The future of the Historic Hat Creek Ranch site rests in the next decision made by the BC Heritage Branch (BCHB) of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
The Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society (FHHCRS), a local Society that has operated the site for the last 16 years, was unsuccessful in the request for proposal (RFP) process issued by the BCHB and the RFP was deemed “cancelled” by the provincial government after reviewing applications for site operations from both the Bonaparte Indian Band and the FHHCRS.
It was determined that neither applicant met the RFP criteria and the now-cancelled process has created an uncertain future for the society and the site operations. Currently, the FHHCRS functions under a legal agreement with the Province of B.C. to provide local citizens and tourists with the opportunity to explore the rich history of the area as the site is located on one of the few sections of the original Cariboo Wagon Road.
“We’ve been offered a one-year conditional extension to the existing site management agreement,” said FHHCRS board chair Robert Sharkey. “With the tourism industry generally operating in two to three-year time horizons for bookings, we’ve suffered over $200,000 in lost bookings because we couldn’t commit to taking reservations. This entire process has left our society in a state of uncertainty, making the future of the site unstable and has been very hard on our 40+ staff and their families. We are not certain how we will retain staff for next season.”
The BC Heritage Branch is offering a one-year conditional agreement for the 2020 season, an offer the FHHCRS board has concerns with because of the uncertainty and viability of such an arrangement. Long-time board member and former Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes said the society is open to negotiation.
“A multi-year agreement would allow our society to move forward with certainty. That’s just basic business,” said Jeyes. “A lot of our local business depends on tour buses and they plan ahead. With this current situation, we haven’t been able to provide them with information or sign contracts moving forward. It will hurt the bottom line. Our society is open to conditions in the agreement but at the same time, the conditions need to have objective metrics and well-defined outcomes so everyone in this province knows what and where the goalposts are.”
The FHHCRS has presented a counter-proposal to the BC Heritage Branch for consideration. Sharkey points out the site isn’t Crown land but is owned by the citizens of B.C.
“Everyone in the province has a vested interest in what happens here, and our proposal contains some elements that will remove uncertainty and give us stability—the main request being a five-year agreement,” said Sharkey. “As the society that has operated the site for the past 16 years, we need certainty and stability to staff and operate properly. We are seeking a standard five-year agreement to be the site manager just like Barkerville Historic Town and Park and Historic Yale. This 2019 season is a perfect example of why one-year agreements don’t work. We’re not just saying it could be damaging—we know it’s damaging based on the last year.”
The FHHCRS board consists of directors elected from and by the members of the Society and appointed directors from area communities and regional districts, including the Bonaparte Indian Band. The members see value in maintaining the operation of the site and the economic benefit the operation brings to the region.
“All the communities in the surrounding area benefit through jobs or by the tourism the site brings to the area,” remarked Jeyes. “The site is important to our communities and in the past 16 years that our society has been operating it, the site has improved to the point where it’s a very successful operation. We’ve been successful in securing grants to hire local carpenters who had lost their jobs to learn how to maintain historical buildings, which provided them with new skills and allowed us to repair buildings to the required historical standards.”
Jeyes said the FHHCRS is open to an amicable agreement so the site continues to operate and provide economic benefit and development to the community.
“We are invested in the successful, long-term operation of the site, in the maintenance of historical buildings, and the representation of what life was like in the area. We’re positive the site can continue to do its part in positively contributing to the local economy.”