Chris Gale is already a well-known face around the Cowichan Valley but he is hoping that even more people will get to know him soon in his new capacity as manager of the BC Forest Discovery Centre. That facility is in need of a little revitalization and Gale wants to be the catalyst to forging a new future for the 50-year-old nature/theme park.
Gale is full of enthusiasm and new ideas. "We’re really excited about revitalization," he said.
"We’re going to bring this place back to the way it used to be."
Special events like the Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival and the Christmas and Halloween Express train runs can really pack people in but when they are over there are challenges.
We asked if part of the problem in getting people to visit the Discovery Centre on a regular basis was that the forest industry fading from view but he had a surprising answer.
"You know what? I understand it’s coming back now. The president of the Truck Loggers’ Association – they have a building here – was on the radio the other day and he went on and on about how the forest industry is coming back on the Island. And how if you want to live on the Island, get a job in forestry. So, apparently things are getting better that way. I’m looking at the possibility of a job fair here in our parking lot, putting some tents up and something like that. It’s just the place for it."
He has plans to balance the expense of keeping a big centre going with trying to offer prices low enough to attract people.
"What I have found in a very short time is that we have missed the boat on corporate sponsorship," Gale said. "So that is something we’re addressing. I will be going around to every business, knocking on doors and trying to sell our corporate passes. What makes them good value is that any business or corporation can buy them
and then transfer them as many times as they want. So, if you are a car dealership and somebody’s getting their car fixed, you can give them this pass to come over here for free. Or, if you have a number of staff
and want to have a prize for employee of the week you can give them the pass. They just come over here and use it and then take it back. It can be used over and over again.
"And, when I look in the books, I find we have 10 of them sold. So, I’m going around to every business and I hope to sell at least 100 in the next month or so. That will give us some money to do things with," he said.
In addition, the centre is going to closely examine all its pricing and see if there are ways to develop more local interest in the facility.
"One way to do that is to look at something like Be a Tourist in Your Home Town some week and then offer a cheap price to anyone who lives in Cowichan," he said.
"We’ve discovered that 82 or 86 per cent of the people in the Cowichan Valley have not been here, which is a sin really. We’ve got to get them coming," he said.
Gale praised the group of people who already know and love the centre.
"You know, we had 7,000 hours of volunteer work last year. It’s unbelievable the amount of people who just love this place. The old forestry guys, they are just here non-stop. Some of them come every single day and just work on stuff. It’s really neat."