Spark Program highlights three new tourism projects for CK

Spark Program winner Kelsey Nydam. She is involved in a project called the Wallaceburg Kayak Experience. March 31, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Nydam).

A trio of innovative projects in Chatham-Kent are getting some financial support to help their ideas grow and attract more tourists.

Three winners have been chosen through the second round of the Chatham-Kent Spark Program, which stems from a province-wide initiative. The program is organized by the Ontario Tourism Innovation Lab in partnership with the Southwest Ontario Tourism Corporation, Chatham-Kent Tourism, and several other tourism organizations.

Grant recipients are given $3,000 and are paired with a mentor for three months to help make their tourism project a reality.

The application process for round two of the program opened earlier this year. Of the 14 applicants from Chatham-Kent, five were invited to pitch their idea during a virtual meeting on March 30, 2021 and three applicants were selected by a panel of judges.

This year’s grant recipients are Bria Atkins and The Crappie Store for Riverside Cabins on the Sydenham, Kelsey Nydam and the Downtown Wallaceburg Business Improvement Association (BIA) for the Wallaceburg Kayak Experience, and Paul Spence for On Farm Wood Fired Kitchen and Experiences.

Virtual Spark Program pitch session. (Photo courtesy of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent).

“We are so excited to congratulate the three applicants who emerged as winners in this year’s Spark program. We look forward to seeing their tourism ideas come to fruition and helping with those plans,” said Shannon Paiva, supervisor of tourism development with community attraction and promotion. “In our eyes though, tourism in Chatham-Kent is the real winner here. We have fourteen new ideas we can foster and we look forward to following up with all who took the time to take part in this process.”

One of the recipients of the grant, Kelsey Nydam, said the idea she and the Wallaceburg BIA proposed started with a wish that there were kayaks to rent in the area for personal recreational use.

“There was so much support and excitement around the idea, it was hard not to get swept up in it,” said Nydam. “We thought a kayak rental in downtown Wallaceburg would be the ultimate thing to draw people in. As seen with the pandemic, kayaking and water sports have increased a lot.”

Although the initial goal with the project started as a way to kayak down different areas of the Sydenham River, which is connected to over 200 kilometres of mapped and signed water trails, Nydam said the idea kept growing.

She said the Wallaceburg Kayak Experience evolved from just kayaking to creating map tour packages that included information about the history of local waterways and surrounding areas.

“You could go see different landmarks along the river as you kayak. Then on top of that, we thought [about] a whole package where you could do a lunch catered by a downtown restaurant,” she said.

In terms of the application process for the Spark Program, Nydam said it was “very streamlined” and it didn’t take long before she received a reply.

“[The Tourism Innovation Lab] worked with us every step of the way and of course I couldn’t say enough about our community partners who helped me; the Wallaceburg District Museum, the Wallaceburg Trails Committee, and the Wallaceburg Canoe and Kayak Club,” she said. “I’ve learned so much just through the process of writing the grant [application] and I’m really excited to see where the actual program goes.”

Nydam said she is waiting to hear who her mentor will be and from there, she expects the development process to start. The project has six kayaks so far thanks to the Wallaceburg Canoe and Kayak club. As stated in the grant proposal, funds from the Spark Program would mainly be used for marketing material, life jackets, and locks to secure kayaks.

As for which aspect of the project Nydam is most excited for, she said it’s tough to pinpoint just one.

“Our waterways are connected to really biologically diverse areas and wetlands. Whether you’re into wildlife or just kayaking or history, I think there’s something for everyone,” she said. “I think it’s a nice escape from the everyday… to come downtown, to learn a little about Wallaceburg, nature, and culture. I think it’s a great program.”

Nydam said Wallaceburg residents interested in getting involved in the project can contact the BIA via email at wallaceburgbia@live.ca.

In addition to the funding boost and mentorship provided to the grant three recipients through the Spark Program, they will also receive vouchers to the SOAR Innovation campus in Chatham.