By LeRae Haynes —
The City of Williams Lake has been chosen to host an upcoming BC Mountain Bike Tourism Symposium October 2 – 4, thanks to the vision and hard work of people like Thomas Schoen and Mark Savard from the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium.
The symposium, a gathering of creative minds from across the province with a vested interest in advancing the future of mountain bike tourism in BC, will include topics like land use agreements with perspectives from land managers and tenure holders, regional collaboration that includes Ministries, Regional Districts, local businesses, and government, as well as education, certifications, and industry employment training for the mountain bike industry.
The conference will take place at the Cariboo Memorial Complex, opening with an official welcome reception for delegates and local dignitaries at the Tourism Discovery Centre.
Thomas Schoen is deeply immersed in the mountain biking culture, and is equally passionate about arts, culture, heritage, and local economic development. He is the owner of First Journey Trails, building mountain biking trails all over the province. His is the only business of its kind in the northern and interior regions of BC. The chair of the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium, he is also the executive director of the Central Interior Regional Arts Council, one of the original founders of the Xatsull Heritage Village, as well as well as the treasurer of the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society.
Schoen says holding the conference in Williams Lake is incredibly exciting. “It ties everything together that we’ve worked on for the past three or four years, including increasing the economic impact of mountain biking in our area,” he says. “What we’ve done here is relatively unique—a regional MB (mountain biking) marketing program. Other groups are watching what we’ve done and wanting to follow in our footsteps.”
An economic impact study by the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium has shown the annual total contribution of mountain biking in the Cariboo region in 2012 was $2.17 million—13 per cent higher than the 2010 assessment.
“We formed a group of MB industry insiders to find out what we can do to get new riders to our whole region,” says Schoen. “We put money into signage, maps, trail development, and a great website, but we really wanted a more regional approach to highlight other communities in our area, and that’s what’s truly unique about this project.”
He says the appeal of mountain biking in the Cariboo is partly its history. “Our trails go back 20 years from when Mark Savard from Red Shreds started developing them in our area,” he says. “It’s also that our trail network and terrain is so vast and varied. There are trails for people who are rank beginners, all the way to challenging and technical trails for the very advanced rider. Another appeal is easy access because of all our logging roads.”
He notes the theme of the upcoming conference, First Nations Partnerships, is important because First Nations territories are so close to all the local bike trail networks. “If we want to expand we need to partner with them, opening more opportunities for economic development,” he says.
“Here’s a prime example: for years we’ve been trying to find a good campground perfectly located for mountain biking. Chief William Campground is perfect. It’s quiet, out of town, and ties in with our trail network. As soon as we opened up the seven-kilometre cross country connector from Chief William Campsite to Fox Mountain, people coming to Williams Lake to go biking started staying at the campground and feedback was very positive from the beginning.”
The campground will also be tied into the South Lakeside trail network in the future, says Schoen, who adds they couldn’t ask for anything better. “We’ve already had people from Prince George and the Kootenays come to spend some days in our area to stay at the campground and bike our trails.”
At the conference, they want people to have the time of their lives in the Cariboo. “It’s not just about the ride,” he says. “We’re an industry-based community with more: art, music, and heritage. Our goal is to focus on highlighting the Cariboo in a fun, cool way. There is lots to do and the community is friendly and welcoming to visitors.”
For more information about the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium and for more information about the upcoming symposium go to www.ridethecariboo.ca.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, songwriter, co-producer of “Pursicles,” and the community co-ordinator for Success by 6. She is also the instigator of a lot of musical shenanigans in Williams Lake including “Borderband” with kids and is a member of the “Perfect Match” dance band.