Former manager of Blackwell Park Operations Ltd., Merlin Blackwell, recently sold the park maintenance company after almost four decades of taking care of the various wilderness areas around Clearwater.
The business was sold to Brian Williams from Kamloops, who also has no shortage of experience looking after parks in British Columbia.
According to Blackwell, Williams now takes care of seven areas similar to Wells Gray Park, which was under Blackwell Park Operations’ jurisdiction, and runs other parks in areas from Lytton to Quesnel.
“He started out just like me, a mom and pop company, 25 or 30 years ago and he decided to expand,” said Blackwell.
“It’s just the missing piece, now he runs all the parks in the Thompson region and all the parks in the Cariboo region—when the opportunity came up he figured he should take that before somebody else does.”
Blackwell said park maintenance is a young man’s job and after 37 years in the business, he decided it was time to look at different opportunities.
After last year’s election that saw him sworn in as mayor of the District of Clearwater, he added he has a window of at least four years to preoccupy his mind with something outside of park maintenance, which he’s been working at since he was 12-years-old.
“It made sense this would be the time to break away and find something else to do with the remainder of my working life,” said Blackwell.
He started running maintenance for Wells Gray in 1989 when it was just Blackwell, his father, and two other employees, before BC Parks expanded the company’s jurisdiction, and he said last year the business was up to 23 full-time employees.
Though Blackwell said he had some loyal and dedicated workers, the bulk were new hires each year, and with the recent labour shortage, hiring annually was becoming tough.
“You’re basically re-opening your business every single year and then shutting it down again,” he said.
“The only employee in the winter months is me and it’s just kind of stressful that way.”
The primary functions of Blackwell Park Operations involve overseeing the majority of Wells Gray Park where visitors frequent, doing everything from cleaning outhouses, to building wilderness bridges on trails and making sure the trails are cleared and accessible, as well as looking after Clearwater, Azure and Myrtle Lakes.
Some of the things he said he’ll miss the most are the staff members he oversaw and his encounters with the wildlife that call the parks he maintained home.
One such encounter involved running into a litter of wolf cubs on his way to Myrtle Lake.
“I sat on my truck and howled with a pack of 12 wolf puppies that were milling around the road in front of me; I don’t know why I thought I should howl at them, but they all just came out on the road and I just thought, let’s see if I can howl at these suckers,” said Blackwell, laughing at the memory.
“I did and they all howled at me and started running toward the pickup truck, then I did it again and it went back and forth for a while.”
As for what the future holds, Blackwell said he’ll be acting as a consultant for a year or two, lending advice to the company’s new owner as well as looking forward to finally having a summer off. Maybe oddly, he said he plans on checking out some other parks around the province during his first summer vacation in 30 years.
“Ironic, right? I’ll be going to inspect other people’s outhouses just because I can’t get it out of my system,” said Blackwell.
Then there’s the business of being a new mayor, which will also keep him busy, but will allow him to advocate for the parks he has looked after for so many years.
“Now that I’m mayor and free of conflict of interest, it’s going to be really great to be able to lobby for improvements to Wells Gray Park,”
“(I know what the park needs) because my blood, sweat, and tears are on pretty much every tree stump in Wells Gray Park, so it’ll be great to be able to speak freely to other levels of government to get it done.”