience of the lake has really changed,” said Carr, the mayor of the idyllically named Sunbreaker Cove, a tiny village on the lake’s northern shore and one of eight municipal bodies around the lake.
Just 15 minutes from Red Deer, 160 kilometres south of Edmonton, Sylvan Lake is a tourist hot spot, with more than a million visitors flocking to the area each year. It’s also a popular retreat for landowners, like Carr, who often hail from Calgary or Edmonton and spend warmer months at their homes on the lake.
The Town of Sylvan Lake encompasses just 10 per cent of the lakeshore and was long
known as a sleepy small town in winter. It’s a label the community is shedding as its year-round population swells.
“When I moved here, there were about 3,900 people. Now, with a population of 14,000 in the dead of winter, we certainly have grown quite a bit,” said the town’s mayor, Sean McIntyre, who moved to Sylvan Lake in 1989 at age five.
As the town’s population continues to rise and development around Alberta’s most popular lake thrives, so to do infrastructure issues and growing pains that come with fast-paced growth. Add a heavy reliance on tourism and a beautiful natural body of water to the mix and those growing pains are made all the more challenging.
“Tourism has been part of the culture of Sylvan Lake for 100 years and I think it always will be,” McIntyre said. “There is a definite balance between making sure we’re meeting the needs and wants of our residents, while still acknowledging that tourism does benefit our economy.”
How do officials in the Town of Sylvan Lake and the seven other municipalities that surround Sylvan Lake manage recreational and environmental pressures placed on the lake by residents and tourists while taking advantage of opportunities for growth? Imminent challenges already exist. For instance a new boat launch is desperately needed.
And the Town of Sylvan Lake faces a medium-term shortage of drinking water and it needs a new source of water by 2017.
With a population of 13,015, the Town of Sylvan Lake’s population increased more than 20 per cent from 2006 to 2013 and the population is projected to continue rising.
Major subdivision developments are underway and an approval to work on a plan for annexation on the town’s west side was recently approved.
“Knowing that we’re potentially going to grow our boundaries and yet we’re still limited for water within what we already have is a major concern,” said Joanne Gaudet, communications officer with the Town of Sylvan Lake.
The town’s existing water infrastructure consists of seven shallow wells and is only capable of serving 18,000 people.