KELOWNA – A few extra signs added to the new stretch of Highway 97 in Lake Country are having a welcome impact on Oyama businesses.
After the highway's official opening August 17 Oyama business owners were devastated to find they had dropped off the grid for motorists travelling the new route: there was no signage indicating the turn-off to their tourism-centric community.
Owner of Gatkze Orchards Alan Gatzke says the confusion has cost him $25,000 in sales and forced him to close the farm's cafe. Without proper road markings, potential customers were breezing past the intersection - an unexpected side effect felt by tourism operators throughout Oyama.
While at first unresponsive, the Ministry of Transportation is now trying to undo the damage.
Four temporary reader boards went up on the highway Tuesday giving motorists fair warning for the turn-off to Oyama while bringing local businesses back to life.
“September long weekend was awesome – it's like someone turned the light switch back on,” Gatzke says of his fruit stand business.
Support from Lake Country's council, mayor and MLA Norm Letnick helped pressure the ministry, Gatzke says. He was the first to attempt negotations with highway officials and fashioned his own road sign.
“On that same Tuesday they gave council diagrams of what the new signage will be,” he says. Six to seven tiles will be attached to existing signs to address both Oyama Road and the Lake Country visitor's centre.
Coun. Jamie McEwan says the issue is that the ministry doesn't sign communities within communities.
“They view it like making signs for Rutland in Kelowna – which they don't do,” McEwan says.
The fact that Lake Country is the only community in B.C. that operates as a ward system should make it an exception, he says.
Thankfully things are looking up, not only for businesses but Oyama residents whose family members have had trouble finding their way around.
Meanwhile, the visitor's centre operating out of Gatzke Orchards is still suffering.
“We're still down 90 per cent of visitors,” Gatkze says, but expects new signs manufactured in the coming weeks will help.
Highway 97 isn't the only focus of the ministry's recent revisions. Without much notice to the public the former highway turned into Pelmewash Parkway and was downgraded to a municipal road with a speed limit of 50 km/h. Motorists unaware of the reduced speed limit have been ticketed some hefty fines.
With new signs being placed at each end of the parkway, those who have been driving the road for years will have no excuses.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.