Happier Campers: Renewing Alberta’s Cardinal River Campground

Jan 28, 2020

The Cardinal River is a scenic foothills river system flowing out of the Rocky Mountains. It’s nestled within the traditional territories of the Alexis Nakota Sioux and within the southwest portion of West Fraser’s Hinton Forest Management Area. It’s a popular spot and is perfect for camping. Within this area, the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation owns a 5,000-hectare reserve that’s undeveloped and the Cardinal River flows through it. West Fraser and the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation have been working together on the construction of new camping amenities on this reserve land since 2018.


When the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation reserve was formalized in 1995, a provincial campground existed on the site. It was decommissioned shortly after, as it was no longer on provincial Crown land. After it was decommissioned, the campground was a shadow of its former self. Only the footprint of the original campground remained, and all the facility amenities were removed.

However, old camping habits die hard. People continued to camp at the old site, unaware that their recreational activity had the potential to damage the area of the Alexis Nakota Sioux land that they were enjoying. The Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation become increasingly concerned about managing garbage accumulation, firewood extraction, and the potential for sparking a fire in the 5,000-hectare zone. The Alexis leadership decided to approach the foresters at West Fraser’s Hinton division for help.

“We manage eight trails and 20 campgrounds on or adjacent to the Hinton and Edson FMA areas. The community approached us to ask if we would be interested in funding and designing a new campground on their Cardinal River land. That way, the campground would be maintained appropriately. It would reduce the random camping that was currently impacting their land,” said Aaron Jones, the Management Forester with Hinton Wood Products.


The Hinton division was fully supportive of the idea of developing a recreational area at the Cardinal River. It was a good fit for West Fraser’s approach to good forest and community stewardship. But it was also an opportunity to develop stronger relations with the Alexis Nakota Sioux, other local Indigenous communities and the recreationalists that explore the forests in the region. 

“Alexis is one of the bands that we consult with, so we’re also interested in ways to build relations. We do that in a lot of different ways, such as working on joint ventures, firewood programs, and a multitude of other things,” says Jones. “This was another positive way to partner on an important project.” 

West Fraser’s Alberta divisions have access to what’s called the Forest Resource Improvement Program (FRIP) fund, which is funded under the Forest Resouce Improvement Association of Alberta (FRIAA). This money is managed by FRIAA and is collected through the provincial stumpage fees for harvesting that companies pay in Alberta. The companies that pay into FRIAA, such as West Fraser, can apply to access funding to support specific projects that enhance the forest resource for the benefit of all Albertans. A recreational project like the Cardinal River campground is a perfect fit. Other FRIAA projects West Fraser is involved in include the Caribou Recovery Research project and the Mountain Pine Beetle Program. 


Building a new campground can be a surprisingly more complex and costly project than it may appear. Working in reserve lands requires special permission, and the two-year project needed $240-thousand in funding from FRIAA and $90-thousand from West Fraser and Repsol. Approvals, FRIAA funding, and campground plans were secured in 2018, and construction got underway in 2019.

The aim is to have the campground ready for the summer of 2020, with 20 sites for people to rent out in the Cardinal River area, as well as a large group camping area. The project is 80 percent complete, including the outhouses, plumbing, a cabin, and more. The finishing touches will be completed in the springtime. The final piece of the puzzle is finding an organization to look after the site and manage camping reservations. There are several potential groups from different Indigenous communities that are interested in taking up this ongoing business opportunity. 

As a caretaker of the forest, it’s West Fraser’s goal to balance the needs of all its users, including recreationalists. We have a dedicated network of trails and campsites in Alberta with the Foothills Recreation Management Association. If you are going to visit one of these sites, make sure you’re prepared to explore these managed forest lands.