After several months of uncertainty, Historic Hat Creek has turned over a new page and is looking forward to the continued growth of the Ranch over the course of the next two years, building on the success of 2019’s record-breaking season which saw more visitors come to the site than ever before.
So says Jack Jeyes, the chair of the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch, the group that oversees the running of the heritage site north of Cache Creek. Jeyes has been on the Friends board since 2007 and was chair from 2008 to 2012 before being re-elected to that position at the AGM in December 2019.
Despite two evacuation orders in the area due to wildfires that closed the Ranch for six weeks during the 2017 season, the site saw 20,767 visitors, only slightly fewer than the record-breaking 2016 season, when the number of visitors broke the 20,000 mark for the first time. The 2018 season set a new attendance record, and in 2019 another record was set, with 24,031 people visiting the Ranch.
“2019 was the year that saw us turn the corner,” says Jeyes. “We had record attendance, which included 2,529 tour groups. We’ve come up by 3,000 people in three years. I think we have a bright horizon, and that with our partnerships we can have a good season.”
One factor that might affect the Ranch—as well as other tourist sites in the area—is the status of Highway 99 at the 10 Mile Slide site north of Lillooet. Following slides in the area in September 2017, vehicles of 27,000 kilograms gross vehicle weight or more were restricted to 50 per cent legal axle weight. Tour buses that had used Highway 99 from Whistler and Pemberton to Lillooet and then on to Highway 97—stopping in communities and sites along the way—found alternate routes, which had a severe impact on Historic Hat Creek.
The 50 per cent restriction was lifted in March 2019, in time for the tourist season. Work to stabilize the slide site has been ongoing for more than a year, and is scheduled to be complete in fall 2020.
A new gift shop opened at the Ranch in May 2017, with more space and increased accessibility for visitors. Jeyes says that it has been a great resource for the site.
“Staff recently went on a buying trip [for new stock] and focused on buying Canadian-made products with a significant Indigenous component,” he says. “We invite people to come out and go through it. And if you’re escorting visitors through the area who are looking for souvenirs, it’s a good place to get them.”
The restaurant will also be open seven days a week for lunch throughout the season, with plans to keep it open later in the evening in July and August for dinners.
Historic Hat Creek opens for the 2020 season on May 1, and operates until the end of September. For more information, and a sneak preview of some of the new gift shop items, visit the Historic Hat Creek Facebook page.