A Central Alberta group of railroad and transit buffs are keeping the wheels turning on their dream project of creating a transportation-themed tourist attraction.
For the Forth Junction Heritage Society, that has meant switching gears and dropping a proposal to locate a major attraction combining historical interpretation, dining, retail, amusement park and entertainment in Red Deer’s Riverlands area.
Society president Paul Pettypiece said the City of Red Deer was reluctant to endorse that proposal because a vision for Riverlands has not been decided on. Rather than wait years for a show of support that might not come, the society will focus its attention on a site outside the city.
A rural site has always been a part of the society’s vision. An attraction featuring replicas of regional railway stations for overnight lodging, a railway park, lookout tower, interpretive centre, heritage transit vehicle display depot and miniature steam railway has been proposed for a yet-identified site. A functioning 1/8th-scale replica of the Jubilee 3001 The Chinook steam locomotive that ran between Edmonton and Calgary would also be a crowd pleaser in the Red Deer County theme park.
“Now, we’re thinking we might combine the two into one facility,” he said.
However, there’s a limited number of places with good visibility that would be suitable for a tourism entertainment site, he said. “So we’re looking at our options in terms of a location.”
A suitable site would need at least 40 acres within 20 km of the city and good road connections.
Meanwhile, the 30-strong society has been busy doing the basic legwork to keep the project moving ahead.
The group recently lined up charitable status, which allows the group to issue tax-deductible receipts to donors contributing to efforts to provide education and preservation initiatives connected with the evolution of trails, trains and transit in Central Alberta.
A not-for-profit corporation will be established next year to champion parts of the project that don’t fit the charitable designation, such as retail outlets, theme parks and other semi-commercial attractions.
Background work has also been done to back up a grant application to Tourism Alberta to undertake a $40,000 feasibility management destination study.
“That really needs to be done before we can do much of anything else,” he said.
Red Deer County and City of Red Deer have been approached to ask for their support and presentations may be made later to councils in each municipality.
Pettypiece is encouraged by the support the group has received from those who have seen their plans. Their vision was on display at the recent Red Deer Model Train and Hobby Show at Westerner Park and was well received by show-goers.
“Most people we’ve talked to are very excited about it and would like to see it proceed.”