Sod busted at forest museum for Cowichan's new $2-million visitor centre
Cowichan’s political and business brass did more than break ground for the region’s new $2-million visitor centre Tuesday at the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.
They also unearthed a whole new era of cooperation between five local chambers of commerce to attract tourists — and coaxed Cowichanians to explore their home turf.
George Gates, Duncan-Cowichan chamber’s president, said the south-facing centre — fronting the highway opposite Cowichan Commons mall — will “centralize” local chambers into visitor services, and hopefully herald regional visitor-services’ teamwork.
“One group should be running visitor services in the Cowichan Valley, not five. All areas of the valley have to work together to develop a regional strategy for visitor services,” said Gates.
“Explore the valley’ has been our tag lines,” he told a crowd in B.C. Forest Discovery Centre’s lobby before sod-turning with gold spades.
“Get ‘em here, and keep ‘em here.”
Cowichan Tribes elder Lester Joe agreed.
“I hope Cowichan Tribes is a big part of this.”
So did mayors Jon Lefebure and Phil Kent.
“This centre’s an example of regional contribution to something of value to all of us,” said Lefebure.
North Cowichan’s ratepayers rolled $325,000 into the wooden, barn-style centre.
It’ll boast office space, totem poles, interactive displays, plus Cowichan maps and brochures, by the 2014 tourist season.
Those bucks twin $666,500 from the Islands Coastal Economic Trust, $400,000 from Duncan-Cowichan chamber, UBCM’s $115,000, $150,000 in federal and provincial gas taxes, $293,000 from Cowichan’s regional tax coffers, and $50,000 from Duncanites.
City Mayor Kent, an ICE-T member, cheered the fruits of some five years of labour in siting, planning, designing the centre that’s unofficially following a LEED environmental design.
He also pointed to ICE-T cash for local projects spanning Kinsol Trestle’s restoration, Cowichan Bay’s docks and nature centre, plus Craig Street’s revitalization.
Councillor Al Siebring said the centre’s $2 million of taxpayers’ dough is money well spent promoting “the whole region, rather than all the (local) governance pieces at odds with one another.”
Geoff Millar, Economic Development Cowichan manager, signalled he’s ready to help create — with regional board and chamber direction — the regional visitor strategy.
“It’s a no-brainer. We didn’t want to come along heavy handed — the chambers have to make this happen.”
Chamber leaders might also plan a south Cowichan satellite infocentre along, say, the Malahat.
“I’d love to see that,” Millar said.
So would Joe.
“People are coming from both ends of the island. If they’re travelling north to this (forest museum) centre, they’ve already passed (Duncan).”