Despite being under evacuation order twice for a total of more than four weeks, and the prolonged closures of Highways 97 and 99 this summer, Historic Hat Creek had a total of more than 20,000 visitations—20,767, to be precise—this season; only the second time they have broken the 20,000 visits marker, and not far behind 2016’s total of 21,615 visits.
However, manager Don Pearse says that after a gross profit of 14 per cent last year, the gross profit this year is -16 per cent. “We ate up two years’-worth of profit this year. We have a long winter ahead, and we still have to pay the bills. There’s no heat in the roadhouse, but we have to keep other buildings heated because of the water systems.”
With Canada being promoted all over the world as one of the top travel destinations in 2017 because of the Canada 150 celebrations, Pearse says it was set to be a perfect year at Hat Creek. “I’d like to think we could have cleared 25,000 visits,” he says. “It’s not a stretch to think we could have picked up another 4,000 visits during the evacuation periods [July 8 to 23 and August 3 to 16].”
The numbers confirm this. Visits in May and June 2017 were up by 2,190 over the same period last year, while September 2017 was up 1,771 visits over September 2016. July and August this year, however, were down 4,809 visits compared with those two months in 2016.
Pearse says that during the first evacuation period he was going in to the site every couple of days to feed the horses, water the flowers, and “keep the place from going to pot”. During the week or so that the site was open between evacuation periods he says there was really no business. “It was too smoky and uncomfortable. People would stay for half an hour, rather than four to six hours to see the whole site and the shows, then leave. And all the questions were about the fire, and how close was it.”
Pearse, who lives on the site, stayed during the second evacuation period. “During the evacuation lots of firefighters used the site as a base,” he explains. “It was a hive of activity. We had coffee and fresh fruit for them 24/7, and cooked a few meals for them.”
The fire crews appreciated being able to use the site’s new reservoir, and were filling their trucks from it, as well as filling bladders that were used by the helicopters loading up to drop water on the fire. “The firefighters were all smiles. They had no idea that [the reservoir] was available, and they loved it.”
Any historical buildings on the site with cedar shake roofs, such as the blacksmith shop, the pig barn, and the roadhouse, had sprinklers from structure protection put on them to keep them doused. “They supplied us with pumps and hoses. The pigs have never been so clean; they were getting showers every day.”
In addition to lost visitors, the site lost three weddings and a family reunion that were scheduled to take place in July and August. “One wedding was setting up on July 7, and I said ‘You guys gotta go.’ They rescheduled for September 23, and everything went off wonderfully.” One of the other weddings also rebooked, and the family reunion has been rescheduled for next year.
Pearse says that when the site opened again in mid-August business was very slow to come back at first. “People trickled back, but there was still a lot of smoke, and people were still worried about fire.” However, business roared back in September. “Maybe people crammed some holidays into that first week before Labour Day.”
Pearse says that bus tour business is creeping back, with two new lines signed up in 2017 that will be back in 2018. “We’ve signed the contract and the buses are booked already.”
Historic Hat Creek received funding last year for the construction of a new fire house and residential building, and construction was supposed to start this year. However, they are still waiting on a permit from the TNRD, so have decided to move ahead instead with the construction of more camping spots at the site, a project which also received funding last year.
“We’re at the design stage of the new campground,” says Pearse, who notes that it will add 25 to 30 new sites with power and water to the eight sites with power only that are already there. A toilet and shower building, that might contain laundry facilities, will also be built.
“The new campsites won’t be ready when we open in May next year, but we’re hoping we can work on them over the summer and maybe have them open in August. If we can get the water and power done, we can continue work after the site opens.” Pearse hopes that the design can be completed before Christmas, with work starting in March or April if the weather is mild.
As for the fire house, Pearse says that if they get the necessary permit they hope to start work on it in March 2018. “We’d hoped to have it finished by now. We have the funding in the bank, but the completion of it is in jeopardy because of our financial situation.
“We think we can get it to lock-up and put all the fire equipment and tractors in there to get them off the site, which will enhance the site; it will stop all the works trucks going past the roadhouse. And it will get all our fire equipment in one place near the reservoir.”