Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures Ltd. was once again a big winner, bringing home the business of the year award for under 50 full-time employees as well as the online marketing award. Harvest Eatery & Fresh Market in Shaunavon was the recipient of the rookie of the year award, and Shann Gowan, cultural festivals co-ordinator in Swift Current, was honoured with the Fred Heal tourism ambassador award.Windscape Kite Festival in Swift Current was up for event of the year with a budget over $20,000. The award was won by the 101st Grey Cup Festival in Regina. This is the fifth tourism award for Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures, its staff and its president and CEO Jori Kirk since the business opened in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park the summer of 2011. It was also a finalist for the business service excellence award this year. Kirk said the awards won by those in the Southwest show just how amazing this corner of the province is. Eco-Adventures’ awards also give a boost of confidence to people who are considering checking it out, he added. “We’re an activity that’s seen as high risk, and people sometimes wonder is it something that we should go and do,” he explained. “When the industry puts a stamp on it and says it’s the business of the year, it sometimes takes those fears away.” The zip line tour currently has 20 employees, but will be employing about 45 next year as an expansion is in the works. Kirk has been developing a second zip line tour at Elk Ridge Resort just outside Prince Albert National Park. “The plan was never ever to just stay in one spot. In my mind, I always wanted to build more of these,” Kirk said. While Cypress Park has about 1,985 linear feet of zip line, Elk Ridge is expected to have 3,600-3,800 feet. The course plan has recently been laid out. Kirk noted he had intended to expand the business at the end of the fifth year or beginning of the sixth as it is a huge investment. “To be doing that at the start of the fourth year, I’m just so happy right now,” he said. “I’m excited about building again and growing.” Garrett ‘Rusty’ Thienes, who runs Harvest Eatery & Fresh Market with his wife Kristy, also emphasized the positive impact the awards have on the Southwest. “I think it speaks volumes about what anybody at any age or skill level can do if they dream big enough and think a little bit outside of the box,” said the chef. Harvest Eatery opened its doors in Shaunavon last July and has been very well received by the community and visitors to the area. Rusty said the win felt very surreal, but says a lot about the eight people who work there. “It just kind of left us feeling on cloud nine for the rest of the night,” he said. “It’s not really an award just for Shaunavon. I really wanted it to be a Saskatchewan restaurant. It’s great to bring some recognition to the town I grew up in for sure, but to be up there with Jori and Shann, I think it speaks volumes about our little corner of the province and what we really do have to offer here if we look close enough.” Thienes said the award is really more for his wife, who handles promoting the business. “She does the social media and really gets the word out about us and works tirelessly behind the scenes to make our Facebook and Twitter pages interesting to read,” he stated. When the Thieneses first told people about their plans to open Harvest Eatery, some were skeptical. “A lot of my friends from Calgary were like, ‘Are you nuts? You’re going back to where? And how many people?'” Rusty recalled with a laugh. “But it can work, and you don’t feel as crazy.”
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