Black Press Staff:
Imagine a project, described by its manager as “the tar sands without all the surrounding controversy and the ecological problems”, estimated to generate around $ 1 billion, for a start, within an area populated by about some 100 thousand people.
How does that sound?
Apparently it sounded “great” to the Highway 21 Community Initiative Society and they decided to contract the Boomtown Country company to manage the affairs of the project.
Ken Duncan, the head of the company, and by default, the manager of the “Boomtown Trail project” can not hide his excitement as he speaks on the vast opportunities and development potential that the project could bring to east central Alberta.
The roots of the project go back to 10 to 15 years ago when several communities started to look into opportunities of economic development and realized that tourism would be a very plausible and viable path to follow.
The Battle River Tourism Association took up the task of carrying the flag, but stopped its activities around 2000, when the Highway 21 Community Initiative Society took control.
With a background in communications and running his own company, Ken Duncan was first offered the chance to get invoved in the Boomtown Trail almost two years ago, and since then his name almost became synonymous with the project.
“The region is very rich in history, although it is not well known” says Duncan.
Part of that history is reflected right in the name of the project.
“In the very early 1900’s, all of these towns almost sprang up overnight following the lead of the railway.”
So booming along the trail of the rail, what more convenient name can represent all these settlements lined up along Highways 21 and 56?
Duncan says with its southern rim touching Highway 1 and extending as far as Highway 14 in the north, parallel to the Highway 2 corridor, the project area is as big as Vancouver island and promises to attract a lot more population, capital, investment and business.
Restoration of Main Streets in the smaller local communities within the project zone with provincial and federal government funding is one of the priority areas on which work has already begun.
“We are looking into the preservation of the look and feel of the boomtowns” says Duncan in reference to the efforts currently underway. He says an early goal to be achieved is the identification of the architectural guidelines with historical concerns kept in mind.
Several municipalities, including Bashaw, Donalda, Three Hills, Elnora, Rockyford, have already joined the project and working with Boomtown Trail management on Main Street restoration ideas.
Duncan says all municipalities willing to be part of the project are welcome to join, and they are also encouraged to announce their forthcoming events by logging in to the project website.
Currently, some 25 municipalities and more than 70 businesses – giftshops, hotels and travel agents – have expressed interest in becoming partners to the Boomtown Trail project.
“We have a nice blend of business and government” says Duncan in reference to the factors that should help pushing forward with the project.
And what does this region offer to the potential tourist?
“We have the rural values,” says Duncan. “We are not the mountains, we are different.”
“In our towns it takes forever to go from one end of the Main Street to the other because you stop to chat with people, people who know you, your family and you chat about various community issues, and this is genuine. This is what we have.”
The initial target for marketing the BoomTown Trail is associated with another boom in North America’s recent history, that is the “babyboomers.”
Duncan says those babyboomers, who have already retired or are about to retire in addition to healthy young seniors, living within a driving distance, that is the Edmonton-Calgary corridor, is the immediate marketing target, which is to be followed in time by Europeans and younger generations.
To be promoted are rodeos, ag tourism, festivals, parades in addition to the history of the region, where the association of the project with the Métis nation of Alberta comes in.
“They very much want to be in tourism business. They see this as a good economic development process,” Dunca says of Métis involvement in the Boomtown Trail, expressing the hope that First Nations will jump on the bandwagon as well.
The next big step in the project development is a conference planned for the Fall, which will produce a much higher resolution picture of the vision of how the Boomtown Trail will contribute to the prosperity of the region.