Country Roads, take me home
To the place, I belong …
That verse from John Denver’s classic 1971 song could be part of a radio or TV commercial for Country Roads RV Park on Township Road 722, just west of Grande Prairie, www.countryroadsrvpark.com
It’s not just weary travellers driving their motor homes to or from Alaska that feel welcomed, though. Country Roads does attract hundreds of guests from across North America and as far away as Europe and Australia every year. But that down-home feeling of belonging is there for locals, too.
The RV park is also renowned in the Peace Country for its on-site winery, corn maze, pumpkin and sunflower festivals, berry pies baked from fruit grown on the property, outdoor movies, and as a spot for catered events such as wedding receptions and business meetings. Summertime visitors can enjoy fresh vegetables and honey from nearby producers as well as some produce grown on the farm.
Winter activities include sleigh and wagon rides, ice skating, hockey, bonfires by the pond rink, a small toboggan hill, and family gatherings such as Christmas parties in the barn hall.
With all of these amenities for tourists and area residents, it would be impossible to come up with a name that covers everything that happens at Country Roads.
Owner Jason Halwa said having a robust year-round operation wasn’t how his Dad, Sig, drew up the plans in the late 1990s, but it’s now an important aspect of how Country Road does business.
“Diversifying is a lot of hard work but the outcome was worth every sweat and tear,” he says.
“It really sets us apart from a lot of other places and things to do in Grande Prairie and area. We try and offer things that you can do as a family, that are fun to do and gets you out, things that make us unique to the area. It keeps things interesting and wholesome for us and we are able to give something back to our community as well.”
“There was only one campground in the area and it was always full,” Halwa notes. “People were using parking lots to camp so that’s why my Dad started the park. The original idea was to only have about 20 sites but the need was huge so he planned another addition and put in 65 sites within the next year.
“He thought it would only be a summer use park but we found out quickly with the first 20 that people needed a spot all year round so we were one of the first northern parks to offer year-round camping. After a few more years of operation, we expanded to 120 sites and that is where we are today.”
There’s also a large tenting area and glampers can enjoy their stay in a covered wagon or teepee.
Country Roads has all the features travellers would expect to see in an RV park such as shower and laundry facilities, a playground, walking trails, and a gift shop.
The Halwa family has added special touches like a continental breakfast, a garden chess and checkers area, and an indoor RV washing station.
“Diversification came about when we were growing the business and I thought, ‘how can we attract more people here? What kind of an experience can we give our customers that would make them come back?’”
Halwa saw a TV profile on a corn maze in the United States and pursued building one on the property – except corn isn’t a common crop in the area. However, he persevered.
“Here we are today just about 20 years later and people love it. And of course, we have added things over the years, people come every year and have made many family memories here.”
The maze is now 10 acres in size.
The goal of added features is to have people return, wherever they’re from, and have something more to do each time.
“Over the years we’ve added the pumpkin festival, which is a huge hit with everyone. We started the sunflower festival a couple years ago and it is growing every year. People come to take pictures and to pick sunflowers to take home.
“It’s so awesome to see the smiling faces in the field of yellow sunflowers. We also do a flashlight night in the corn maze and outdoor movies as well in the fall, weather permitting. If the weather holds and we have the manpower, we try and do at least one haunted maze night to scare the pants off everyone.”
The Joosed Moose emerged from Halwa’s passion for making wine.
“It’s just another thing to bring more people to the park. We started the berry orchard a few years ago in anticipation of having a cottage winery. It’s grown over the years as well,” he says.
The winery has produced two different Saskatoon wines as well as raspberry, blueberry, and apple flavours. Pumpkin, haskap, strawberry wines, meads and ciders will be available soon. See more at www.thejoosedmoosewinery.com
Halwa says his father more than exceeded what he set out to accomplish.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do. We’re here to keep his dream alive and to expand on that, and I think we have. Over the years, we’ve had many weddings and reunions, family gatherings and birthday parties, and even celebrations of life. We’re very proud to be able to be a small part of those gatherings and that people come out year after year.”
The Park continues to be family operated, augmented by additional staff.
“Some stop in by chance and are travelling by the seat of their pants with no real itinerary. Others read about us online and in RV books and magazines and want to see what we’re all about,” Halwa notes.
“Some come for the camping, some for work, some are travelling through. For some, this is their destination point. It all varies so much, you never know who will show up and when.”
Whatever the reason for visiting, the Halwas want to make the stay memorable.
“We want visitors to come and stay with us or drop in for an afternoon and have something fun to do, and talk about it. We want to give them a fun experience, something that they want to take pictures of and have a story to tell others. We want them to leave with a smile and want to come back for more.”
“We strive to be a part of our local tourism landscape and proud to showcase what we have and the area we live in and love. We still farm a bit and grow and sell things. We make things local. We sell our own homemade Saskatoon pies from fruit that we picked in our own orchard, grind our own grown wheat that we planted and harvested right here for flour and pancake mix.
“We want to always share a bit of the Peace Country with everyone that comes here. Everyone that comes to the park is a tourist of some sort –even the locals.”