In March, we heard the news that the Manning Park resort and ski facilities would be closing down their operations for good.
Provincial print, radio and television media were all over the story, and they got the message out very well – so well that the new owners are faced with a problem.
“A lot of people out there today think that we’re closed,” said general manager Mike Barker, “but we aren’t.”
That’s right: Manning Park is OPEN for BUSINESS.
Barker said that Popkum-based businessman Kevin Demers was considering buying the resort, which was under bank foreclosure, but he wasn’t able to complete the purchase until the facility was locked up and the lights were turned off.
It was well past the eleventh hour and if not for this April 25 save by Demers, Barker figured the resort buildings and ski hill could have been decimated, as the lenders tried to recoup their losses.
“No one was interested in buying it,” said Barker, who has worked at Manning Park in various roles for 28 years. “They could have taken out all of the furniture and equipment, moved any buildings that could have been moved and left the shell.
Barker figured there are well over fifty buildings owned by the resort – though the land is owned by the province. This includes the main lodge, cabins, staff housing, restaurant, pub, swimming pool, water and sewage plants, horse barn and all the buildings and lifts on the ski hill. It all could have fallen under the auctioneer’s gavel.
“BC Parks would have still had a presence,” added Barker, noting that the trails and campgrounds would have stayed.
Hope resident Peter Scherle was a manager at the hill for many years and at first he advised Demers against the purchase, said Barker. “Then he started looking at it and said ‘You’ve got Mike to help you.’”
Barker left the hill about seven years ago to work for Demers on his recreational holdings at Bridal Falls Waterpark and campground, Sunshine Valley RV Resorts – and park facilities operator (PFO) contracts, which include Hope’s Coquihalla Campsite and (with this purchase) the Manning Park campground contracts.
Now Barker is back at Manning, where he says he’s thankful to have the on-call advice of Scherle and Les Fujita, another former senior manager at the resort.
The resort is faced with the task of rebuilding and retrofitting, after being in receivership since 2009.
“The place has been neglected, so there’s been a lot to fix up,” said Barker. “They did do a good job maintaining the ski lift, though, so the lifts are in good shape.”
At the resort, there’s been a lot of spring cleaning, painting and brick work, making the place more inviting for guests.
“We’ve finally got satellite TV, with 10 stations,” said Barker. “Now, we have to start looking for TVs. We’re also looking to get internet to all the rooms and a hotspot in the parking lot.
“Our goal is to bring this place back to its former glory – but we know we can’t change everything in the first year. What we should be able to offer is excellent customer service and we’ve put the staff through a course for that,” added Barker.
The new ownership’s impact on employment for the region is notable. “We’ve got probably close to 80 summer staff, lots of it local,” said Barker, a longtime Hope resident. “In the winter, in the heyday, we were probably up to 130 staff.”
The doors are open and the lights are on. Now they just have to get the customers coming back. The temporary closure caused a loss of summer bookings, including four weddings which couldn’t be retrieved. Barker said customers can watch for specials through Facebook or the resort’s website, www.manningpark.com.
“On Saturday, August 3, we’re having our floating lantern festival,” said Barker. “From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can buy a kit, then build it and release it in Spruce Bay at 9 p.m.
“We haven’t had that in many years. It’s a family event, open to campers and visitors.”