Weather wreaks havoc on tourism in Tumbler Ridge

Earlier this month, heavy rains washed out a major access into the town via Highway 52 from Arras, washed out access to popular recreational spots such as Kinuseo Falls, threatened to knock out the town's power supply, and just generally made the outdoors unbearable, which altogether has a huge impact on the scenic mountain-town's growing tourism industry. While things appear to be returning to normal – highway access was restored this weekend, the road to Kinuseo Falls is open and BC Hydro expects to have the transmission issue dealt with before this weekend – the damage may have already been done for this tourist season.

Dr. Charles Helm, vice president of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation, said there is no doubt the highway closure in particular had an impact on visitation to the town.

"I was speaking to the visitor information centre staff and the staff at the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, and the moment the road went down, there was a dramatic decrease in (visitation) numbers," he said.

"In general, I think the wet weather that has lasted for about a month obviously puts a damper on tourism as well," he added.

He said while Kinuseo Falls is accessible, the road is likely very hard-going for travellers, and long-awaited upgrades to the access road have now been delayed. The popular Gwillim Lake campground is also closed due to damage caused by flooding, and is not expected to reopen until at least late August or later, he added.

Helm is also a director with the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, a group that maintains over 20 different hiking trails in the area, and he said there is no doubt those trails have been affected. He said the Bergeron Falls loop trail that was just completed last year is open thanks to many hours of hard work put in by members of the volunteer group.

"It has become one of the icons for the region that tourists come to the area to visit, so we've had to go in day after day to reroute sections of the trail that were damaged by floods and reinstall a few bridges."

On a positive note, he said the Emperors Challenge – an annual half-marathon that takes place on Babcock Mountain – is still going ahead on Aug. 6 with a record 800 participants this year.

"That makes it by far the biggest off-road running race in British Columbia, and were looking forward very much to putting it on this year."

Helm said that event, and the Grizfest music festival this weekend, will hopefully create a bit of a rebound in tourism.

Richard McCrea, paleontologist and curator of the Dinosaur Discovery Gallery, confirmed visitation to the gallery, which held its grand opening last year, has dropped off dramatically following the heavy rains in late June. This year, the gallery was opened to year-round visitation, and they were expecting between 1,000 to 1,500 people in July and August, but so far this month he estimates they've had about 200 visitors.

"We've pretty much lost July," he said.

He said they are seeing a bit of a resurgence in the numbers, and if the weather holds, he expects August should be a good month, though it is now unlikely they will reach their goal of seeing 5,000 to 6,000 visitors this year. McCrea said even more important than the revenue generated by visitation is the business case those numbers help to make to their funding partners in order to secure much-needed grants.

He added the heavy rains have also set them back in the field, as they have been unable to continue a now four-year-long project to excavate British Columbias first complete dinosaur skeleton.

"There's a strong probability that we're not going to get that dinosaur out this year," he said, adding it will push back plans to create a new main exhibit at the gallery for another year.

Despite the setbacks, McCrea said he remains optimistic the gallery can continue growing in popularity and exceed 10,000 visitors annually in the next few years.