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The Sky Show Must Go On

Reviving Northern Lights viewing tours in Fort McMurray spurred by a mix of determination, partnership and old-fashioned grit.

For Northern Lights Outdoor Excursions Alberta (NLOEA), necessity really was the mother of invention.

The Fort McMurray-based operator offers aurora borealis viewing and outdoor adventure packages in partnership with three local Atlific hotels — Vantage Inn, Merit Hotel and Radisson Suites. Guided by a professional astronomer, guests scan the dark sky for those famous fluorescent green, violet and yellow shimmering lights.

When NLOEA’s viewing station was destroyed in last year’s devastating wildfire, the operators quickly joined the determined Fort Mac community effort to rebuild, understanding the need for available visitor experiences to help drive the budding northern Alberta tourism sector.

Dark sky viewing is a key tourist draw for the region and there was concern momentum would be lost during the rebuilding season. Not content to just sit on their hands until a new, state-of-the-art facility is completed next year, the people behind NLOEA took the bull by the horns and found a new local partner.

Today, its dark sky viewing takes place at a rustic game and fishing lodge about 20 minutes south of Fort McMurray.

“It was important to take the initiative to find a temporary location,” says Jean Westbrook, tour coordinator. “I’m getting lots of calls and interest. We might have lost that momentum otherwise.”

On March 27, 2017, NLOEA conducted its first tour since the fire and is honoring previous bookings with multiple tours each month until December.

Check out information on 2017 packages on travelalberta.com under Northern Lights & Dark Skies and get updates on 2018 dates on NLOEA’s website.

NLOEA is now looking to expand the number and variety of excursions at its new location by building more local partnerships. It is also working with Travel Alberta to open channels to capture more international markets.

Travel Alberta