Trent Ernst, Editor
The number of people who visited Tumbler Ridge this year has skyrocketed compared to last year and the year before.
According to Carmen Drapeau, Chamber Manager, there were 7386 people who stopped by the visitor information centre between May Long and Labour Day. That’s up more than 50 percent year over year, and almost four times what the numbers were for 2013.
“One of the reasons we’ve seen more people is that people drive up and they see this building,” says Drapeau. “They recognize it as a Visitor Centre. It looks more like a Visitor Centre. And because it’s spacious, you can have big groups in here.”
At the old Visitor Centre, having more than a couple groups made the place feel like a sardine can.
“Based on the numbers that came through on the busy weekend, like Grizfest and Emperor’s Challenge and the poker ride,” says Drapeau, “we’ll need to have more staff on. It’s insane how many people we had in here. We need to be better prepared for that onslaught of people.”
Even now that it’s September, they’re still getting good numbers on the weekend. “I know we have longer hours than we had in 2013, but there were almost four times the amount of people.”
It’s not just the new building though. “It’s various things,” says Drapeau. “It’s the museum, it’s all the stuff that’s been in the news, it’s the Geopark, it’s the events…one of the things that’s really great about the Visitor Information Network, though, is Dawson. There’s people who go out of their way because they’re so good at promoting Tumbler Ridge as well. And Fort St. John? I don’t believe how many times we’ve had to send brochures to the Visitor Centre and the Airport.”
Another big thing that happened this year, she says, was 97.7 FM’s visit. “When they came that day, the community really impressed them. She’s still talking about her river boat trip up here. Next time we want to get them waterfall rappelling.”
While there seems to be a trend towards doing more internet research, says Drapeau, there’s nothing that replaces the tactile experience of a brochure. “Having something in your hands that’s tangible is irreplaceable.”
The majority of the visitors still are short haul visitors out of Grande Prairie and Fort St. John, and mostly younger, with two thirds of the visitors tracked being between the ages of 30-60. This, says Drapeau wasn’t an exact science—“You can’t be asking everybody how old they are, so you guess,”—but still it was surprising. She says she was expecting to see more retired people. While there wasn’t as many over summer, there were more in the spring and again in the fall, as younger families are not as able to travel.
Most people who come into the Visitor Centre ask about hiking trails, followed by Kinuseo Falls, then other waterfalls, then dinosaur information.
Over at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, numbers are pushing upwards, too. Last year, they saw 4000 people all year. Already this year, there has been more than 6000. “There has been a huge jump in the numbers this year compared to last,” says Jim Kincaid, President of the Museum Society. “I attribute this rise to two main things One is the acquisition of the Global Geopark designation, which has put Tumbler Ridge on the international scene as one of only 111 UNESCO sponsored Global Geoparks in the world, the second in North America, and the first in Western Canada. Underpinning this, though, is the huge amount of first class research and preservation of the fossil record that is being carried out under the leadership of Rich McRae and Lisa Buckley. Without this work, the local museum would not have been recognized as one of the two anchor tenants of the Geopark. We would not have received the Global Geopark designation without it.”
Secondly, says Kincaid, word is getting out about the trails here in Tumbler. “The Wolverine Nordic Mountain Society is the other anchor tenant of the Global Geopark. Its volunteers have constructed a trail network that allows access to many of the important geosites located within the park boundaries.
“Working with WMNS and utilizing the long term funding commitment of the District of Tumbler Ridge, the volunteers and staff of the Museum Foundation have been able to focus worldwide attention on the spectacular natural beauty and geological history that makes Tumbler Ridge a special place in this world of ours. I anticipate that the future will be even more dazzling.”