Abandoned oil wells at Discovery rule out camping: officials

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Officials from Petrolia Discovery say the idea of camping at the historic site is not a new one.

General Manager Donna Mcllmoyle and Foundation Board Chair Wendy Bratanek recently met with The Independent to talk about the idea which two men brought to Petrolia council recently.

Dan Brown and Pat Pineo say Petrolia Discovery is not just a great place to learn about the history of oil, it is also a beautiful natural habitat for camping, birdwatching and canoeing. The pair say camping might be a good fit for the area. They suggested using caravans similar to the covered wagons seen on Gypsy Flats during the oil boom days.

Brown says with a camping area for people to stay at, the town could attract other events, such as the national fiddle championships and remote control boat racing.

The town staff was asked to look into the idea.

ButMcIlmoyle and Bratanek says the foundation’s board did look over the plan at length.

Bratanek says a special meeting was held so Brown could present the plan. “He went through his idea…we didn’t know if we could make it work so we said we would research it and get back to him,” says Bratanek. Two board meetings later, they told Brown camping at Discovery was not a great idea.

Mcllmoyle says like most of Petrolia, the 60-acre property is dotted with abandoned oil wells making it difficult to find a spot without an old well where the campground could be established.

“With 40 wells on site, you would be hard pressed to find a space- even for a sewer system which you would likely need to put in place.”

And she says cleaning up old oil wells is highly regulated and very expensive.

“The Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources standards are high – there are several hurdles you would have to go through and again, there is no

money.”

McIlymoyle says when Discovery was established in 1979, the founders also considered camping. Instead, they thought it would be better to use Lorne C. Henderson Conservation Area and provide walking trails through town to get to Discovery.

Those trails were never built.

Another resident also came to Discovery in 2006 with the suggestion to open it to campers but that was turned down for the same reasons.

Bratanek says Discovery’s board is not unwilling to change. It’s most recent business plan focuses on attracting events, such as weddings and parties, to open people’s eyes to the history around them. That, she says, will keep them coming back to the site.

The board chair adds they have floated the idea of using the Blue House as the town’s museum. A volunteer group is collecting artifacts now and has been searching for a home. Bratanek says it would be a natural fit and would draw people to Discovery.

Bratanek says the board plans to meet with representatives of Petrolia Heritage – as they do every year – in the future and welcomes any help the town can give.

A date for that meeting has yet to be set.

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