Soggy summer throws wet beach towel over industry

A second summer of soggy weather took its toll on some Central Alberta businesses that rely on out-of-town visitors and outdoor enthusiasts.

A combination of rain and construction work have taken their toll on traffic at Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour and other Sylvan Lake businesses.

A combination of rain and construction work have taken their toll on traffic at Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour and other Sylvan Lake businesses.

A second summer of soggy weather took its toll on some Central Alberta businesses that rely on out-of-town visitors and outdoor enthusiasts.

A number of tourism operators say this summer is just like 2010 when rain hampered sales as well. And in Sylvan Lake, it wasn’t easy either because of construction along the resort town’s busiest street, Lakeshore Drive.

Steve Pritchard, owner of Big Moo Ice Cream Parlour in Sylvan, said this summer was tough due to the rain. Plus, there was a lack of parking due to road construction.

“It did get better with warmer weather, but we’re still down about 40 per cent from (last season),” said Pritchard.

He’s owned the business for the past 20 years and figures these past two years have been the worst. He blames redevelopment and construction for this.

“Accessibility isn’t what it used to be,” Pritchard said. “They’ve developed more of a walking system and people still drive.”

The Sylvan Lake Visitor Information Centre, located a block from the beach, experienced its most visitors of the year in July. That’s when 782 people came by. In July 2010, the total number of visits was 900.

In August of this year, 691 visitors were reported versus 713 in August 2010. The number of individuals also dropped in June — 211 this year compared with 408 in 2010.

So attendance appears to be down, but September figures still have to come in.

Myrna Pearman, site services manager for the Ellis Bird Farm southeast of Lacombe that closed on Labour Day for the season, said attendance wasn’t as good as last year.

“We are down slightly from last year,” she said. “And last year was slightly down from our record year (in 2009) when we had 10,500 people. We are a weather-dependent site so if it’s miserable out, people (don’t come). They come when the weather is nice.”

Golf course operators have experienced the ups and downs of seasonal changes as well.

Ryan Vold, director of golf for Wolf Creek Golf Resort near Ponoka, said the weather made it challenging for them.

“We had a tremendous amount of rain and it created some flooding issues on our golf course, especially in July,” said Vold. “We had some down time, especially in July and parts of June, so we’re probably down about 15 per cent right now.”

Last year wasn’t a good year for the golf course, either because of flooding over about the same time period, he added.

But some businesses seemed to be doing fine this summer.

General manager Don McFarlane of the Red Deer Golf and Country Club described the golf season as “decent.”

“Certainly the weather at the beginning of the year affected us, but from that point on we’ve been good,” McFarlane said.

The golf club has received good response for its tournaments, so that’s helped, he added. Membership sales were good too.

“So I think we’re in good shape,” he said.

Liz Taylor, executive director of Tourism Red Deer, said the industry vying for people’s tourism dollars started with a shaky start due to the rain, but it’s picked up since then.

“August was perfect and so we’re not hearing any complaints or concerns at all,” Taylor said. “I think it’s been a good strong summer for the travel (industry).”

Diane Baker, co-owner of Wildhorse Mountain Ranch located 10 minutes southeast of Rocky Mountain House, said the ranch’s success used to depend on the weather because of their drop-in business.

That changed a couple of years ago when Baker started focusing on booked camps for girls. She increased promotion over the Internet. This summer has seen an increased number of girls from other parts of the world.

“We’re way up in numbers this year,” Baker said. “We even had a little girl from Hong Kong and (girls) from Texas and Germany. People are finding us online.”

Jean MacDonald, owner of Ol’ MacDonalds Resort near Erskine, said the poor weather wasn’t a factor for them. Although a few weekends in June were not completely full, the campground has been 100 per cent booked solid every weekend since then. It’s run about 75 to 80 per cent full during the week.

“We’ve been up a little wee bit over last year,” she said. “I believe it’s because we have all the amenities that a destination resort needs to attract people, even in inclement weather. We have lots of things for kids to do.”

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