Editorial: Overcoming ‘balkanization’ in the Columbia Valley

How many ways can you think of to divide a roughly 8,000-person section of the Columbia River valley into individual communities?

Invermere. Radium Hot Springs. Canal Flats. Windermere. Fairmont Hot Springs. Edgewater. Columere. Dry Gulch. Brisco. The list goes on. How many ways can you think of to divide a roughly 8,000-person section of the Columbia River valley into individual communities and hamlets?

Attempts to forge unity in the Columbia Valley are nothing new.  Each area has much to offer on its own, but sometimes their political leaders fail to see the value of the bigger picture. When looked at through the lens of tourism, it becomes clear how lacking the valley is in a cohesive brand for prospective tourists to be dazzled by.

I get this impression not just by covering the endeavours of groups such as the Columbia Cultural Tourism Association and the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce, but by chance encounters with visitors themselves.

A couple of my Word on the Street victims from last Friday (seriously,  we are grateful for those people brave enough to speak to the newspaper and have  their photo taken) hail from Calgary.  Though they find downtown Invermere endearing, they admitted to not knowing much about the rest of the valley.

They spoke of the feeling they sometimes get that Calgarians are not wanted here, which is a sentiment I’m sure many local people have felt at times. Depending on the degree of vacation home and timeshare ownership in each community,  there is a tangible feel as to how welcome guests are in various necks of these woods.

It’s time we get over this version of xenophobia, admit that our economy is tied strongly to tourists from Alberta, and work towards better sharing with them what the valley is really about. Rather than begrudging the ranks of out-of-province visitors occupying dowtown Invermere parking stalls,  why not direct them towards your favourite spot on Columbia Lake, a hiking trail off of Westside Road, or your favourite cafe in Spillimacheen?

Rather than squabble over getting our share of the tourists bucks, we should encourage visitors — and each other — to view the valley as one whole rather than several pieces.

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