When I first travelled through Northwest B.C. I was struck by how few Alberta plates I saw in the region.
More southern towns, like Revelstoke or Fernie, are inundated with tourists during the summer months. On any given weekend, easily half the license plates parked along those downtown streets are out of province. It’s mostly a proximity thing. Fernie is about three hours from Calgary and Revelstoke is four hours away.
Burns Lake, by contrast, is at least eleven hours away from the closest major Alberta metropolis, Edmonton. Clearly, it’s more of a commitment to make it to Burns Lake.
Has anyone else noticed more Alberta plates coming through town recently, or is it just me? Every tourist destination goes through a life cycle with a definable tipping point when an area has enough buzz that it starts to draw people based on word-of-mouth recommendations.
It’s like you need a critical mass of people to start to take an area seriously as a destination. Once that happens, nothing can stop the influx of others who share the recreation and travel interests of that initial critical group.
It happens fast, and it’s usually the result of major investment by a community or business. Revelstoke always had the best backcountry skiing in B.C. in terms of quality, quantity, and access, but it was a sleepy little town really only known to a committed group of skiers until a new lift was built on the formerly under-utilized ski hill.
Boer Mountain mountain biking is Burns Lake’s best bet for a continuing draw. Burns Lake is a bona-fide mountain biking destination. Before you roll your eyes, don’t underestimate the potential of something like this to help diversify a town.
As a group of enthusiasts, mountain bikers can be a little fanatical about good destinations. If you think that not a lot of people would want to make a 12 or 20 hour drive just to come here and ride, you’re wrong.
Google ‘Moab mountain biking’ for an idea of what can happen to a relatively isolated place once enough people decide that it’s a must-go-to destination.
We’re already drawing riders from across the region. There’s mountain biking in Smithers and Prince George, but you might not realize it when you look at the numbers up at Kager Lake.
The campground at Kager Lake is a large part of that draw. I’ve never seen a better campground at a biking destination, whether free or pay for use.
It took a lot of labour, some of it paid, but most of it volunteer, to get the trails at Boer to where they are now. The further expansion of trails or even of riding areas will continue to keep Burns Lake on the map.
As it stands, I can easily tell friends in Calgary that making the drive to Burns Lake for a week – or even just a long-weekend – of riding is absolutely worth the effort. With phase one of downtown construction is almost complete, when they come to Burns Lake, they’ll find a town that looks like it respects itself as a place to stop, not just pass through.
Living here, it’s great to know that you can enjoy the best of something without having to leave town.