Irene Meili has spent the past three years trying to lure more guests to the Fishing Highway.
She’s staged outhouse races and organized fishing derbies. And now, thanks to funding last year from Destination BC, she is working with Kamloops, the North Thompson and Wells Gray to promote the “land of hidden waters” stretching along Highway 24, or the Fishing Highway.
A camera team will tour the region this week, using photos and drone footage to highlight the opportunities for fishing, kayaking and horseback riding, as well as the supporting businesses, along the corridor. Despite all it has to offer, Meili said, travellers tend to overlook the Fishing Highway when coming from the Rockies or travelling from Prince George to the Coast.
“Highway 24 has always been a little kept secret,” said Meili, chair of the Fishing Highway 24 Tourist Association. “People don’t know how many lakes we have. If you take the back roads and go away from the highway, it’s just a whole new world. There are just so many lakes waiting to be explored.”
Meili took over as chair of the Fishing Highway Tourism Association three years ago. The group represents businesses connected with tourism along Highway 24, including Horse Lake and businesses such as local guest houses and the Lone Butte Sporting Goods, Iron Horse Pub and Rona.
Meili was the marketing manager for IBM in Switzerland before she and her husband Ralph bought the Fawn Lake Resort and moved their family – they have two teenaged children – to the South Cariboo in 2013. She wasn’t a stranger to Canada, having spent her summers in the Okanagan, but maintains she loves the South Cariboo, with its wide-open spaces and warm and welcome hospitality.
“People are always positive, they are always assuming the best and not the worst,” she said. “You phone up someone and they will immediately help you.”
READ MORE: Discover BC’s Fishing Highway
Although most events were cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Meili said the opportunity to work with Kamloops and Wells Gray is a great way to promote the area by connecting the different areas and marketing them together. It’s been an ongoing project for many years.
“We’re not a high-end destination like the Okanagan,” she said. “They get lots of funding from the province that we have to work to get. This is kind of a foot in the door, just to become a little more important in the B.C. landscape when it comes to tourism.”
For Meili, volunteering is her small way to give back to a community where everyone seems to help each other. Her husband Ralph is also the treasurer of the association. She would like to see more volunteers help out, noting people want amenities like trails and events but don’t want to step up to help.
“It always goes both ways. You help someone, they help someone … we have to keep these old traditions – everyone volunteered, everyone helped.
“We have to cooperate in order to make everyone’s life easier and attract people to this area.”