Historic Hat Creek is planning to fully open the entire site on May 1, and two new grants will help make the experience even better for visitors while helping the site carry on in the face of COVID-19.
The Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society, which operates the site, recently heard that they were receiving two grants from the Province’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program destination development stream. Fifty-four grants were announced for tourism destinations throughout B.C., with Hat Creek getting $55,500 to expand its restaurant patio and $28,000 to provide potable water to each of the eight dedicated campsites and to dry campers.
Don Pearse, Historic Hat Creek’s CEO, says that the entire site — including the roadhouse, Indigenous site, restaurant, campsite, and gift shop — is scheduled to open on May 1. The site was closed last year due to COVID-19, and Pearse says that because of COVID, stagecoach rides will probably not be offered.
“I don’t believe we’ll have stagecoach rides because of the close proximity of people in the coach and the cleaning needed. The coach may be around and riding, but it won’t be available for rides.” However, visitors will now be able to try their hand at goldpanning, and he says that there will be normal operations at most of the site.
“There will be more self-guiding by guests this year. People can wander on their own, but staff will be available to answer questions and guide people in the right direction. The Indigenous site will be fully open and self-guided, with interpreters there to answer questions. There will be skit performances at the Indigenous site and the roadhouse, which will be posted at the gift shop every day, and the skits will be changing and rotating on an ongoing basis.”
The restaurant will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day through May and June, and until 7 p.m. every day in July and August. Pearse says that the grant funding for the restaurant means they can extend the outdoor patio by about 15 feet and put a cover over 12 feet of the space, to provide extra protection and shade for some of the tables.
“Right now we only have two tables that are covered, and now we can have six or eight covered for rain or shade. Some people don’t want an umbrella overhead; they want an open air table but in a shady area.”
He adds that it will also help them expand capacity, especially given the physical distancing necessary under provincial health regulations. These regulations mean that the indoor tables have had to be cut down by half, resulting in lower capacity.
“The patio extension means about a 60 per cent increase in capacity. Part of the reason for the grant was to allow us to receive higher numbers of guests and increase our revenue. In the past we would have had to space tables so much we wouldn’t have made any money and it would have been a lost cause. This will make it viable to open and still maintain all the spacing requirements of COVID-19.”
Historic Hat Creek has eight campsites with 30 amp power, and the second grant means they will be able to run potable water lines to each site. There will also be spigots for potable water to service any dry campers; the site can comfortably accommodate 30 or more campers in different areas. Pearse says that dry campers can either pull up to the water source, or take water back to their site.
The gift shop will be open May 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. It carries a wide range of gifts, many of them Indigenous-made or reflecting the history and culture of the region.
Tour bus traffic is usually a mainstay of the site, but Pearse says that coach bookings are minimal this year. “Most of them have European or Australian tourists. Usually we have more than 400 coaches a season, but so far this year we’re at fewer than 50. We do expect an upturn in local traffic from B.C., Alberta, and the rest of Canada, but we’re not sure about U.S. visitors yet. That will depend on restrictions at the border.”
These challenges mean that it’s going to be a difficult year for Historic Hat Creek, and Pearse says they’re not planning on making any money. “We’re just trying to keep our head above water, and we’ve made adjustments for that.”
Even though the site was closed last year, numerous repairs were carried out at several buildings, and Pearse hopes local residents will come check things out.
“We’d love to invite past visitors to come back again and see our updated shopping options, as well as our newly-painted roadhouse. This would be a great opportunity for any locals who haven’t visited before to come and visit us and experience how life was in the 1850s and 1860s up to the present.”