Visitor numbers more than double from 2014

Trent Ernst, Editor

Tourism is up in Tumbler Ridge.

Or at least, the number of tourists who stopped at the Tumbler Ridge Visitor Centre is up. In 2014, 5,191 people stopped in at the Visitor Centre.

Last year, that number was 10,567.

This marks the first time since stats started to be recorded that the visitor numbers have been into the five digits and continues the upward trend seen last year, when 9,862 people stopped by the visitor centre.

“It was busy all year, even during the winter,” says Erin Pettipas who works at the Visitor Centre. “A lot of locals were coming in to explore the merchandise, but then would start looking at the brochures and go ‘I didn’t know we had this here.’ But we had people stop in from all over the world.”

Chamber Manager Jerrilyn Schembri says there was a group of people from Australia who came to the Visitor Centre this summer. “They weren’t planning on coming to Tumbler Ridge, but they tripped across us. They saw something and thought they’d come here for a day and wound up spending three or four days here, and were just amazed at what we had.”

Pettipas says the new Visitor Centre is as much a destination as it is an information centre. “People feel comfortable here. We had a couple who hadn’t planned on being in Tumbler Ridge, but they stayed five days, and they basically lived at the Visitor Centre. They spent hours here, working on the Internet. It’s a very relaxing place for people to come. People sit down on the couch and have a coffee.”

Not everybody shows up to Tumbler Ridge for the outdoor adventure. “We had a lady show up here, dressed to the nines and wearing diamonds, who said she didn’t do trails,” says Pettipas. “Was there something else for her to do? And we have those things to offer, too.”

Schembri says the reoccurring theme of the year was people staying longer in Tumbler Ridge than they were planning. “So many people came to Tumbler Ridge and spent day after day here because they couldn’t believe what we had to offer,” she says. “There was a couple visiting Prince George from around Surfer’s Paradise in Australia. They had come up to Prince George and were asking people where to go. People kept telling them to go to Vancouver. Everyone was telling them to head south. But they wanted to explore this area, the north. They’d been to the south before, at the Visitor Centre in Prince George and they saw something about Tumbler Ridge and said ‘hmm. That looks interesting.’ They drove up here on a whim, planning on staying three days, and wound up staying five. They wanted to go hiking but were scared, so we called Collin Ball and asked him if he could take them out hiking. Collin took them out to Shipyard Titanic, and the first thing they saw was a big grizzly.

“But they took off at six in the morning and didn’t get back until ten at night and were so excited. They loved it here and kept asking how come Tumbler Ridge isn’t all over the world.”

It hasn’t all been good news. While they’re still crunching the numbers over at the Tumbler Ridge Museum, stats look to be down from last year.

In addition to the usual short haul visitors from places like Prince George and Grande Prairie, Schembri says there were plenty of people from Europe, especially Germans. There were also a fair number of Americans. “One of the things with people doing the Alaska Highway is they usually have flexible itineraries,” she says. “They book a month off to take their RVs up to Alaska. When they pull off the Alaska Highway and come to Tumbler Ridge, they’re amazed. Dawson Creek is fairly prairie. When you come here, suddenly you’re in the mountains. They’re like ‘wow, how did that happen?’ They would often spend an extra day or two.”

Pettipas grabs the guest book. “We’ve had people from Ireland and Nova Scotia, just this week. They’re coming from High Prairie and from Holland, from Portugal and New Zealand. People may hear about Tumbler Ridge, but when they get here and discover we’re so organized, it takes a lot of the worry away.”

Schembri says that she’s seeing a shift in the way people are travelling. “People from Grande Prairie used to go to Jasper. Now they’ve found Tumbler Ridge. This has become their staycation place. A lot of them aren’t just coming out for the day, they’re planning trips here. And they just keep coming back.”

Still, Schembri says she knows there are many people who are still coming to town who are not checking in, especially in winter, when snowmobilers come in from Grande Prairie via the Hiding Creek Forest Service Road, and leave the same way, never coming into town. “I drove that route the other day, and there were probably 40 vehicles I passed, every one with snowmobiles.” And not a one stopped by the Visitor Centre.

Pettipas says this year promises to be even better. “Now that they’ve finished branding,” she says, “a whole bunch of new signs will be going up. People have told us there isn’t enough signage about, or not enough cohesive signage. People are going to be able to find their way around even easier.”

Schembri says people are also starting to understand what a Geopark is. “As that gets known more and more, people will come more and more. And as word gets out, it brings in more and more people who are excited to return. So many people from last year are already planning on coming back this year. I get calls saying they’re coming up in May or June and are looking for information now. It’s exciting.”