Nakusp: Putting the 'n' Back in Economic Development
Friday, May 5, 2017
There's a buzz in Nakusp that's hard to ignore. As spring buds erupt up and down Main Street, colourful storefront awnings shelter visitors from brief downpours and reflect the vibrancy of a re-vitalized community.
Nakusp is hopping. While nearby West Kootenay communities, such as Kaslo, Slocan, and New Denver, have experienced population decline over the past five years, Nakusp has bucked that trend, and grew a modest four per cent between 2011 and 2016. That may not sound like much, but it's huge in a region of depressed economies and stagnant malaise.
Stroll down Main Street and you can sense the optimism; beautiful new buildings have sprung up and others are in the offing. The walkways are wide and cobbled. Bike racks and sidewalk signage lure locals and tourists alike into the bustling eateries and small businesses.
Along with the population increase comes an increased tax base, ensuring that Nakusp will hang on to its hospital and schools when West Coasters balk at paying the freight for floundering Slocan Valley communities. The best way to fend off Victoria policy makers is to demonstrate growth and prosperity, especially when a decade-long string of elected officials sit in opposition. Power resides with the governing party⏤a lesson I quickly learned as a minister's assistant.
Likewise, Nakusp is blessed to have a progressively minded council and town manager Laurie Taylor is a go-getter of the highest order. They understand that impatient politicians will only wait so long before pulling the plug on half-empty schools and underutilized hospitals. Just ask Kaslo. Just ask anyone else in the dozens of B.C. towns and villages drying up and shrinking away as their public buildings are shuttered.
Beauty. Passion. Balance. It's the Nakusp mantra and it's working. The waterfront boardwalk along Arrow Lake is a prime example. Citizens recognize that the stunning lakefront is the village's chief attraction, and its thoughtful and balanced development is obvious. The paved boardwalk, public wharf, and multiple-use boat ramp do nothing to interfere with the mountain views; mothers pushing strollers and wheelchair users brush shoulders with beach-goers, mountain bikers, and diners on the restaurant patios overlooking the lake.
It's a harmonious balance of multi-use activity that Nakusp is extending into the economically challenged shoulder- and winter seasons as well. The West Kootenay has become a snowmobiling and back-country skiing mecca, and Nakusp is at the forefront of catering to those crowds. The decades-old Kuskanax Lodge re-branded as the K2 Rotor Lodge (owned and operated by heli-ski empire Canadian Mountain Holidays), and its "off-season" has been reduced by at least 100 days.
A few blocks down the street, Shon's Bike and Ski swaps fat tires in the summer for fat boards in the winter; its doors now revolve year-round and owners Shon and Janis have a funky little coffee bar and beer-tap where bikers and skiers can warm up or cool down, dependent on the season and their beverage of choice.
Shon's started out in Kaslo but re-located to Nakusp a couple of years ago⏤in large part to take advantage of the growing economy and business-friendly council.
And so you have it: a great example that Slocan Valley communities can grow and hold out hope for the future despite declining resource revenue and the ever-present naysayers. Slocan City would do well to heed Nakusp's example in the development of its waterfront at the site of the former sawmill.
And imagine, if you will, New Denver opening up a few hundred metres of lakeshore at the end of Main Street; installing a boardwalk along a small portion of the Mori Trail, and exposing the New Denver glacier and towering Vahallas across the protected far lakeshore.
A small step forward, for sure, but jaw-dropping for visitors, and the view would rival that of Snow Valley down Fernie's iconic Second Avenue.