The society which has for nearly two decades run Hat Creek Ranch near Cache Creek is concerned about the heritage site’s long-term fate.
Friends of the Historic Hat Creek Ranch board chair Robert Sharkey said more than $200,000 in bookings have been turned away and employee and volunteer morale are at an all-time low in the wake of soured negotiations with the province over site management.
“If we are the operators say for 2021, we already know we have a hole in our revenues,” Sharkey told KTW.
“Even if we continue and strike an amazing agreement, we’ve got to dig out of that hole.”
Friends of the Historic Hat Creek Ranch formed in the 1990s to run as a heritage site an old ranch at the confluence of Hat Creek and the Bonaparte River with history dating back to the 1860s.
Today, Hat Creek Ranch provides visitors insight into the gold rush, with original buildings and tour guides in period costumes.
A 15-year agreement between the society and the province expired in 2018 and Sharkey said the society has since been provided a one-year conditional extension, with another one-year contract on the horizon.
Other heritage sites in B.C., such as Barkerville, have received five-year-agreements, he said.
Without long-term security, countless bookings — the majority of which are made more than one year out — have been turned away and Hat Creek’s 40 employees are left wondering whether they will have jobs in the future, Sharkey said.
“If we continued like this, we’d have zero income and no employees,” he said.
Adding to the frustrations, Sharkey said, is the fact he doesn’t know why the province is limiting contracts to one year.
He said he believes it could be linked to recent province-wide initiatives to reconcile with First Nations.
The province last week announced it will implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.
Sharkey said the Bonaparte Indian Band also applied to manage the heritage site during the request for proposals stage, but was rejected.
Calls from KTW to the band were not returned.
“We just don’t understand what the management from the government is going on and why,” Sharkey said.
“That’s where we sit.”
Called for comment, Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource operations and Rural Development media relations officer Jeremy Uppenborn provided an email statement explaining the recent request for proposals sought to maintain current operations, ensure good value for public funds and “intertwined indigenous and settler heritage” in interpretation and management.
“None of the proposals offered this level of service, which is why we have asked the Friends of Historic Hat Creek Ranch Society to continue to operate the site for a further year under the terms of the present agreement,” the emails stated.
Sharkey defended the board’s involvement of first nations on the society board and in its content.
Government officials refused to make anyone available to discuss the future of Hat Creek Ranch.