Peter Van Dyk, chair of the North Queens Board of Trade, was interviewed along with Andrea Wegerer, co-owner of the Mersey River Chalets. Peter, who operates the company that makes Van Dyk's Wild Blueberry Juice, told Don Connolly that the Board of Trade had had a meeting the previous night where the issue was discussed. He said that the whole area was going to see a big hit from the closure.
Peter said North Queens would see the hit in two ways. People were losing their jobs and others were having their jobs cut to part-time, and at the same time the federal budget has made it harder to get employment insurance.
Another big thing that will hurt the community, he said, is the reduction in the flow of people through the area. He said the Park has done an excellent job in the past few years to attract visitors in the off seasons, and has been very successful.
"Now that they have been successful with their programs, the Park's going to be shut down," he said. "If those people don't come they don't stop and spend money in our community."
Don Connolly asked Andrea Wegerer how important the Park was to her business, the Mersey River Chalets. She said it was very important, and that, as a matter of fact, when they established the business in 1995, one of the reasons they chose this area was because of its close proximity to the Park. She said they felt it was important that if you have accommodations, there are attractions in the area to bring people in.
She said that hearing about the cuts to Kejimkujik were of great concern, not just for her business but for the whole tourism industry in the southwestern part of Nova Scotia. She said there were not that many areas in the province where people can go out for winter activities, and that in the last few years, for example, the Park has again been grooming trails for skiing.
She said that about 75 to 80 per cent of their winter guests came because they wanted to go to Keji and explore the winter activities. "We are concerned about that."
Peter Van Dyk worried about the fact that the people who wouldn't be coming to this area would not be buying gas, groceries, or stopping at our hardware store. The people providing those jobs would suffer, as would the people who lost jobs or had their jobs cut back.
He said that Kejimkujik was over a hundred thousand acres of land right in the middle of southwestern Nova Scotia and was an asset that was basically going to be taken from us for the winter months. "It's basically going to be locked down."
Peter said the shutdown was "a blow to the spirit." He said that if you talk to people in the community - not just those who run the businesses or work at the Park - they feel as if they've had a big loss. The Park has been a big part of us, he said, and the shock of the news has made us step back and think of what we are about to lose.
Peter Van Dyk said he was almost positive that the math of the cutbacks did not justify what the federal government did. He said the Park had done an excellent job of expanding the shoulder seasons, and what little money the government would save wouldn't help their budget a bit.
He said he didn't think the national park system was originally set up solely on dollars. "I don't think that is what the plan was, and it shouldn't be now." He said that if someone wanted to open a seasonal campground somewhere in the province they should go and do that, but we should not be forced to make Keji that campground.
Andrea Wegerer said she was very much nervous about what was happening, and that her concerns went beyond what Peter was saying. "There were also cuts to researchers," she said, "that concern me in terms of caring about our environment. And there were cuts to interpreters." They were also losing their educational and schools programs, she said, and she wondered what it meant not only for the people at large, but for our own local children and adults, because everyone knows how important education is.
She said Mersey River Chalets was working very closely with the tourism industry to make this area a year-round destination. That would be very hard to do if all of the attractions and activities were not open.
The week on the CBC began on Tuesday, when the community contact for Caledonia was on the radio talking about the way local people were feeling about what was being done to our national park. I have to be up front about this person, whose name is Sheila, and with whom I am close, and that is why I have not said more about her report from the area.
It did, however, cover some of the same ground, showing how devastating this blow has been to Queens County, which has also seen serious cuts to Kejimkujik Seaside. No one voted for this to occur, and we will do well to remember it when the next election rolls around.
- Tom Sheppard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org