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Golden Circles

Rudy Nielsen, Cottage Magazine, July/August, 2006

For many years I’ve said that one of the key things to consider when purchasing recreational land is the driving distance from your house. Prior to the boom in the Albertan oil fields, this was based on the drive from Vancouver and the Lower Mainland to the recreational properties.

I found that several circles were formed due to this driving time.

When calculating these circles, I had to consider the impact the relatively new Coquihalla highway has made in accessing recreational properties. Traveling here is fast and most travelers are not concerned with the toll booths. The Coquihalla has opened some areas which would have been outside of the two to four hour circle, the properties most in demand.

The ideal was 2-3 hours, everybody’s dream. That will only take you to the Merritt area. Most property in this region is owned by most of the big ranches, so there is a limited amount of land for sale. The area around Whistler and Pemberton would also be included in this circle, but property here is very expensive.

Nowadays, most people are looking within a four hour circle. Four hours is about the maximum time that you can drive and still enjoy a weekend at the cabin. In this scenario, the family packs up all the kids, leaves work early on a Friday night, and drives four hours to arrive at their cabin or small ranch in time for a late supper. They spend the weekend and can still comfortably return on Sunday night.  This circle includes the Kamloops area to the north and into Princeton and Kelowna to the west.

Owners of recreational property in the six hour circle  will wait for long weekends or save up vacation days. This circle includes 100 Mile House in the north, Revelstoke to the east, and the Grand Forks area to the southeast.

Then you go to the eight hour (or more) circle, which will take you into the Williams Lake and Quesnel area, up into the Chilcotin plateau, and, if you keep traveling, will take you into Prince George (nine hours).  To the east, you can reach Golden and the western Kootenays. Recreational owners in these areas must take a week off.

What does this mean when looking at the price of recreational property? In the two hour circle, such as the Nicola Lakeshore Estates (sold through Sotheby’s Realty), prices can range from $325,000 to $800,000 for waterfront lots on Nicola Lake. Sub-shore lots begin at $120,000. When you consider that you still need to build a cabin on these lots, your final price for your recreational property can be over $1,000,000. This limits the type of purchaser- you need a lot of money to purchase property in this region.  At the other extreme, at NIHO’s sold out Cluculz Lake properties, 11 hours away,  a one acre lot on the water sold for $54,000, and a 10 acre sub-shore lot for $28,900.

That is the difference between the circles. People with a lot of money can purchase within the 2 hour circle. Those with a little less money will purchase within the 4 hour circle. The average British Columbian will probably have to purchase property in the 6-8 hour circle.

But my theory on the Golden Circle changed when people from Calgary and Edmonton began to purchase property in British Columbia. With the influx of capital from the booming oil fields, Albertans began to look for recreational land. Alberta does not have as much recreational land available as in B.C., so they began to head west, especially to the Kootenays. New circles were established around Calgary and Edmonton.

Once I had taken this new situation into consideration, I developed what I call “The Golden Circle”, which are the properties which either are or will become in the most demand. The Golden Circle is that area where the circles from Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary overlap. All three groups of purchasers can travel within an 8 hour radius to property in this area. This circle includes the Kootenays, most of the Northern Thompson River Valley, the Shuswap, and just touching Kamloops in the west.

There are two exceptions to this Golden Circle, which affect Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Recent upgrades to airline service to Vancouver Island have established mini circles around communities with airports and regional service to Alberta. One example is West Jet’s service to Comox Airport, serving the Comox and Courtenay areas. Recreational owners can fly in for a weekend, rent a car at the airport, and drive to the property. When we look at where these owners are purchasing, we find that, when plane travel is involved, people don’t want to face a long drive. As a result, these circles encompass a one hour driving time from the airport. In looking at the Comox area, this includes Campbell River and the area around Upper Campbell Lake to the north, and Parksville to the south.

In dealing with the Gulf Islands, we are increasingly no longer dealing with driving times, but with float planes, usually from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal. Float planes have really opened up the Gulf Islands, as you can access virtually any island in this area. Recreational properties on the Gulf Islands are not for the weekend retreat, but for year-round residents. Many living here are wealthy international players. When they need a vacation or must attend to business, they take their float plane to the South Terminal, catch a taxi to the Main Terminal, and then board a plane for an international destination. Once done, they use the same process to fly back to the Gulf Islands.

Calgary Circles:

2 hours to...Lake Louise, Kootenay National Park, Golden (3 hours). 4 hours to... Revelstoke, Eastern Kootenays. 6 hours to... Creston, Kamloops, McBride. 8 hours to... Merritt, North Thompson River Valley, Prince George.

Edmonton Circles:

2 hours to... Innisfail, Slave Lake. 4 hours to... Jasper. 6 hours to... North Thompson River Valley, Golden, 8 hours to... Revelstoke, Eastern Kootenays.