Brent Clancy, president of the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce, takes down the signs at the Lake Cowichan Visitor Centre, which closed its doors for good on Jan. 31. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Editorial: Visitor centres provide vital services

Ongoing tension between the Chambers of Commerce that run them and the municipalities they serve

Visitor information centres are vital to our communities in the Cowichan Valley. This is what makes it so strange that there is an ongoing tension between the Chambers of Commerce that run them and the municipalities they serve that are asked to provide funding to keep the doors open.

This bizarre disconnect has resulted in the permanent closure of the Lake Cowichan Visitor Centre last week, and any number of fraught correspondences and discussions between the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and the City of Duncan, in particular, over the visitor centre located just outside the city.

In Lake Cowichan, the visitor centre was run for the past 15 years by the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce. In announcing the closure, they made no bones about the fact that they blamed the Town of Lake Cowichan for the necessity. The problem, they said, was a lack of adequate funding. The response from the mayor lacked any sense of panic or urgency at the closure.

We think this is a mistake.

Even with so many things available on the internet these days, directing people to amenities in a small community is not something best left to a search engine. From trails to local parks, businesses to museums, all rely on traffic directed to them from the visitor centre. Where will visitors to Lake Cowichan and its surrounding communities of Youbou, Honeymoon Bay and Mesachie Lake go now for a one-stop-shop to find out what they can do in the area? There is no replacement. There’s also no replacement for the impact that can be made with a smiling, friendly face inviting people to stay and enjoy.

The situation with the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre in Duncan is different, yet eerily similar. It, too, is constantly on a knife-edge as to whether it will receive the funding it needs, as in the past Duncan has arbitrarily cut its contribution. The city argues that it pays a disproportionate amount towards the centre, with larger, wealthier North Cowichan reaping benefits for less, when relative populations etc. are taken into account. It has been pushing for a redistribution in the funding formula for years, and abrupt funding cuts seem like a bit of a political game of chicken to get what they want. The service gets caught in the crossfire.

It’s time that these local governments acknowledged the huge service that the visitor centres provide to our communities. We should be trying to keep them happy, not on the edge of disaster every year, never knowing if there’s going to be a funding shortfall.