Tourism is still increasing in the Cowichan Lake area and can only continue to improve as new amenities pop up, according to Katherine Worsley, manager of the Visitors Centre in Lake Cowichan.
“We have experienced a one per cent increase over last year’s figures and at that, we’re still over 42,000 people that have come through our doors in 2016,” she said.
And the winter wonderland at the Lake made a great impact, too.
“During December, for the very first time ever, we received 5,000 people through the month at the centre. We had a lot of people that were coming up to experience the snow, go cross-country skiing. I couldn’t believe how many people came from Chile that wanted to experience snow. It was a little bit dicey to send them out to some areas, wondering, are they going to make it out there? Do they have a 4×4, extra clothes, hats, and boots? Because it’s a different kind of snow. It’s a wet snow. But they were OK and came back to let us know the experiences they had, the pictures they took,” she said.
As a year, 2016 was interesting.
Sunfest came to town, giving the folks from the centre the chance to be involved with a festival at Laketown Ranch for the first time.
“We got a great chance to be on the grounds as volunteers and working with staff. We helped give out over 7,500 pamphlets of the information we had about the events going on in the area. Mind you, they stayed up at the grounds anyway. We found that it was a one-stop shop once you got there. It was very impressive how Laketown Ranch showcased Sunfest,” Worsley said.
“Being the first time in our area, they wanted to make sure they did not impede our residents and our community with an overabundance of people in the town, and our not being able to handle it. Now, I’m excited for the next coming months for the new events that are planned,” she said.
“There’s also an event held out at Port Renfrew, the Tall Timbers Festival. It’s also a great draw. We get a lot of people coming in here looking for that, asking how to get there, what the amenities are. They need to know they need to do their major shopping here, if they don’t already have it with them, before they head out.
Asked if there has been a change since the Circle Route to Port Renfrew was “paved” with seal-coating material in 2010, Worsley enthusiastically reported, “Huge!”
The Visitors Centre started recording the numbers in 2008 to see how many were travelling out there and who they were.
“We used to have a cluster before 2010; people would drive out, turn around and come back. Since 2010, now we have two-way traffic, with people coming that way from the Victoria area.
“We’ve received over 9,000 people just last year, going out and coming, asking for information. Our numbers have climbed, from 5,000, 7,000, 8,000. Last year was a great year.”
Interest has mounted with news getting out about the beauty of Port Renfrew’s Avatar Grove, too.
“The road out used to be treacherous. Now it’s only an hour to get there from Lake Cowichan. But what we need out there now are amenities. Something between Mesachie Lake and Avatar Grove would be great. Maybe a small pop-up event, or a pop-up vendor,” she said.
Another idea worth pushing is more maps and signs with maps. “There are quite a bit already but they are so fragmented. We need to put them all together and make one nice big map that includes everything with amenities and points of interest,” she said.
And, of course, a connector to Port Alberni has been talked about for half a century.
“That’s still on the wish list. They need to look at the paving of the road or even a seal coat surface of the road for better access.”
But, the Cowichan Lake area has so much to offer visitors, no matter what the reason that draws them here initially.
“When you come up to this area, within five minutes, even if you live here in Lake Cowichan, like I have for the past 17 years, in five minutes I can be in the middle of nowhere, in a wonderful forest, on a wonderful trail, or in a wonderful campground. And it’s like I’m in isolation. But here at the visitors centre, we direct people to the district’s various amenities, where the shops are in town, what services are available. That’s definitely important to us.”
Worsley said she’d like to see more, and more prominent, signage. “We do have some but not enough. I don’t think you can ever over-inundate your community with too many directional signs.”