The new gift shop at Historic Hat Creek, which opened at the start of the 2017 season, outperformed in May and June, and is credited with helping to save the site in the face of closure and evacuations during the wildfires. Photo: Barbara Roden.

2017 a ‘different year’ at Historic Hat Creek

‘We’re still here in one piece. We’ll make it’ says manager Don Pearse.

“Despite the fire we had a good year,” said Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch board chair Robert Sharkey at the AGM on December 14. “That was a surprise.”

Despite two evacuation orders and lengthy road closures in the area, Historic Hat Creek welcomed just under 21,000 visitors in the 2017 season, slightly behind 2016, and only the second time the site has had more than 20,000 visitors in a year. Manager Don Pearse said that had it not been for the fires, 25,000 visitors would not have been an unreasonable projection.

Sharkey said that the new gift shop outperformed. “It was amazing until July. It really saved us for the year.”

He noted that they were coming to the end of the design process for the new campground, which will see an additional 35 sites with water and power added to the eight existing sites (which have power only). There will also be a washroom and shower building at the site.

Funding for the campground came on a 50/50 basis ($200,000 each) from the Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resoure Operations/Heritage Branch and Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT), where Renata King asked if there were any new projects that the Friends wanted to pursue. “John Ranta, who sits on NDIT’s Regional Advisory Committee, really ran with the ball for us,” said Sharkey, adding that they are also ready to start construction on the new fire hall/staff quarters building (funding for which has already been secured) in spring 2018.

Pearse said that 2017 had been a “very different” year. “But we’re still here in one piece, unburned. We’ll make it.” He admitted that staffing was an issue after the fire: “We lost five people, and could only replace three.”

The board discussed admission and membership fees for 2018, and decided to hold them at 2017 rates. They also voted to bring in a second rate for commercial tour group members: the existing $12.50 per person rate, which gives visitors a guided tour of the site, will remain, while a new $11.50 per person rate will allow commercial tour group members to explore the site in their own time, and will include gold-panning and a stagecoach ride if visitors want them.

At the board meeting which followed the AGM, a new board was elected. Robert Sharkey remained chair; Bruce Walker remained vice-chair; secretary-treasurer Faye Morrison remained as secretary only; and Vivian Edwards took over the treasurer position. Lesley Joslin remained as a director, and two new directors—Barbara Roden and the returning Colin Williams—were welcomed. Appointees Frank Antoine (Bonaparte Indian Band), Lisa Dafoe (Village of Cache Creek), Jack Jeyes (Village of Ashcroft), and Wayne Marchant (Village of Clinton) made up the rest of the board.

Pearse presented a report from program director Chris Linton, who said that her first “Miner’s Overnight” program for students was a success. Participants dressed in period costumes, helped make their own dinner, panned for gold, cut kindling, and stayed overnight at the site. There was only one overnight stay in 2017, but Linton said there are already four stays booked for 2018.

She has also been asked by School District No. 73 to develop a gold rush program in addition to the existing fur trade program. She said that 90 fur trade class programs have already been set up for the new year.

“The board has a full plate for 2018,” said Sharkey. “We’ll finish the campground by November, and the board will be very busy with design over the next couple of meetings. NDIT is very happy with us, and we’re looking really good for the year.”

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