Ranch responds to concerns

On behalf of the Historic O’Keefe Ranch, I must respond to a recent article and editorial about funding for the ranch.

Our North Okanagan history includes one of the first cattle drives in the Pacific Northwest, from Oregon to B.C., as well as the first cattle that went to Alberta came from the North Okanagan.

The Historic O’Keefe Ranch preserves a very rich history of which we are all proud.

The City of Vernon received the ranch as a gift in the 1970s. Its operation is managed by the O’Keefe Ranch and Interior Heritage Society, and is run by a very small paid staff and an abundance of volunteers.

For years, funding available for maintenance and capital has always fallen short. Capital funding is for major repairs to the buildings and such items as connection to the regional water system.

In the last few years, the society has raised a significant amount of capital money from the private sector and other governments. Of the $660,000 spent on capital projects in the last 10 years, approximately 20 per cent came from the city, 40 per cent from B.C. Tourism and the balance of 40 per cent from other sources.

Under the terms of the Devonian Foundation’s transfer of the ranch to the city, the city was tasked with the operation and maintenance of the ranch in perpetuity.

The operating deficit has always been the responsibility of the City of Vernon, and has been supplemented with support from other local governments.

Our request for operating funds from the City of Vernon this year was for $184,500. The ranch’s operating budget for the year is $500,000, and the balance of this is raised from other sources.

With the contraction of our traditional markets (bus and international tours), we have shifted our marketing to more special events focused on our community, and we are extremely pleased with the community’s response.  Your support has been superb.

O’Keefe Ranch contributes a large amount to the regional tourism industry by keeping visitors in the North Okanagan for more than half a day.

This impacts hotels, restaurants and gas stations. An economic impact study done in the late 1990s indicated that the ranch generates an economic benefit to the area of approximately $1.5 million annually.

We continue to look for opportunities to be more efficient and to develop other sources of income.

We will complete the bridge across the creek to provide access for RV parking this summer as one of our initiatives. The bridge and the construction of the initial RV sites are capital items and are paid for by private donations, volunteer labour and the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust.

We are also extremely pleased that we were able to obtain funding to connect to the regional water system, providing adequate fire protection to our heritage buildings. This again involved private donations well in excess of $150,000.

We are grateful to all of our customers, visitors, local and provincial governments, volunteers and donors for your ongoing support.

Larry Bell, president

O’Keefe Ranch and Interior Heritage Society