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Almost two decades ago Ruth Buzzard headed out on a camping trip that took her and her two sons across North America. She was pulling a 13-foot travel trailer behind a well-worn Plymouth Horizon as they camped their way across the continent. "David used to fit in the top bunk and Mark used to fit in the bottom," says Ruth, who has parlayed her love of camping into a decade-long reign as Whistler's uncrowned matriarch of camping. It's Friday night — the May long weekend has arrived with a blast and the Buzzards and campground staff have just plowed their way through an evening of "combat registration." Ruth sits behind the counter of the Whistler Campground, lights a cigarette and looks at the pile of cash and traveller's cheques her son David has gathered on his evening rounds. After the books balance and the campground breaks a single weekend record, there's a round of tequila shooters in Styrofoam glasses for the tired staff. "Here's to us and here's to summer," says Ruth. With her straightforward demeanour and tireless sense of humour, Ruth now rents out tent and camper sites on her property which is undeniably the single-most valuable piece of undeveloped land left in the Whistler Valley. So valuable, in fact, that developers have drooled at the thought of getting a hold of the land. That drool has spilled over to various courts as she wrangles with Greenside Properties Inc. over an option-to-buy agreement for the land. Ruth bought the 15.2 hectares north of White Gold Estates, on both sides of Fitzsimmons Creek, in 1980 when Whistler Village was but a dusty construction site, Blackcomb was just readying for its first season of operation and Whistler's Number-One-Resort-in-North-America moniker was a dream in the marketing plans of the fledgling Whistler Resort Association. Now, about one-third of the land is campground and the rest just sits — the future site of Village Far North or White Gold North. "It's like a nuclear test," says David. "When you see the shock wave knock over the little building. Whistler's coming at us fast... we can feel it coming." Greenside Properties has an option to buy the Whistler Campground lands, but the owners of the Whistler Campground have twice appealed to have that option revoked. Both tries have been denied. While the legal wrangling continues, the municipality must prepare for the day the Whistler Campground may close for good. To that end, it has asked for land owners with property suitable for campgrounds to submit proposals. Caroline Hicks, a municipal planner, says four options remain before council and a report on their future should be prepared by early July. Whistler Council has passed a motion asking the four remaining campground proponents, O'Mara/Woods, Mons Property Development Ltd., Garrand Holding and the Whistler Housing Corporation, to submit further details regarding a 12-month campground. The submissions are to include a proposed timeline for development and the consideration of two campgrounds in Whistler. Hicks says if the Whistler Campground remains open indefinitely there is a possibility of three private campgrounds within the municipal boundaries. O'Mara/Woods is proposing a campground immediately north of Spruce Grove Park, bisected by Fitzsimmons Creek. Mons Property Development Ltd. would like to develop a campground just north of the B.C. Hydro Rainbow substation. Garrand Holdings is proposing land at the south-west end of Green Lake, near the Edgewater Inn hostel. The final proposal, from the Whistler Housing Corporation, would see a campground on Alta Lake Road, west of Nita Lake and Alpha Lake Park. The Whistler Campground was constructed over the summer of 1985 and the gates swung open for the first time in November of 1985. The campground is made up of roughly 150 sites. Because of the expansive real estate the Buzzards own they are able to spread campers over Fitzsimmons Creek during peak periods, as tents and VW vans start showing up in the funniest of places. Last weekend, some enterprising camper found a suitable place for a tent on a gravel bar in the middle of Fitzsimmons Creek. Flash flood possibility aside David, chief fee collector and head security dude, collected 20 bucks from the astonished gravel bar tenter. "They're on our property, so it's not fair to charge someone who goes through the right channels and gets a spot in the campground and let the guys who poach spots on the riverbank camp for free. The rules have got to apply to everybody," David says. Having rules apply to everybody is one of the reasons both Ruth and David think it will be hard for the municipality to force any future campground operators to stay open 12 months of the year. Ruth says they tried to stay open in the winter until 1992, when she got sick of looking at RV's and vans camping overnight in skier parking lots while the campground remained under used. "The last winter we were open I lost $26,000," she says. "To make running a four season campground financially viable the muni has got to enforce the no overnight camping bylaw. If they don't you freeze to death as a campground operator," she says. Over the course of the weekend, almost 600 campers spend time in the confines of the Whistler Campground. Three cords of wood are burnt and the familiar haze of campfire smoke hangs over Highway 99. The Buzzards fill a niche in the valley, as people who come to Whistler to camp find well-deserved solace at Chez Buzzard. Burnaby's Wayne Odegard and his family have been making the trek up Highway 99 to the Whistler Campground every summer for 10 years. The Odegard's and two other families vow they will return to Whistler to camp as long as Ruth is open. "We don't ski, but we sure like Whistler," Odegard says. "Ruth has been very good to us, we have watched her kids grow up and she has watched ours grow as well." Like the campground, the Odegard camping party now crosses two generations — Wayne's son is camping in a site not far away. Ruth says campers are a different breed, many of whom would not stay in a hotel if they were offered a free night. "One night I counted one Jaguar, and two Mercedes in the tenting area," Ruth says. "Camping knows no social boundaries and the amount of people doing it is increasing. Not only do we need another campground here, it is necessary. And f you want to know how to run it, just come on in and ask us."

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