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The province's empty visitor centre is becoming a problem says Merritt mayor

Despite shutting its gates for good in January, the red-roofed tourist centre outside of Merritt has continued to be a popular pit stop for travellers.

As peak tourism season fast approaches, Merritt’s Mayor Neil Menard says the government-owned property is beginning to become a serious problem.

<who> Photo Credit: Google Maps.

“I go to check on the property most weekends and last Sunday there were over 20 vehicles parked in the roadway leading up to the closed gates,” said Mayor Menard. “That kind of traffic has become a regular occurrence and peak summer travel months are still coming.”

According to the Mayor, travellers still use the property to go to the washroom, have something to eat and even a smoke. However, since shutting down, the pit stop no longer has garbage cans, ashtrays or washrooms to accommodate that type of usage.

A controversial decision was made by the previous Liberal government to close the visitor centre due to declining use and the opening of a brand new $4.2 million dollar rest stop at Loon Lake along the Okanagan Connector.

<who> Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Government of B.C. </who> The Loon Lake rest stop opened in February, however, its restrooms have already been closed for maintenance.

“The government put millions of dollars into the project saying it will be the new rest stop but the location is terrible and the new washrooms have already been shut down for maintenance,” said Menard.

"A lot of people think it was our idea to shut the old one down, but we have actually been trying to convince the NDP to keep the Merritt location open or sell the property to someone who wants to keep it open."

Jay Janower, sports anchor for Global television, Tweeted last week about the old tourist centre being overcrowded, however, he too was mistaken that the decision to close it was city's decision.

According to Menard, the government has shown little interest in the property and several private groups have expressed interest in purchasing and re-opening the former visitors center.

"If the Exit 286 stop continues to be this popular, we need some cooperation with the government to have the VSA or whoever to keep an eye on the property and we're not getting very far," warned Menard.

As Canada Day weekend fast approaches, the $4.2-million Loon Lake rest stop is proving less than popular with those traveling through the Interior.

There are still visitor services for travellers at Merritt's historic Baillie House, located in city's downtown area, but the pitstop is a detour for most travellers looking to keep on the highway.

“Baillie’s House has done a great job, but it’s located downtown, there’s not a lot of parking and it’s really only a temporary solution,” cautions Menard.

<who> Photo Credit: Tourism Merritt.

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