The lights at Bednesti are back on.
Tourism Prince George chair, and Ramada Hotel manager, Mary Jane Hannah is not originally from Prince George but as she drove the highway west of the city, her eyes widened when there were signs of business life inside the long-dormant Bednesti Lake Resort buildings.
She had never known it to be open, in her time in the region, but had always knew its potential. It is one of few commercial developments on Highway 16 between Prince George and Vanderhoof, and most of its facilities are nearly new.
Bednesti is a lakeside resort, cafe, pub, gas station, convenience store and truck stop about halfway between the two town. For about 77 years, it has been a small fixture in the area, first as a train station and then relocated to the highway in 1953.
There was a major fire on January, 11 2000, while owned by Dave Klein and family. They reopened the rebuilt main buildings on 2001.
It was purchased in early 2004 by the Saik'uz First Nation and has been open only intermittently since the mid-2000s although many improvements to the site - including an eye-catching log art gallery building - were accomplished under Saik'uz management. They put the place up for sale and it took real estate agents Jen Higham and Rod Walker considerable dedication to find a buyer for such a specialized commercial property.
A bit more than a year ago, a local investor came forward with initial interest, and this summer a deal came together.
"I think a lot of people were missing the place," said Bernie Hildebrandt, who lives in the Chilako neighbourhood in between Bednesti Lake and Prince George.
As the owner of Extreme Action Sports, he was a frequent recreational user of the surrounding land.
"It's been such a stalwart of the community for so many years. For me, growing up around this area, I wanted to reopen it and make it a success commercially. I've devoted the last 11 months of my life to this, and I have more than a 20-year history with this place."
He also had a longstanding relationship with some of the Saik'uz people involved in the resort in its most recent years, like caretaker Johnny John.
"They have been just excellent to deal with," said Hildebrandt. "We have been working through everything together, it's a very good relationship. That is an important part of the whole deal. And I really appreciate what the Saik'uz had always envisioned for this place. They didn't have the capacity or the business energy to focus on the resort, so I will do that now and a lot of what I want is also what they wanted."
The first stage in the official reopening schedule is the main feature of the property from the highway view. Hildebrandt is working with a gas company to supply the fuel services, and the convenience store is also on the development table. Those two aspects of the business will open simultaneously sometime this fall.
Next, Hildebrandt will turn attention to the restaurant and pub. He plans to reopen those together in the spring.
But already the place is buzzing.
On the July long weekend, the 45-spot campsite was at about 50 per cent capacity, even though the "Closed" sign was hanging in the window.
"When it closed down, it was still popular all the time," Hildebrandt said. "And right now, even though the buildings are closed and the signage isn't turned on, I have three vehicles parked in front of me outside the gas station. It's a natural pull-in place. All night long there are trucks pulling in here, people having a rest from the road or fulfilling the log book requirements. I think we are going to be an integral part of the community. The services and the location are such that it was really missed when it closed."
Two-thirds of the 40-acre property are undeveloped and he has only vague plans for the log centrepiece building, Hildebrandt said. You can't see it from the road, but the resort is dominated by the sandy beach and paved boat launch on the shore of one of the area's favourite aquatic playgrounds.
In between are RV and tenting sites, cabins, a motel, and other public amenities.
This is what the general area is in great need of, said Hannah, and the Bednesti talk around the tourism industry table in Prince George is a buzz. The city's hospitality companies see this as a complimentary and economically energizing development.
"There is so much potential in the outdoor recreation field, but there is a lack of purchasable product," she said. "As a destination resort, Bednesti is so close it would be used by local people and tourists alike. It is a terrific step forward for our tourism industry in general. It is new exposure to our community in a whole new way, and it hits on exactly what this area is all about: the great outdoors. There will definitely be new money spent in Prince George as a result of Bednesti."
A fledgling Facebook page has been started for Bednesti Lake Resort. An outdated website is still in existence from the old Saik'uz days, but most of the information is still relevant. The updated contact information is 250-961-5190 and bednestilakeres...@gmail.com.