It’s a new year. If we survive the annual Polar Bear Swim(!), 2014 is already shaping up to be an exciting year here in Kaslo. Change is in the air — not a welcome fact for everyone, but a fact nonetheless. Will our healthcare situation improve? Will we come up with appropriate, innovative ways to bolster the fortunes of our fabulous school? And will we discover ways to bolster our area’s economic outlook, in the process bolstering local businesses and providing employment opportunities — decently paid, interesting jobs — for our young people?
On that latter point, here’s a thought to start the year: what if WE are our greatest asset?
When I say “we,” I’m referring to the whole Enchilada — the lake, the river, the surrounding forests and mountains, the flora and fauna all around us, and, of course… us! At the risk of being branded a wide-eyed tree-hugger, I suggest we start looking at this — the whole “Kaslo & Area D package” — as the starting point when we consider how to evolve our local economy, in the process stemming the flow of our brightest and best out to Vancouver and Alberta.
What I’m suggesting isn’t rocket science. Nor do the types of economic activities that might flow from a vision based on gently, appropriately leveraging who we are and where we live preclude other, more traditional activities, liking logging and mining.
So what am I talking about? Well, both the NWT and Yukon are attracting high-end tourists, in the winter, to view displays of Northern Lights. There’s still diamond mining going on up there, we’re talking about economic addition, not subtraction, based on a natural asset most people on the planet don’t have easy access to. Meanwhile, the Japanese are leading the way in quantifying the value of — wait for it — forested areas with nice trails and (preferably) adjacent water. Japanese and increasing numbers of American and European researchers have measured the appreciable health benefits of doing what so many of us do all the time — walking in the woods. As a result, special forest zones are springing up all over Japan, attracting big city visitors looking to lower their blood pressure.
This may sound slightly goofy, but it’s serious stuff. I’ve talked about it before on an instalment of Radio Free Kaslo — and here’s a fascinating article from Outside Magazine on the subject. Closer to home, we introduced a visiting Japanese hotelier to the folks at the Kaslo Hotel last year. He’d told me the day before, as we strolled along the Kaslo River trail, that he’d love to move his young family here. When I heard what he did for a living, I suggested we go and have a chat with the Ecklands. The result? Yuji, his lovely wife and two young children are slated to move here later this year. And right-sized groups of well-heeled Japanese tourists will follow, looking for the sort of discretely managed outdoor experience described in the Outside article. They will, of course, also shop on Front Street. They will eat in our restaurants. They will want massages. They will listen to music and view art and visit with local artisans. After a visit to JVH, they may mull the possibility of sending their kids to school for a year here — just as Yuji’s wife did in the Lower Mainland when she was a girl. We’re not talking hordes of people here — small groups, with large wallets.
If we use our collective imaginations. If we can find ways of cooperating and collaborating with one another, breaking through the barriers of animosity that so often seem to divide us, then 2014 may emerge as a very good year indeed for us all. In the meantime, take a walk in the woods today — it’s good for you!