September 17th and it is a beautiful fall morning. As I cross the Bridge into the United States the Customs Agent asked where I was going. “On a Tall Ship to visit a Castle,” I answered. Yes, I was excited. It would be my first voyage on board the Fair Jeanne and visit to Singer Castle - with the day billed as a “learning exercise and the opportunity to meet more RiverQuest partners.”
Needless-to-say the day was a great success. I was assigned to the Green Team and had the opportunity to learn some ropemanship – being responsible for helping to haul-up a mainsail and securing the “sheet” on a “belaying pin.” But the best part of the day was learning more about RiverQuest and the opportunities for partnering in the future.
RiverQuest was launched back in January 2013 (see RiverQuest Discovered.) It is a not-for-profit cooperative, “campus” initiative that is intended to build the greatest possible public awareness of the region – not in print, or through the media - but rather appealing to residents, as well as current and future visitors, through experiences and adventures.
When you say RiverQuest you usually say Aquatarium at the same time. And it is easy to see why.
The Aquatarium, a 27,000 Square foot, interactive learning and discovery center, is being built in the City of Brockville, in the new Tall Ships Landing complex. (See Kim Lunman’s Feb. 2009 article. ) It is not open yet, but will be soon. When the doors open we will all have the opportunity to see how the River is important to our health and quality of life – and as important – the displays will present the rich history of the area, through the gilded age of entrepreneurs, inventors and arts, right through to today. How? By featuring links and displays of some of the most popular and important attractions in the region – the Antique Boat Museum, Singer Castle, Rockport Boat Lines, 1000 Islands Tower, The Frederic Remington Art Museum and more…
The idea of RiverQuest began when entrepreneur Simon Fuller, joined by many familiar River names, realized the potential. Simon’s research noted that since the days of the late 1880s to early 1900s, visitors to the area have declined, in number as a percentage of potential. Over 50 million people live within a 6 hour drive, but most have never visited and very few have any idea of what amazing things are here.
Those who do visit tend to visit one or two attractions only, and their “dwell time” is short. Packaging of more involved visits is rare and most operators “go it alone.” Marketing an attraction independently can be expensive and doesn’t always take into account the opportunity to offer the visitor an enhanced experience while here.
Trish Buote, RiverQuest Director of Development, explains, “The initial founders of RiverQuest and the partners, who have signed on, believe that achieving greater regional awareness through cooperation, and showing how to get more from your visit, will bring in more visitors who will stay longer and literally put more ‘trickle down dollars into the local economies’.”
Partners are a stronger voice together
RiverQuest is not meant to compete or take the place of the region’s tourism marketing organizations; however US dollars are often only spent on publicizing the US sector, and the same goes for Canadian marketing entities. How could we all work together as a team?
“This initiative did not just happen. The commitment to create it, support it and see it succeed in the early stages is costly, both in people’s time and dollars spent. The Board of Directors of Aquatarium realized that while the area needed a world-class discovery center, it didn’t need another player competing directly with existing attractions.” said Tom Weldon, Chairman of the RiverQuest committee.
Over the course of two years the movement began. Under the direction and enthusiasm, first of Lyne Roberge, and today by Trish Buote, over 60 entities joined. Not only museums and attractions but many non-profits such as The Thousand Islands Land Trust and Save the River. Even town and township councils joined the team. In fact, Ron Bertram, Hammond Supervisor, was on the Fair Jeanne voyage.
In 2013 RiverQuest, thanks to the financial support of several partners and Tom Weldon from Singer Castle, the McLellan Group organized a four-day helicopter shoot that gathered exquisite visuals of the River, for use in marketing and storytelling. The 1,000 Islands RiverQuest by Helicopter video has already hit over 45,000 views.
An interactive website was created showcasing all 60+ partners. The purpose of the website is to help visitors plan their Quests – for family fun; history; meet the pirates, go back to the gilded age or venture to the great outdoors. Each Quest is meant to entice visitors to travel on both sides of the border and visit more than one destination.
Still under construction is the RiverQuest Challenge Game – a web and mobile-enabled game, which will feature many different areas of the river on both sides of the border combined into Play Ports.
Of course every endeavor comes with a price tag. What will it cost to maintain and more importantly to participate in RiverQuest in the future? I don’t know – but I can say that a small annual investment seems like a small price to pay to help get the word out and answer the question: What is there to see in the Thousand Islands; wWht can I do; How can I find out more?
What will happen next? The organizing committee is planning ways to allow visitors to purchase tickets online. The Aquatraium exhibits are being created and will feature RiverQuest partner locations and stories. Yes, we will be working as a team.
My recommendation – if you are invited to attend a RiverQuest function, meeting or experience. Jump on it! You will meet some wonderful, like-minded Thousand Islanders. I did!
By Susan W. Smith, Editor, www.thousandislandslife.com
Thousand Islands Life Magazine is a proud member of RiverQuest.