A synthetic outdoor ice rink could be in the works for Harrison as early as next winter, thanks to provincial funding for tourism infrastructure.
Because the Village of Harrison is one of only 14 resort municipalities in the province, it gets funding from the province specifically for tourism-related projects. Between 2019 and 2021, Harrison is set to receive $1,150,000 from this fund. Around $100,000 has been set aside for programming and administration costs already, meaning the village has just over $1 million to spend on capital projects.
“The 14 resort municipalities, including Harrison Hot Springs, play a large role in economic development for the province, in that we attract visitors from across the country … and also international visitors,” village CAO Madeline McDonald explained. “That does put a certain strain on our tourism infrastructure.”
The funding, which comes from the province’s hotel tax, is meant for projects that are focused on building and diversifying tourism infrastructure, especially in ways that extend the tourism season, increase visits, improve sustainability and enhance visitor experience.
On Feb. 14, during a special council meeting, mayor and council discussed what the best options were for using this funding.
The Resort Development Strategy Committee brought forward a number of ideas to an earlier council meeting: a synthetic outdoor rink, public art around the lagoon, upgrades to the boat launch washroom, solar charging and “conversation” stations, water bottle refill stations, wifi for the village centre, misting stations and a sidewalk to the Ranger Station Gallery.
The synthetic outdoor ice rink was given the main go-ahead during the Feb. 14 council meeting.
“We have a high season and a low season,” Coun. Samantha Piper said about the proposed rink. “I don’t think we need lots work to promote tourism during those peak seasons. It’s those off seasons that really need a helping hand now.
“And I think focusing on projects that may extend that season I think would have a positive effect on our business community.”
The $395,000 project would see the boat launch parking lot paved and a removable rink made of ice-like material that doesn’t melt placed on the lot during the winter months. The rink would be made of synthetic tiles that could be set up in the space of an afternoon, and bleachers would be added around the outside of the rink.
The boat launch washrooms would also be upgraded to allow for winter use, and the boat launch office renovated to allow for skate rentals and possible concession options as part of this project.
The distance from local businesses was a concern, especially for councillors Ray Hooper and Gerry Palmer, but both were ultimately in favour of the project. Piper didn’t share their concerns, saying the boat launch parking lot was the “ideal location.”
“Promotion that would obviously have be included in a new device in town could take care of the location concerns,” she said. “There’s been talk of pulling people down to that end of town … and I anticipate with the expansion of Light on the Lake, that will come.”
What the other projects should be, however, was less clear. Most councillors were against the different station options, saying that Harrison was not about spending time on their phones. Michie Vidal was in favour of the solar charging stations, although she wanted it to be more related to “conversational benches,” and Palmer was in favour of the wifi as he joked some of his “happiest moments are when my kids are sitting on wifi, leaving me alone.”
Water bottle refill stations were also a no, as council thought they would take business away from local shops, while misting stations were seen as unnecessary.
Although a splash park was not in the original list of projects, it was discussed during the Thursday council meeting. Councillors were generally in favour, but its high operational cost and lack of a good location kept it off the list for resort infrastructure funding.
The sidewalk to the Ranger Station Gallery was also given a resounding no. Samantha Piper and Gerry Palmer were in favour of the project — Piper because it was on the original list of tourism projects, which she helped craft with the Resort Development Strategy Committee — but Palmer said it was ultimately not a feasible project at this time.
“I really do think the sidewalk’s a good idea, however, I do realize it’s a big ticket item,” he said. “As the development in that area goes ahead, it might change the dynamics.”
Michie Vidal and Ray Hooper were against the project for the same reason.
Instead, council decided to have staff create a master plan for the lagoon to bring potential improvements to the area.
“There seems to be a lot of disappointment with the lagoon. It’s the centre of our lakeside tourism and many residents stay away from it,” Palmer said. “Certainly upgrades to the lagoon would be a good use of these dollars to please residents, but also enhance tourism.”
The lagoon also has some perception issues, he added, where people see it as unsanitary or overcrowded.
The possible improvements could include things like larger picnic areas, enhanced natural habitats in the lagoon and structures like decks or bridges. Accessibility to the lagoon was a big part of the conversation in council, but the exact ideas being implemented won’t be known until after the master plan is finished, likely in 2020.
With the remaining money, the village would look at installing public art around the lagoon. The original plan budgeted $200,000 for the art, but council’s decision was to leave it scalable based on how much money was left over after the first two projects.
The public will get a chance to comment on the proposed projects through an online survey, available through the Harrison Hot Springs website.
After the two week survey, a draft plan with a detailed budget will be brought forward to council; the approved draft plan and results from the public consultation will be submitted to the provincial government by March 15.