I’ve spent about the past seven months sitting on the Economic Development Commission for Sooke. During that time, I’ve heard a lot of input on how to make our community a more economically viable place to live, with all the amenities that allow citizens to achieve a high standard of living. Some of the ideas are truly great, but definitely ‘pie in the sky,’ especially considering what we already have right under our noses, which we, as a comprehensive community, have not spent any time developing or really thinking about.
Of course, with determining a person’s standard of living, financial matters are only a part of the picture. I know plenty of people with more money than they know what to do with who are miserable. Financial success, in and of itself is hollow. Bringing this concept to a much larger scale, I started thinking about Sooke as a living organism. If we want Sooke to be like a python which eats huge meals infrequently and spends most of its time digesting, well by all means, the traditional tourism model works. But, what if we want Sooke to be like a hummingbird, which eats smaller meals regularly and is dynamic in its approach to acquiring sustenance? For that, we need a new model, one which takes advantage of our sustainable resources, and by that I mean ready access to a beautiful natural environment, year round.
It seems to me that there is a constant desire to acquire more and more money, and that money, in and of itself, is the defining factor in determining the value Sooke’s existence. Like I said, money is only part of the picture. Back when Sooke was newly inundated by those seeking its gold, that ‘everyone out for one’s self’ mentality, was kind of acceptable. Although likely not to the people living here when those folk showed up, who had an extremely tight knit community. That gold rush mentality is no way to build a community where people take care of one another and make sure that everyone is doing ok.
When the tourist season kicks in that mentality floods back. For the short time when the money is flowing freely those positioned to take in that money stand to make a killing. Like catching fish in baskets. The problem is, if that’s enough to cover the rest of their fiscal year, then where is the incentive to invest in amenities of benefit to residents and ‘local tourism’ alike, year round? Not that it matters much, since it appears the days of catching dollars being thrown around is over, it’s something we’re all having to work much harder for.
Mountain biking, as an activity, can be enjoyed year round in Sooke. It’s something that we have amenities to accommodate, which are still somewhat undeveloped, and certainly are under promoted, except with the mountain biking community- and the word is getting out. Riders take advantage of the trail systems on both Broom Hill, (or Sacred Mountain as I’ve heard it’s known as by T’ Sou-ke) and at Harbourview. The riders are a nice mix of local residents and regulars from Victoria. During the tourist season, certainly there are those who visit from other countries and the mainland. Our tourism oriented organizations have not noticed these types of tourists, as currently mountain biking is not on their radar. As a rider, I notice these people because I meet them on the trail and in my bike shop.
Fortunately, through the EDC, Sooke has joined the Mountain Bike Tourism Association of BC, (http://mountainbikingbc.ca/community/sooke) and this is a great first step toward reaping the benefits of international mountain biking tourism.
But what about a more sustainable, year round tourist? One who may only come to Sooke for the day, who might buy some gas, lunch or ‘discover’ Sooke? We have one of the highest per capita populations of mountain bikers in Canada right next door — in Victoria. How do we make Sooke more attractive than it already is to these folk? I feel that it wouldn’t take much. Certainly CRD Parks will be promoting their new mountain bike trail system at Harbourview, but how will Sooke itself, and the organizations who represent tourism related interests move forward in attracting more riders from Victoria? The bigger question is, ‘do they care to’? And if not, why not?
A part of the solution to this would be to build a bicycle skills area in John Phillips Park. The land base required for this would be small in relation to the rest of the park, and we could probably have it built mostly by volunteers so the cost to the district and us taxpayers would be minimal. This would be a place where locals could spend time and build a vibrant and attractive community. It would be a place where events could be held, attracting both local tourism and tourism from abroad. The high profile location would put Sooke on the map within the cycling community — globally AND locally — and puts out a strong message that youth are highly prized members of the community, deserving of more, accessible amenities which complement their already active lifestyle.
Mountain biking is win-win for Sooke, no matter how one looks at it. All that it needs is a little boost and some local interest and I guarantee we will start seeing positive results immediately, both in the health of our youth, our town and the bottom line.