B.C.’s Historic Hat Creek Ranch finds itself in a state of uncertainty after receiving correspondence from the provincial government this month. In a release issued from the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society (FHHCRS) on May 1, the board announced that the B.C. government will proceed with a public process to seek new site managers for Hat Creek.
The Historic Hat Creek Heritage site is located just north of Cache Creek at the intersection of Highways 97 and 99. The site has been operated and managed by the FHHCRS for well over 15 years. The society functions under a legal agreement with the Province of B.C. and provides tourists with the opportunity to explore original buildings frequented by travellers during the Gold Rush in the 1860s.
Robert Sharkey is board chair of the society. He says the site really belongs to the people of British Columbia.
In 2018, the board orally negotiated a five-year extension as they approached the end of their current agreement with the province. Soon after, the agreement was inexplicably withdrawn and the board was given a one-year extension, with instructions to increase First Nations heritage at the site.
As a group, the board agreed to the mandate and immediately undertook efforts to increase First Nations representation, even adding two additional board members from the Bonaparte Indian Band to their society. Despite these efforts, the B.C. government has indicated that it will move forward with a public process to seek the next site managers of Hat Creek.
“We’ve done everything we can,” said Sharkey, “We’ve never been told that we haven’t been doing a good job.”
He explained that the announcement puts the board in a state of limbo, as they are unable to make commitments for the busy tourist season ahead, despite following through with all undertakings recommended by the government.
The announcement comes with an indeterminate timeline, but immediate consequences, such as the board’s inability to plan for 2020 and beyond. The society normally books two to three years in advance. Presently, they have been unable to ensure their usual commitments to the tourism industry that supports the site.
Historic Hat Creek runs the risk of losing business that has been years in the making.
“The site manager with respect to the contract is the society,” Sharkey told the Free Press. “We have no other agenda except the good of the ranch.”
The board constitutes Hat Creek’s incumbent site managers and holds an excellent record of operational and economic performance. As such, they are at a loss to understand the government’s choice not to renew its partnership with Hat Creek. So far, no formal Request For Proposal (RFP) has been presented.
Despite an uncertain future, Sharkey thinks the year ahead could be Hat Creek’s best yet. The society has been financially successful by all means, says Sharkey, and they have faced adversity before, feeling firsthand the effects of B.C.’s worst wildfire season on record.
The site and its management team have also experienced regular road closures in recent years as a result of nearby floods and mudslides.
Historic Hat Creek is a popular tourist destination and a frequent stop for local and provincial school field trips. The society is a not-for-profit, enabling the site to act as a significant local employer to a staff of over 35 people. 40 per cent of the staff at Hat Creek is of First Nations ancestry. Its board consists of volunteers who are elected society members, as well as three appointed members, normally elected officials, from the communities of Clinton, Cache Creek, and Ashcroft.