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Yep, Mount Pearl’s getting a campground

Dan Walker (left) and his father, Lloyd Walker, on family land that is being developed into the Waterford River Valley Campground in Mount Pearl.
Dan Walker (left) and his father, Lloyd Walker, on family land that is being developed into the Waterford River Valley Campground in Mount Pearl. - Barb Sweet
MOUNT PEARL, N.L. —

During rush hour on industrial/commercial-clogged Topsail Road, the traffic is a constant whizzing and rumbling assault on your ears, but, incredibly, just steps down an inclined-laneway it all suddenly disappears, and Mount Pearl’s soon-to-be campground emerges as a forested haven.

Yes, Mount Pearl is getting a campground.

“Where? You are building what? A campground on Topsail Road?” Dan Walker says of the typical first reaction to his family’s plan to develop the Waterford River Valley Campground.

Lloyd Walker bought land off Topsail Road about 50 years ago. It is now being developed into the Waterford River Valley Campground in Mount Pearl.
Lloyd Walker bought land off Topsail Road about 50 years ago. It is now being developed into the Waterford River Valley Campground in Mount Pearl.

Walker’s parents bought the land — 16 acres, with four acres zoned conservation — about 50 years ago.

A river runs through it — the Waterford River, hence the campground’s title.

Original plans back in the day were to expand the family business — a manufacturing plant that built roof trusses, among other things. 

Walker played there in the woods as a child — often getting a penny from his parents to put on the train tracks — and in adult life, while running his engineering office on Topsail Road, he took nature breaks down by the river. 

In 2014, the family had an offer to sell the land to a developer proposing a multi-level office building. The price of oil tanked and so did that deal.

“In retrospect we’re fairly happy it did,” said Walker, who two years ago was walking his beagles in Pippy Park and was struck by the idea of a campground. It allows the family to do something with the land that’s economically viable — with property taxes being paid all these years — but also keep it as natural as possible.

“I was all for it. I could see the potential there,” said his father, Lloyd Walker, who bought his first slice of the land back in the 1960s when Topsail Road was two lanes and the area was sparsely commercial and kind of country. It was $4,000 an acre.

Asked if he will camp out in the new park, he said, “I might drop in now and then. They might save a space for me.”

Walker hopes to have the first phase of the campground open by Labour Day. The City of Mount Pearl has granted permits for the clearing of the campsites and building of roads. Crews are at work now, but the campsites are being set up with minimal clearing of trees and disturbance of the natural habitat.

“It’s a labour of love,” said Walker, who has been consulting with environmentalists as he develops the park.

“It’s an environmental oasis in the middle of the city.”

Walker gave The Telegram a tour of the land Thursday.

Phase 1 encompasses the mixed zone land, with long-term plans for tent sites across the river without allowing any cars in that conservation zone, but pedestrian-only camping. The long-term plan is for a total of 160-180 RV and tent campsites. 

The campground backs on the T’railway and so connects to nearly 150 acres of trails and parks.

Dan Walker used to take breaks from work on land overlooking the Waterford River Valley. The family land is now being developed into a Mount Pearl campground.
Dan Walker used to take breaks from work on land overlooking the Waterford River Valley. The family land is now being developed into a Mount Pearl campground.

Walking through it, you would never know it is bordered by the industrial clutter of Topsail Road, nearby Power’s Pond subdivision and Donovans Industrial Park. Properties along that side of Topsail Road were infilled several decades ago to accommodate development along the road, creating a noise buffer as one descends into the valley on the Walker property.

Although a few trucks and heavy equipment are at work clearing the campsites, once it’s done, there will be only the sound of nature.

“If you are here on the weekend the only noise you will hear is the birds chirping,” Walker said.

Years ago, the family ran Wallken Enterprises, which in its heyday of the 1970s and early ’80s employed more than 70 people making wooden roof trusses, modular houses, portable classrooms and the like. The business eventually evolved into property management.

Walker said the family began planning for a campground before they knew Costco was moving to Galway, which, although part of St. John’s, borders Mount Pearl in the west end of metro.

That move from the east end put the giant big box store in the campground’s broader neighbourhood.

Water lines and electricity will be installed to each campsite, but there will be no direct sewer hookups. A facility will be located on Topsail Road so the sewage from each RV can be emptied and go directly into the sewer system. Walker said he didn’t want to chance any spills into the Waterford River by providing individual sewer hookups.

They also plan to construct a service chalet with laundry, bathrooms and showers — with future plans for additional chalets — as well as an all-inclusive playground.

There will be no seasonal camping — where RV owners claim a spot for the entire summer — but the business includes a store-and-stay membership option where RV owners can pay a fee to store their trailers in a nearby warehouse. People can also choose to rent their RVs out to other campers through the business.

Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker, whose council approved initial permits, noted the city could have ended up with a warehouse or office building on the nature site, and what’s happening is a win-win.

Dan Walker walks along one of the roads in the Waterford River Valley Campground under construction in Mount Pearl.
Dan Walker walks along one of the roads in the Waterford River Valley Campground under construction in Mount Pearl.

“The Walker family want to leave this lasting legacy,” Aker said in a phone interview.

Council has been involved in the development for the past 18 months, and the goal is to protect the habitat while at the same time allowing a development that has the river as well as the forested area as its centrepiece, he said.

“Initially what I felt was, is this really going to work when you are down in that valley — will you see houses on one side, office buildings on the other?” Aker said.

“But down there you seem to have escaped the urban setting here in Mount Pearl. Because you are down in the valley, you don’t even know you’re in the middle of Mount Pearl.”

He said it’s always been a challenge for council to have property owners who have land bordering the river and want to develop.

“When other landowners see development like this, it basically establishes a direction they can go in,” he said. 

“The Walker family have been very creative here.”

The campground is also a first for the city, he noted, adding that with the number of summer sports tournaments in Mount Pearl, families may look to camping as an alternative.

Not only will it add to Mount Pearl, Aker said, but it will be another tourist destination for the province. 

“We love it. It has added to the diversity of Mount Pearl.”

Twitter: @BarbSweetTweets

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