Clearwater’s dreams of becoming a year-round event and wedding destination are gaining steam, thanks in part to a $250,000 grant from the B.C. government.
The funds, provided to the Clearwater Ski Club and lodge, comes from a $90 million community economic recovery infrastructure program to support economic resilience, tourism, heritage, and economic development in communities across B.C. The grant will be used to upgrade and add capacity to the lodge, a focal point of the community, as well as maintain the ski hill and provide lights for night skiing.
The aim is to draw people to the area year-round, particularly for weddings, and inject much-needed money into the Clearwater economy, which has been affected by mill closures, wildfires and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have dealt such a blow with COVID. We rely heavily on international visitors and to have that economic stream cut off so dramatically that it’s been difficult to recover,” said Stephanie Molina, marketing manager for Tourism Wells Gray. “Investments like this in the community will certainly help.”
The funding is the largest ever grant for the Clearwater Ski Club and lodge, a non-profit run entirely by volunteers. The group relies heavily on fundraising and grants to pay its bills, especially when there isn’t enough snow to bolster reserves during the ski season. The lodge is an important part of the community, used for burgers and beer events, Christmas dinners and parties, as well as a Christmas market.
Promoting the lodge as a wedding destination will not only bring in income but will help to inject more money into the local economy – in terms of spin-off businesses such as catering, florists, photographers, accommodation services, shopping and restaurants – and support the town during the shoulder season.
The more people who come to town, the more money they spend on accommodations, shopping and food, said Daniela Wiunig, president of the Clearwater Ski Club.
“It’s really good for the town,” she said. “People, when they book, love it. It’s quiet and nice.”
Plans to turn the Clearwater area into a wedding destination began in 2018. The following year, every weekend was booked – and not just by locals but people in Germany and the United States, Molina said. A lot of bookings had to be cancelled in 2020 as well as this year due to COVID-19 but she hopes they will see a rebound in interest in 2022.
Molina said it might seem odd to be promoting Clearwater as a “destination” wedding venue, but noted people have long been drawn to the area to hike, kayak or paraglide and they could develop an industry around them. She sees its 41 named waterfalls as a powerful draw for romantic couples, similar to Niagara Falls. Pre-COVID, the lodge could host 120 people, she said, and they are now looking at ways to promote smaller packages.
“We encourage them to see Clearwater as a destination wedding location which is something odd,” she said. “The areas in Clearwater and Wells Gray are otherworldly. In some ways, it provides a diverse and exotic backdrop to some of these events. There’s a pent-up demand for people who would like to get married.”