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Business owners champion Keno City

Keno City is still a bustling, vibrant community, according to a group of people who operate tourism businesses in the town.

Keno City is still a bustling, vibrant community, according to a group of people who operate tourism businesses in the town.

Last week the News reported that some Keno residents want to close up shop because of conflicts over mining near the townsite.

“There’s very few of us left, and we want the hell out,” said Jim Milley, owner of the Sourdough Cafe.

Keno’s population fluctuates from about seven in the dead of winter to about 20 in the summer, when tourism operators return to their businesses.

There are still lots of residents and business owners who are interested in investing in the community’s future, said Tracy de la Barre in an interview last week.

“We think that articles like this and what Jim Milley has been saying is doing, by far, more damage to Keno City’s very fragile tourism economy than anything that Alexco has done in the past.”

De la Barre owns the Silvermoon Bunkhouse with her husband, Dirk Rentmeister. Rentmeister grew up in Keno, and the two bought property there in 2005. They live in Keno in the summer and in Whitehorse the rest of the year. This will be their third operating season.

“People who love Keno love Keno because it’s still that funky little town at the end of the road,” said de la Barre. “Jim Milley was right about one thing. It is a resilient little town.”

More people have bought property in the area since Alexco came to town than in the previous two decades, she said. And only two people have left town citing mining as the reason for packing it in.

“You don’t have to go very far from Keno and you’re into pristine, serene areas,” said Rentmeister. “You don’t have to restrict yourself to focusing on what goes on in the industry portions of the town. There’s ample opportunity up there for people to explore, hike, fish, pick berries, mountain bike, tour around. The roads go back forever.”

There are real issues with the mining operations in town, but they are best dealt with through negotiation, not confrontation, said de la Barre.

“We’re not here to praise Alexco by any means, that’s not the point,” she said.

“We’ve just had a meeting with Alexco in February, and they’ve promised to keep a better handle on maintaining the roads in and around the mill, and wetting them down so the dust is not so much of an issue. They’ve recommitted to making sure that when there’s more people in camp that their vehicles stay out of the centre of town, they’ve committed to looking at some initial remediation that is unsightly to the town.

“We’ve put pressure on them and said, ‘Listen, surely there are things you can do right here, right now, that you can see obviously.’ And they’ve committed to it. It’s an ongoing conversation that we have to have with them and we want to have with them.

“Are we going to effectuate change? I would like to think that we will effectuate some change. Are we going to get everything we want when we want it? Likely not. But that’s pretty much the story of life, isn’t it?”

Leo Martel owns the Keno City Hotel with his brother Mark, and plans to make Keno his full-time home as of this summer. He first moved there in 1984, when he was working at the mine in Elsa.

Martel said he is looking forward to being the first person to be buried in Keno.

He bought the place because it was quiet in Keno, he said.

Now there’s a mill in town, but it won’t be around forever, said Martel. In fact, it hasn’t been in operation since the fall.

There are lots of reasons to come visit Keno, he said.

“We have a world-class museum up there, and Mike has the best pizza in the North.”

Martel, de la Barre and Rentmeister invited all Yukoners to come check out Keno for themselves.

“Places like Keno have had to roll with the punches during their entire existences, from booms and busts to 20 people to 400 people,” said de la Barre. “Who knows what the future has got in store for it? But we don’t think that it’s right to write it off.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at