If you’ve travelled through B.C., you’ve likely made a pit stop at the visitor centre near Merritt. The rest stop officially closed its doors this winter, but as the summer travel season picks up, many are taking notice.
Merritt Mayor Neil Menard says he spends a lot of time redirecting traffic and taking phone calls from motorists who hadn’t heard that the visitor centre at the junction of the Coquihalla Highway and the Okanagan Connector is closed.
“We get those calls on a regular basis, people asking us why we shut it down,” Menard said. “First of all, we didn’t shut it down. We did everything we could to try and keep it open.”
The centre has been closed since January with a reason given that upgrades needed to be done that were too expensive for a facility that really doesn’t fit Destination BC’s mandate, which is to lure visitors to Merritt.
A new $4.2-million rest stop has opened at Loon Lake, 40 kilometres east of Merritt off the Okanagan Connector. It’s one eight rest areas designated to get free WiFi this year.
But it’s a rest area, Menard says, that is too far removed from Merritt.
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“It’s way off the road, it’s inconvenient, it’s on the wrong side for people going through, not a good exit like we have here,” he said. “If they had spent that money here, these people would be happy and it would be a very thriving information booth.”
In a statement, Destination BC said the visitor centre “had become predominantly a washroom stop,” and that visitors heading towards Merritt are now more “likely to see more of the city and spend time and money there.”
As for the existing building, an $80,000 contract has been awarded to study its future use.