Interior Roads working at the Stop of Interest by Ratcliffe's farm.

‘Stop of Interest’ a first for the Bella Coola Valley

‘Stop of Interest’ a first for the Bella Coola Valley

Work began in mid-July on a first for the Bella Coola Valley:  A Highway 20 pullout for a “Stop of Interest” being installed at the initiative of Bella Coola Valley Tourism (BCVT).

The pullout, on the south side of the highway along Rick Ratcliff’s hayfield just east of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, is one of three Stops of Interest planned to provide information about the Valley to tourists who might not otherwise know how interesting the Valley really is.

While a lot of information about the Valley’s origins, ecology, and history is available in books and various guides such as BCVT’s Visitor Guide, there is very little roadside information available. For instance, directly south of the new pullout is a perfect example of a glacial “hanging valley”, but a visitor might not appreciate the fact that during the last Ice Age, the place where he or she is standing was under ice 2,000 meters thick.

Neither would the visitor know that the Ratcliff Farm (and the Harestad farm directly to the north) is the oldest operating farm in the Valley – dating back to the time before the Norwegian settlement of Hagensborg.  In fact, some of the oldest farm structures in the Valley are still standing on the Harestad farm.

The new pullout will also provide an excellent view of the charred remains of the wildfire that swept around the base of Noohalk Mountain in 2009, forcing the evacuation of area residents and threatening to leap the Snootli valley and tear into Hagensborg.  The destruction of the thick blanket of moss and other ground cover has resulted in significant hydrological changes to the slope, altering the drainage and making the slope less stable.

Also highly visible at the new pullout are four mountains including Mt. Fougner to the west, known to many Bella Coola residents as “the mountain where Raven drove his paddle” – an interesting account of the Valley’s origins and first settlement by the ancestors of today’s Nuxalk Nation.

The BCVT project involves installing a set of interpretive signs along the pullout where tourists can read about these various aspects of the area, and those with a smart phone can scan a QR scan code on the sign to link to the BCVT website.

Of course, the Snooka area is not the only point of interest in the Valley.  Hagensborg has its rich Norwegian heritage and was headquarters to the corporate logging industry – the backbone of the area economy throughout the 20th Century.  The former Crown/Interfor lot adjacent to the Norwegian Heritage House is the location of a second Stop of Interest being developed. Here, signs depicting the Norwegian settlement and the logging industry will be erected as well as one depicting the origins of Mt. Nusatsum and Saloompt Peak, both prominent to the east.

The BCVT Stop of Interest project also includes plans for a third pullout location near the Bella Coola Townsite, where visitors will be able to read about the Valley’s First Nation heritage, both before and after European contact, as well as early European settlement and tales of early trekkers into the Valley: Alexander Mackenzie, of course, as well as Ralph Edwards of Lonesome Lake, and Cliff Kopas, who rode horseback into the Valley from Calgary with his new bride in 1933.

BCVT is pleased with the positive responses the Stops of Interest initiative is receiving – from area residents to highways ministry officials and others.

Of particular note is the donation of the pullout construction by the local division of Interior Roads. In addition, the Nuxalk Nation Development Corporation and the Bella Coola Community Forest have provided at no charge the cedar posts which will support the signs, which are being professionally produced of durable weather-proof “alumicore” construction used for most recently-installed highway signs.

Central Coast Regional District spokesperson Darla Blake describes the project as “wonderful”. She predicts the outcome of the project “will surely capture the attention of tourists travelling through the Valley, encouraging them to consider taking a little more time to stop, see, and experience some of the most interesting aspects of the Bella Coola Valley.”

She says interpretive signs at Stops of Interest will “help share knowledge and add interest to the tourist’s experience of the Valley, adding value and real benefit toward the continuing development of tourism in the Bella Coola region.”

Blake offers the “full support” of the CCRD Board, saying the Board “applauds the efforts of BCVT to change the tourists’ perceptions of the Bella Coola Valley,” turning it into a destination rather than a place they drive through on their “Circle Tour”.