Music fest in Squamish has big impact 

click to enlarge SIGNS OF SUCCESS After a massive traffic jam caused by campers attending the Squamish Valley Music Festival on Thursday, Aug. 8 everything was sorted out and businesses in the community started reporting record sales.
  • SIGNS OF SUCCESS After a massive traffic jam caused by campers attending the Squamish Valley Music Festival on Thursday, Aug. 8 everything was sorted out and businesses in the community started reporting record sales.

Squamish Valley Music Festival officials and local authorities will be looking at how to better manage traffic ahead of next year's festival.

A debriefing is planned after many festivalgoers spent up to two hours in their cars trying to enter Squamish and get to campground accommodations for the festival, or elsewhere.

Squamish Mayor Rob Kirkham recognized the impact the traffic jam on Thursday, Aug. 8 had on Highway 99 commuters, along with Sea to Sky visitors who weren't in the area for the music festival.

"It is not something that can be repeated," said Kirkham of the massive backup which took place on the first day of the festival. "Obviously that's just unacceptable to have that situation."

The 2014 event is expected to attract double the number of music fans who attended this year.

"I have no doubt we'll have a better plan next year and be ahead of the curve," said Kirkham when asked if Squamish can handle 34,000 festival attendees.

An email from Christina Moore, the District of Squamish's communications manager, said that at least part of the problem was due to the traffic surge starting much earlier than expected.

"The challenges began early in the day when a much higher number of campers than anticipated arrived for the opening of the camping check-in," wrote Moore on behalf of the event organizers and the RCMP.

"Organizers had anticipated Thursday afternoon to be a 'soft opening' for arrivals, however over 80 per cent of campers arrived Thursday."

The situation was made worse when a vital piece of technology didn't operate as planned.

Paul Runnals, a vice president with Brand Live, said the radio-frequency identification (RFID) wristbands provided to festival attendees didn't initially work. It took an hour to sort the RFID situation out on Thursday.

This was the first year a cashless RFID system was used by the festival organizers. The festival attendees were able to load money onto a wristband and pay for things by having their wristband scanned.

"We wanted to work with this system this year and understand how it works," said Runnals. "Once it was working we got good feedback."

After the traffic was sorted out the RCMP, the DOS and the event organizers worked together to ensure it moved more smoothly through the rest of the weekend.

"We recognize the inconvenience and impact of Thursday's experience to the community and that improvements are necessary," Moore wrote. "Great effort will be taken through the debriefing process to revise festival operational plans for 2014 to significantly improve the management of this aspect."

Kirkham pointed out that despite the traffic challenges, the SVMF brought significant economic benefits to Squamish. A full report on how much was spent locally will be produced as part of an economic impact study, which has been commissioned.

"I'm looking forward to having some information and real numbers to go by," said Kirkham.

The sports fields at Brennan Park were covered with tents brought by the festival attendees. Kirkham said a plan to have the campers only use a third of the fields this year, as a test for future festival use on a large scale, was scrapped as part of the efforts to ease the Thursday congestion. Kirkham said that preliminary reports indicated the fields were not damaged.

Scott McQuade of the Hotel Squamish and Scotties Liquor said he's already looking forward to next year as he could have sold his hotel rooms 30 times over. He added that his liquor store sales broke records Thursday and those records were promptly broken again the next day.

"We anticipated it and didn't run out of anything," said McQuade on Monday after the crowds.

He said he didn't sell any Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines but any product in a can was popular over the busy weekend.

Kirkham said McQuade's store wasn't the only place that set new sales records over the course of the festival weekend in Squamish.

"From the feedback I got, if you spoke with any of the merchants in Squamish you'd get a similar story," said Kirkham.


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