Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Progress a comin' to East Sooke, BC.

Resort planned for East Sooke

B.C. helps band find investors

The Beecher Bay First Nation wants to break ground by the end of the year on a new destination resort on its waterfront East Sooke property.

The band is also looking at expanding and upgrading its existing 365-berth Cheanuh Marina and adjacent 125-site RV park in a bid to become more economically self-sufficient, said Aaaron Reith, Beecher Bay economic development spokesman.

The band's 307 hectares of reserve land is adjacent to East Sooke Regional Park and overlooks Juan de Fuca Strait.

"It's an incredible situation and it's one of the last untouched marine basins on the south coast of Vancouver Island," Reith said.

However, like many First Nations hoping to start tourism businesses, the band needs help finding private investors and funding agencies. Beecher Bay has signed a memorandum of understanding with the province to steer it in the right direction.

The agreement won't provide money, but it will provide support, Reith said.

"It is very hard for First Nations to take on a large project like this without provincial help."

Tourism Minister Kevin Krueger said the pilot program, which started last year, is helping seven First Nations, including Beecher Bay, expand tourism and develop resort properties on Crown and reserve land.

"We would like to see First Nations people be able to capitalize economically on the demand and opportunities," he said

The market for aboriginal-run tourism is growing among domestic and international tourists partially because of First Nations' unique connection with the land and wildlife, Krueger said.

"There are lots of people eager to invest with First Nations and we will partner with them in any way that can be helpful," he said.

The provincial program connects First Nations with banks and lending institutes and is linked to federal and provincial programs that help with seed money, marketing and training for band members.

Beecher Bay Chief Russell Chipps said decisions on tourism development will be made by the entire band, not just chief and council, adding that the project is bringing band members together in an unprecedented way.

"We want jobs for our community members so they can have a sense of belonging to something. Not just a reserve in the middle of nowhere," he said. "We really need something for the young people. That's the whole purpose of this."

The resort would not include a casino and would have the highest environmental standards, Chipps said.

The aim is to appeal to tourists drawn by walking trails, fishing, horseback riding, canoeing and diving, he said.

Neighbouring Metchosin has signed an agreement with Beecher Bay, ensuring matters of mutual interest are discussed, and Mayor John Ranns said a resort development could be beneficial to both communities.

Metchosin's rural lifestyle offers interesting food and art destinations, which would mesh well with a Beecher Bay eco-resort, Ranns said.

"They are looking at ecotourism and that fits in with what Metchosin is trying to do. I think their objective and our objective could complement each other," he said.

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