Numbers are up, but not nearly enough.
This is the sentiment from Kevin Gedling, Product Development Officer with the Fort St. James National Historic Park for Parks Canada.
Gedling is looking at the numbers, and with a drop from 20,000 visitors in the mid-nineties, to just over 9,000 last year, there is a lot of work to do.
“That’s a pretty huge decrease in visitation,” said Gedling.
While in the past few years, there has been a rise in visitors to the park, the rise does not bring the numbers anywhere near where they were in the nineties.
“It’s a trend that happened in lots of places across the Parks system,” he said.
On the 100 year anniversary of Parks Canada on May 18, this is especially poignant and he is looking at what has changed and how to keep the park relevant.
While the decline can be attributed to a few factors, some of the key ones are a decrease in traditional markets of tourism, the “rubber tire traffic”, and a lack of focus on promoting what Parks Canada has to offer, according to Gedling.
So now he is focussing on just that, promoting what makes Fort St. James Historic Park so special.
There is a lot more attention on the local markets as well, with the increased emphasis on word-of-mouth and recommendations from visitor information centres and so Gedling recently held a Front Line Appreciation Day to offer an opportunity for people working in the very tourism services which might be able to direct people to the park.
“In the absence of a real marketing budget…it’s also important to really lay the foundation on the ground level anyway,” said Gedling.
The day brought 25 people, most of them from Prince George working for tourism or other historic sites, so these front-line people in the industry can get to know the Fort.
“This is my third time here and I learn something new every time,” said Tasha Peterson, who works for Nothern B.C. Tourism.
“I like the Murray House and the ghost stories that go with it,” she added.
“I’m pretty impressed, it’s fascinating,” said Gavin Ireland from the B.C. Railway and Forestry Museum.
Front Line Appreciation Day is just one of many events Gedling is working on to “lay the foundation” locally.
After The Courier goes to press, there is a Queen Victoria birthday party on May 23. July 1 will be a Canada Day/Dominion Day event, in collaboration with the local district and there will be an “Iron Chef” salmon cook-off on July 16.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of people from B.C. in general,” said Gedling, who has been in his position since November of 2009.
Hopefully the trend continues.