Mountain Biking Boosts Tourism in Cariboo

Cariboo Mountain Biking | BCBusiness
A mountain biker’s view of the Cariboo.

When pine beetles began to gnaw away at the Cariboo’s economy, a few locals saw a chance to boost regional coffers through mountain biking

The Cariboo and Chilcotin regions of B.C. are two of the fastest growing mountain biking destinations in the province. BCBusiness chatted with Justin Calof, founder of the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium, about the impetus, the strategy and the triumphs (so far) behind the changes in his neck of the woods that are making mountain biking the region’s fastest-growing tourist sector.

You were one of the leading drivers behind getting the biking community organized—and launching the Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium—in the Cariboo. What was the impetus for the consortium?
The Cariboo has been heavily impacted by the mountain pine beetle, which has taken a significant chunk out of our regional economy. I felt we needed to focus our efforts on diversifying the Cariboo economy as much as possible to cope with the impact of the mountain pine beetle, and a group of us saw mountain biking as an opportunity and a sector that could grow.

You’re obviously a mountain biker yourself.
I’ve always had a passion for mountain biking, and I’ve been an avid rider for about 15 years now. I got involved in the Williams Lake cycling club when I moved to the Cariboo in 2008, and a few of us business owners—bike club guys and the bike shop—became organized with an aim to grow the sport locally.

When the Consortium banded together in 2010, your group set a primary goal to grow the economic impact of the mountain biking sector in the Cariboo by 25 per cent by the end of 2013. What has been your strategy to achieve this goal?
The 25 per cent number was arbitrary and ambitious. Mountain biking has been around for about 22 years in Williams Lake but this is the first concerted regional effort to grow the mountain bike economy and to track that growth. When we started we had three program areas: The first element was to produce a solid and graphically sophisticated web-presence that profiles regional trails, news and opportunities for mountain biking; the second phase was to build an awareness campaign that enlists partnerships that ensure the specific needs of mountain bikers are met; the third phase is a low-cost re-investment into existing legal infrastructure to ensure competitiveness with other jurisdictions. This phase includes trail building and expansion of our trail network. Since 2010, there has been an average 30 per cent increase in use of the region’s trail system.

Are you on target to reach the 25 per cent increase mark by the end of this year?
In 2012 we did a more comprehensive economic impact assessment, and we assessed that we grew about 11.5 per cent over two years, since 2010. We won’t know our latest numbers until 2014 but I think we’re going to be really close to our 25 per cent mark and I think we have certainly demonstrated that our initiative is successful and has helped grow the economy.

What chunk of the pie does the mountain biking tourism industry hold in the Cariboo’s overall economy?
Mountain biking is now the fastest growing tourism sectors in the Cariboo. We assessed the total value of the mountain biking sector sits at over $2.26 million per year, that’s an 11.5% increase from 2010 numbers that were sitting at $2.01 million, and up $250,000 per year since 2010. However, that figure is still dwarfed by the economic impact of ranching, forestry, and mining. Although, in relation to other tourism sectors in the Cariboo, mountain biking has grown the most over the last three years.

Your neighbours in the Chilcotin are facing a few expansion hurdles with the B.C. Ministry of Environment when it comes to mountain bike tourism. There are issues of park and wildlife conservation versus using the park for hiking and mountain biking. Do similar tensions exist between B.C. Parks and the mountain bike community in the Cariboo?
We haven’t worked with the Ministry of Environment much. Most of the trails in the Cariboo are on Crown land and are managed by Ministry of Forest and land Operations Branch. They are super supportive of mountain biking. They have a much more advanced trail strategy that they released last year and our recreation officer has been an amazing support and provided us with hundreds of thousands of dollars in support. If we expand to the broader Cariboo and the South Chilcotin area then it could get a bit hairy. There is some tension boiling up around forestry activity near biking trails, but that’s kind of in the next phase of operations. I’m not sure when we’ll get there.

Beyond your target date, what else has the consortium got planned in expanding mountain biking in the Cariboo?
Our initiative is set to run its course because we put a 2013 cap on it. Now that we have achieved success and are getting a lot of support, we are in discussions with the Cariboo Regional District to pilot an idea on a more sustainable funding stream for our initiative. Meaning, I’m trying to get funding to create a paid position to maintain the coordination and strategizing for the consortium. When I first launched the consortium it was this thing that I did on the side. Now it has ballooned into a full-time gig, which I’m trying to balance with my “real” job. It would be nice if we could create a full-time paid position.