Can Valemount and Golden harness their collective power?

Kinbasket Lake valemount bc

Recently I had the pleasure of accompanying Owen Torgerson to Golden, as part of the information gathering process for the Kinbasket Reservoir Impacts Business Case he is helping to prepare. The idea is that if Valemount and Golden have some common ground (common impacts from the creation of the reservoir, common goals for their communities) then maybe we can somehow work together for the good of both. It turns out we do have a lot in common.

I recall driving through Golden once before, back in the 1990s when the ski area was still called Whitetooth. I vaguely remember the scary decline in the highway with a series of crazy “S” turns along the Kicking Horse River, and then the flat gently curving pasture land. I didn’t actually stop in the town, as I was on my way somewhere else. That is one thing we have in common – most people just pass through Golden and Valemount, with maybe a stop for gas and a bite to eat, on their way somewhere else. Many of those who do come specifically to Valemount and Golden are sledders, primarily from Alberta. Both communities have historical ties to the railway and the logging industry, have a high volume major transportation corridor running by, a large number of hotels and accommodations, and incredible outdoor opportunities nearby, including rivers, farmland, and beautiful mountains. Golden is a community that in many ways likes being a small community – just like Valemount.

Of course, one big difference is that Golden has a ski resort. Whitetooth Ski Area was born in the 1980s when local volunteers cleared some runs and installed the Pioneer Chair Lift. It was later sold to a group of investors who expanded and renamed it to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, a 4-season resort with its own accommodation village, just a few kilometers from the town. Golden has, for good or bad, embraced tourism, and the idea of being a resort community. Some feel it has changed the community for the worse, but others feel it’s the only way the community is surviving. Golden and Valemount both turned to tourism as an alternate industry, something to help counter the downturns in the logging industry, and of course they have both felt the effects of the slump in the global economy over the last five years. For example, Kicking Horse Resort has had financial difficulties (it has new owners as of December 2011), and the town of Golden has recently lost both its local bus service, and its shuttle service to the resort. Skiiers and snowboarders hitchhiking up and down the Kicking Horse Trail Road is now a common sight.

Another similarity with Golden (and the reason for our visit) is that they too have felt negative effects from the creation of the Kinbasket Reservoir. They have seen few positive spinoffs like the ones benefiting communities downstream on the Columbia River (spinoffs like flood control and employment from construction and hydro generation projects). Of course, as Ron Oszust, a councillor in the Town of Golden puts it, “Every community you talk to in the basin is the MOST affected by the Treaty.”

Ron strikes me as a very well spoken, collected guy, with a lot of knowledge about his community and the Treaty. He believes two communities, at opposite ends of the reservoir, experiencing the same struggles and challenges, could carry a lot more weight with the province and in the Treaty Review process if they work together. Of course the big question is, what do we ask for? Golden and Valemount might be similar, but they might not need the same things, and a project or investment that works well for one community might not make sense for the other. So what is that plan, that magic bullet?

Randy Priest says he’s not sure what that “thing” is, but after being involved in various committees linked with the CBT and the CRT (including the Mica 5 and 6 Core Committee and the CBT Environmental Advisory Committee), and thinking about it for many years, he is sure the workable project is out there. Someone will eventually have that idea, he says, the one that everyone can get behind. Listening to him, I believe it too. We got to share dinner with Randy and his wife Joyce who live in “The Blaeberry,” as it’s called locally, a rural and agricultural area a few kilometers north of the town (similar to our Tete Jaune Cache). Randy is a retired power engineer who loves to build with wood. Joyce does too, and she tells us the rule is: “If it has curves, it’s mine!” (I hope we can meet them again, and we’ll be sure to ask to see their shop!)

Owen met with Ron and Randy, as well as Garry Habart (Regional Director for Area A, CSRD) and Grant Arlt (from the Golden and Area Rod and Gun Club) in the basement of the Golden Library building. They spent a few hours sharing information and talking about the impacts of the reservoir. For example, there is a boat launch and summer recreation area on the south arm of the reservoir that some folks from Golden are trying to develop. They had problems using the road this past year because of the higher than normal water levels (sound familiar?) but they are also being told they need to remove their campers, outhouses, et cetera – things that have been there for years.

That afternoon, Owen and I had time to walk around, and enjoy the town itself. The downtown core is vibrant – small boutique-style businesses, an art gallery, lots of restaurants with tons of character, and I didn’t see a single empty storefront. We got to meet some of the staff at the CBT office, and check out some of their resources. We crossed the Kicking Horse River Pedesdrian Bridge (the “Wooden Bridge” as it’s sometimes refered to) which links the Rotary Trails – 7 km of gravel trails that provides easy access around the town, and to hiking and biking trails outside the town. Before we left town, we got to check out the iconic Visitor’s Centre, where we met with Golden’s Economic Development Officer, Suzanne McCrimmon. She (and her dog) made time to talk to us about some economic opportunities in Golden, and show us a new program they are offering at the Visitor’s Centre – where you can rent a workstation (computer, desk, use of internet, printers, etc.) by the hour, day or week.

Everyone we met in Golden, including the restaurant servers and the housekeeper, had time for a smile and a quick chat, and everyone seemed to be genuinely happy to help. It’s a great feeling. I truly hope our two communities can work together, within the bounds of the Columbia River Treaty Review process, and beyond. How does that quote go? “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Maybe two small communities can build something really amazing between them.

Korie Marshall
News analysis