It helps to have a wall of snowy mountains stretched across the horizon dominating views from every angle.
Large, wild animals strolling across the landscape doesn’t hurt either.
Throw in some dinosaur bones and even some ancient petroglyphs set in beautiful but mysterious rock canyons and you have the makings of can’t-miss tourist destinations.
During a tour of the U.S. states of Washington, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and a corner of Oregon, I kept my eye on what makes these places so cool to visit.
These vacations often come after I’ve just wrapped up the Mirror’s annual visitor’s guide Great Things to Do and so my mind is usually already thinking about tourism promotion.
Some places are just lucky, of course. If your settlement happened to grow up right next door to the world’s first national park – Yellowstone – well, you just can’t miss, right? We made our fourth visit to Yellowstone in the last week of May and even though the weather was not particularly good (snow flurries, for example), it’s still such a fascinating place to visit that the weather doesn’t matter.
Then there was the dusty northeastern Utah town of Vernal. Nothing particularly spectacular about that arid landscape until people started digging into the hillsides nearby and found fossilized dinosaur bones. Right there in the hillside. Well, set up a national monument, hire some rangers and watch the visitors flock. Doesn’t hurt either to have picturesque red-rock canyons that people of the Fremont culture happened to peck human and animal figures into. Hundreds of them.
You have to give credit to U.S. federal and state officials who recognize that tourism is a significant economic generator and so pour significant resources into making a visit through the countryside an experience in itself. Outside Vernal, there are interpretive signs describing the rock formations the highway passes through and lists the time period the rocks were formed and what kind of fossils you would find there. A highway trip becomes an educational experience. Brilliant.
So, it becomes an exercise in comparison. What do they have that we don’t? Well many things if you think specifically but generally we have spectacular mountains, beautiful forests, stunning seascapes and we do some promotion but do we really make it an experience for the casual visitor? I think we could do more.
Our national parks certainly make a visit an educational experience and some of our provincial parks do. They certainly used to do more. Premier Christy Clark is showing signs of understanding the value of our provincial parks. Let’s hope she can spur a renaissance in our forlorn and forgotten park system.
Campbell River needs to get on the bandwagon too.
For example, how many of you are aware of how spectacular Willow Point Reef is?
It’s one of the most fascinating places in Campbell River but a visitor would never know about it.
Now, of course, you want to be careful with a natural feature that we don’t have people tromping all over the living organisms that make the reef so cool.
But is it so hard to put up a few signs explaining what’s there? Maybe a protective walkway (that would be able to withstand the twice-daily inundation of the tide)?
We all know that this area has many spectacular natural attractions – big and small – and we need to take the lead of our American neighbours and add a few features that allow people to understand and appreciate what’s around them. It doesn’t take much: a few signs, a few pamphlets.
If it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to have someone guide you through an area, you’ll make visiting this area so much more accessible.
Make it easy to move through the landscape and gain a greater understanding of the place. That will bring people back again and again. That’s what does it for my family.
I bet it would do it for others.
Alistair Taylor is Editor of the Campbell River Mirror