Slow Food Cycle Sunday, Pemberton's signature summer event, got a new lease on life last Wednesday night. At an intimate gathering of about 50 friends and supporters at the Black Squirrel, organizers handed over the reins to Tourism Pemberton.
The reason? The event has grown so large that it requires more resources than a handful of committed volunteers can manage. While many people would have let the event die, the two women at the heart of this amazing event knew it had to go on — it has brought so much to agricultural appreciation, tourism and the Pemberton community.
For nine years, Anna Helmer (fellow Question columnist) and Niki Vankerk, worked tirelessly to produce the annual event, writing grant applications, finding volunteers, communicating with stakeholder groups, coordinating farm participants and doing everything required to make each year a resounding success. They called in favours from friends (like co-founder Lisa Richardson), family and fellow farmers. They liaised with community stakeholders and local government.
For months leading up to the third Sunday in August, getting the event together was an all consuming part-time job for both of them, requiring virtually all of their "spare" time.
You see, it's one thing to invite a friend from the city to come and experience a gentle ride up the valley. It's easy to teach one person the rules of the road, but try doing that with thousands of friends. And yes, I use the word friends quite seriously, because Slow Food Cycle Sunday has lots of friends — committed folks who make the journey every year, many coming from the Lower Mainland and beyond.
The event started out with about 400 riders and has grown to 10 times that size. It's appeared in international travel publications as lofty as National Geographic Traveller. It's introduced hundreds of people to the tasty food and spectacular setting that makes the Pemberton Valley so very special. And it's created a day that is as much about locals having fun and sharing community pride as it is about attracting tourists to the area.
Last year, following an unrelated fatal vehicle accident that occurred on the route on event day, Anna and Niki had to seriously consider the future. In the wake of the tragedy, Anna and Niki considered a hiatus for 2014, knowing that they would be dealing with more rigorous traffic management issues as well as the increased logistics and security issues that an event of Slow Food's 4,000-plus audience requires.
Their lives have also changed since they first imagined Slow Food Cycle Sunday, and those changes — which include parenthood — were demanding more of their time.
Upon learning that the event was in jeopardy for 2014 — coincidentally Slow Food Cycle Sundays 10th anniversary — Tourism Pemberton stepped in and offered to take on producing the event.
Instead of feeling like they were losing their "baby," Anna and Niki breathed a sigh of relief; they couldn't have imagined a better organization to continue building momentum for the event.
People like Niki and Anna are rare. Most of us find it difficult to commit to a coffee date, much let alone the volunteer production of a major event. And if we do get involved, we often become so emotionally attached to the event it's impossible to let go.
So thank you Anna and Niki for giving the Pemberton Valley something that is original, fun and infuses the community with excitement and pride. I hope next year you'll get a chance to ride the route — I think you'll find it quite a lovely way to spend the day.