As travellers are once again allowed to leave their own communities and explore B.C., tourism businesses in Hope and along the Fraser Canyon and the Crowsnest Highway are ready to receive them.
Signs of a reviving tourism industry are popping up in Hope, as well as along local highways with restaurants re-opening for dine in and accomodations and tourism experience providers hoping to recoup some of their early season losses. Hope’s visitor centre has re-opened as of July 7, serving people curbside as well as in a ‘pod’ inside the portable building on Water Avenue.
The visitor centre is now open 7 days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. People can drive up and park in front of the portable building, where a staff member will be outside greeting them. One person per party is also able to go inside the building’s visitor ‘pod’, a small enclosed space inside the portable where visitors can interact with a staff member from behind a glass window, provided they wear a mask.
When The Hope Standard stopped by the building on July 8 at 3 p.m., within 30 minutes three groups had stopped by. Some asked for directions, others had questions about the continued closure of the Othello Tunnels and a third group made a photo stop at the John Rambo cut-out beside the visitor centre.
Tourism businesses in the area are also re-opening as phase three of the B.C. government’s COVID-19 restart plan allowed “smart, safe and respectful travel” within the province as of early July.
Tourism revs up on the Crowsnest Highway
Along Highway 3, the Sunshine Valley RV Resort and Cabins is open for RV and cabin bookings. Further up the highway, Manning Park Resort re-opened June 4 shortly after the park itself began allowing day-use and overnight camping.
The Sunshine Valley resort has been busier than normal since it was fully re-opened to cabin and RV visitors said manager Joanne Taylor. The resort is full on regular weekends, not just long ones, this month.
After closing the cabins, washrooms, the store and the outdoor pool in March, the resort has reopened slowly by initially only filling half of the 109 RV spots and opening cabins with a week of closures in between each group of guests.
While the indoor pool, hot tub and fitness centre remain closed, everything else is up and running with a strict two-hour cleaning requirement, a sign-up system for the outdoor pool and the now-standard plexiglass barriers in the store.
“I’m just happy to be open and some type of normal, if this is the new normal,” Taylor said, adding that the resort is getting ready for a second wave of COVID-19 and will be ‘beyond prepared’ if and when this happens.
And while business is going again, at least a quarter of her customers won’t be coming this summer as the resort has lost the European tourists who take the trip of a lifetime to the Rocky Mountains via Sunshine Valley.
The Sunshine Valley Tashme Museum is also open as of June 13 after closing down for three months during the height of pandemic restrictions in B.C. The museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with measures in place including encouraging visitors to wear masks, allowing only eight people into the museum at one time and having a dedicated entrance and exit door.
Rockin’ the Fraser Canyon
Heading up the Fraser Canyon, the majority of tourism-oriented businesses are now open and seeing visitation pick up, although not to pre-COVID-19 summer levels.
Yale Historic Site would have normally opened in April for the summer season, instead it is open in July by appointment only. While visitors won’t see the living history tents up at the site, they will be greeted by manager Margaret Stubson for a private tour of the grounds which include a historic church, a museum, a jail, a blacksmith shop and taking part in gold panning.
And the new normal for the historic site involves the standard cleaning, plexiglass up, physical distancing and masks and gloves available to visitors. It also includes things that no one would have expected in a job description in pre-COVID times, including sanitizing gold pans in between visitors.
The site, open Fridays to Mondays, is only seeing about a quarter of the guests they normally would at this time. And it’s one of only two historic sites open this summer, Stubson said, together with another gold rush favourite the Barkerville Historic Town.
At Hell’s Gate Airtram, reopening had to be postponed from late April to July 1 said office manager Alex Guo. There was a lot to figure out in terms of how to run a tourist attraction which draws large numbers and involves being ferried in a small tram down steep cliffs into the bowels of the Fraser River.
Some things had to be closed, including the on-site fudge factory which Guo said people from as far away as Saskatchewan have come to Hell’s Gate for. Same with the 18 flavours of ice cream, which have been nixed in favour of the pre-wrapped ice cream bars. In addition to everyone, guests over 3 years and staff, having to wear masks, there is sanitizer everywhere Guo said and staff members have their temperature checked each morning as well as a check for symptoms.
Visitors also have to give their first name and a contact method, information Guo said is kept for only 14 days and not shared with any third parties.
And once down in the gorge, visitors tend to take off their masks so “we have a patrol team down there to make sure they keep their social distancing.”
“We notice 60 per cent of people take off their masks as soon as they reach our lower terminal, so these days we are still catching up on that as well,” he said.
Hell’s Gate is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week, closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Guo said 40 to 60 people are allowed into the attraction each hour.
An adventure, free of charge, on Highway 7 at Ruby Creek
Heading out of the canyon, down on Highway 7 towards Agassiz, visitors can stretch their legs or hop on a bike and tour the Syéxw Chó:leqw Adventure Park. The park is free and open to anyone who wants to visit, it’s more of a choose your own adventure kind of visit at the 33-acre site owned and operated by Sq’ewá:lxw (Skawahlook) First Nation.
The park is open daily from dusk until dawn, however staff urge people not to go on certain paths which have been flooded by the high Fraser River levels. After closing in mid-March, the park re-opened on May 14.
Hope’s Othello Tunnels, Canyon’s Tuckkwiowhum Village stay closed
While the majority of provincial parks surrounding Hope are open to day-use as well as camping, the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park that houses the popular Othello Tunnels remains closed with no expected opening date yet announced.
Another tourism business keeping their doors shut this year is the Tuckkwiowhum Village. Manager with the First Nations heritage site Byron Spinks said it was a decision based on keeping the population in Boston Bar and Anderson Creek safe, many of whom are elderly.
“We didn’t want to take the chance of exposing them to a virus that might come in, not by choice but by accident,” he said. “So we decided to close and use this year as a year of…developing a really good program for 2021.”
This doesn’t mean nothing is going on at the village, just outside the town of Boston Bar on the land of the Boston Bar First Nation. Spinks said a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to create interactive programs for guests, both at the village and out on the land on Nlaka’pamux territory.
In the fall, online workshops are being planned starting in September. And parts of the village are being revitalized, including the summer houses, underground caches and dry racks in the displays on the village grounds. “So it’ll be a completely different scenery for Tuckkwiowhum next year,” he said.
Part of the 2021 offering will be another Saskatoon Berry Jam, a live music event held in late June to coincide with the season for the juicy berry.
Note: There are many more tourism-oriented experiences and visitors than we had room to mention in this story. For a directory, see Hope Cascades and Canyons website.
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