This is the first installment of a three-part series focusing on the potential disintegration of a major community group — the Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier.
By David F. Rooney
After 22 years the Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier (FMRG) are standing on the edge of a financial precipice; one wrong move and they’ll be history.
It’s a situation that has only recently developed with the closure for renovation of Parks Canada’s Rogers Pass Centre where the group has long maintained the Glacier Circle Bookstore that is its main source of income.
FMRG Executive Director Neills Kristenen said Parks had originally intended to close the Centre after Labour Day but was going to reopen part of it in December until the end of March. It would then be closed until the summer when it would again be opened for most of the summer. But now those plans have changed and Parks has told the FMRG that it will bring Atco trailers to the site while the renovations are underway.
“Hopefully we’ll have some kind of a store, but nothing is confirmed,” Kristensen said. “They don’t even know where they’re going to get the trailers.”
“We’ve had many a conversation with Parks,” says FMRG President Glen O’Reilly.
He said Park Superintendent Karen Tierney and Visitor Services Manager Rick Reynolds “are sympathetic.”
“I think they’re trying but we’re dealing with the government and I think there’s some talking head in Ottawa who doesn’t know what’s happening (calling the shots),” O’Reilly said.
The seeming confusion over whether the group will be able to open its store is a complication the FMRG definitely don’t need. Once fairly flush, the drop in tourism over the past 18 months and their inability to secure grants from the province due to Victoria’s decision to kill Direct Access grants to community groups has forced the FMRG to dip into their savings again and again and again.
A quick look at the FMRG’s annual report for 2008-2009 shows a marked decline in revenue to $205,878 last year from $226,970 in 2008 and that year’s revenue was down from 2007 when it was $242,429. Merchandise sales generated have always generated the bulk of the group’s income. Last year, sales at the Glacier Circle brought in $179,08, down from $209,133 in 2008. Sales in 2007 brought in $201,767.
The flip side of the ledger was grim reading last year when the FMRG posted a deficit of $66,649. There was no red ink in 2008. Then it had a surplus of $9,242. But 2007 was another tough year with a $13,545 deficit.
O’Reilly and Kristensen made it clear in the interview that if, for whatever reason, they can’t open their store or if they have a disastrous year sales-wise they’re toast.
That may come as a real surprise to people in this community.
O’Reilly said that time and again he has encountered Revelstokians who assume that the FMRG is financed by Parks Canada and hence is somehow recession-proof. Nothing could be further from the truth. It gets a sweet deal on the Glacier Circle Book Store and its tiny office on the ground floor of the Parks Canada Building. But that’s it. There are no large federal grants keeping it afloat. There’s just the bookstore and its 186 members.
And even that is part of the problem. He said the group has been unable to generate any meaningful and sustained growth in its membership. It has always hovered somewhere around 200 people and with individual memberships being sold for just $15 they are a negligible source of income.
With revenues in the quarter-million range the Friends are a significant local community group. If they can’t find a way to bypass or bridge the abyss they are facing their disappearance could have repercussions in Revelstoke.