By Samantha Johnson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Both Easton Nugent and Emily Haukeness worked at the Walsh Welcome Centre for the summer of 2022 and returned for this season.
“It’s great,” said Nugent. “We’ve been really busy this summer. Lots of happy people coming through telling us they are glad we are open.”
Numbers are up significantly from last year, double over 2022 in both May and June. The centre opened May 17 (closing Sept. 4) and 400 visitors came through before the end of the month. A total of 1,018 came through in June and 1,800 in July.
“We had an 86% increase in July this year compared to last year.”
“We’ve made small improvements,” said Haukeness. “We learned lots from last year and have taken different feedbacks.”
New this year is high speed internet through Starlink, a water station and activity books for kids. Currently, staff are working on solutions to the lack of hard copies being supplied this year, such as from both Calgary and Edmonton.
“Today, we were working on making two different documents,” stayed Haukeness. “One for camping spots across Alberta and one of different places to stop.”
Nugent is from Medicine Hat originally and is entering his third year of a biochemistry degree at the University of Calgary. He hopes to become a post-secondary educator at either a college or university in the future.
“It’s a good atmosphere, I love the City of Calgary. I love Medicine Hat as well, but it’s definitely nice to be in a bigger centre with more stuff to do.”
Haukeness is transferring from Medicine Hat College to the University of Lethbridge this September to complete her general management in commerce degree. She loved her two years at MHC.
“It was really awesome. I enjoyed the smaller class sizes and being able to stay at home. It saved me lots of money and it was much less stress.”
Sean Rooney, communications co-ordinator with Cypress County, who manages Walsh Visitor Information Centre, feels lucky to have good staff.
“It’s so nice to have that consistency and to know the place is running itself. They are doing a great job out here and we are getting tons of traffic. It’s fun to be involved with, it’s a neat project.”
Cypress County doesn’t own the Welcome Centre, which was originally run by Tourism Alberta. The county took it over but couldn’t reopen it until 2021 due to the pandemic. The building is still owned by the province and is leased to Cypress County on an annual basis.
“My hope, as the guy who is running it, is that we can buy the building and do more than we are doing now,” stated Rooney. “There are lots of background ideas that are being bandied about. Getting the Badlands Boutique in here and doing lots of tourism type opportunities is a good start.”
There are several reasons for the increase in visitors.
“More people are travelling within the country, staycations that kind of thing. This is just a natural rebound effect after the pandemic,” said Rooney.
Nugent added that many who are coming through stopped in last year or the year before and wanted to come by again. Additionally, many visitors are letting them know they heard from others that the Walsh Welcome Centre was a great place to stop.
Given how well tourism was doing in Alberta prior to the pandemic, it’s not surprising numbers aren’t back to those levels.
“It’s coming, it will get there and everybody is excited to see what the future holds,” concluded Rooney.