Gold River trip

Beach day.
Author: Carson Anderson and Alan Cavin

The Village of Gold River, VIU's World Leisure Centre of Excellence, and MABRRI are working in collaboration to create a strategic tourism plan for the municipality. This plan is intended to help guide the Village of Gold River to develop their tourism sector in a way that helps the community achieve economic, environmental, and social benefits. Creating a plan that help to provide all those desired benefits requires a lot of data collection, which was the perfect excuse to plan an office camping trip to Gold River. From Thursday, July 12, to Saturday, July 14, VIU students swarmed the town and its surrounding areas doing public consultation and strategic exploration of the area. Each day consisted of finding as many strangers as we could, talking to them and writing down their thoughts, as well as finding and experiencing the attractions hidden in the area (which there are a lot of). Overall, the trip was a success; lots of information was collected, and a lot of fun was had as each day we experienced something new. 

Thursday morning began with 12 students cramming their camping gear and supplies into three vans before squeezing themselves in as well. The drive from Nanaimo to Gold River is approximately three hours and if we didn’t know each other very well before the drive, we do now. But luckily every student is nice as pie. The road to Gold River alone is beautiful enough to warrant a trip to the area. Spectacular views could be seen from all directions as the convoy of vans followed the gently winding road though Strathcona Provincial Park. Each view was its own work of art, containing high mountain peaks, deep blue lakes, rushing rivers and filled in by an immense amount of lush green forests. 

After setting up our camping and having lunch, it was time to set up for the World Café, which, for the first time in MABRRI history, was actually hosted in a Café (it’s usually hosted in a gymnasium or multipurpose room). We had a phenomenal turn out. The people of Gold River care deeply about their town and showed up ready and willing to share their thoughts. Once the event was over, it was back to the campground for a delicious BBQ, campfire, and interesting conversation, followed by late-night star gazing before bed.

Friday started bright and early as students emerged from their tents in search of coffee and breakfast, both of which were found at Clayworks Café, a popular local spot. After breakfast wraps and a few cups of coffee, it was time to go back to work. This was the day of the community BBQ, which was set up in a community park. We provided games and face painting, as well as feedback boards and questionnaires for community members attending the BBQ. You could tell that the consultation strategy was working because hundreds of hotdogs were consumed, dozens of kids were running around with painted faces, and even an impromptu football game broke out.

After the consultation it was time to sightsee. The location: Peppercorn Park. Following a local community member who promised to show us the best the town had to offer, we explored multiple swimming holes, each one just as beautiful as the last. The water was cool and refreshing but also just warm enough that we could stay in the river for hours, which is what we did until it was time to go back to camp for some rest and relaxation.

Saturday came quickly, and while it felt as if we had just started our Gold River camping trip, in fact it was nearly over. Consultation on this day consisted of pop-up events, which meant students rotated through popular tourist attractions to “pop up” in front of tourists and administer a questionnaire. The results will be used to better understand the tourist profile of Gold River and to gauge tourists’ opinions of what’s working and what isn’t in the area.

Sunday morning, as it was our last, we packed up our tents and vans and left the campground to venture deep into the mountains in search of Upana Caves. Although not far from town, the caves felt like they were much farther out in the wilderness and we spent hours exploring dark tunnels, dipping our toes in subterranean rivers, and hiking the pristine subalpine trails. After the caves, it was finally time to return to Nanaimo, but we took our time on the way back, making numerous stops in the Strathcona area which is full of natural wonders to see and experience, including a couple of incredible waterfalls. When we got back, while we had worked hard and collected a vast amount of consultation data, it still felt like we had just returned from an exciting few days of camping and adventuring. Many of us are already making plans to go back!