Ever since I took up residence in the Country Music Capital of Canada nine months ago, one question has plagued me: is Merritt mis-marketed?

This question resurfaced about a week ago after I took a walk to the Windy Canyon with a friend who is also relatively new to Merritt. After much asking around, badly following vague directions, and venturing up steep and misleading trails, we finally found the canyon and it was, to say the least, very cool.

When I got home, I tried to Google the weird, air-eroded formation but was unsuccessful in finding much of anything about it. It seems to me that if you don’t know who to ask, you might miss out on some of the neatest features of Merritt’s or the Nicola Valley’s geography.

So I wondered, why is this, a neat and interesting aspect of Merritt’s landscape, such a seemingly well-kept secret?

The Nicola Valley seems like a place for explorer-type travellers to revel in. Being in a valley bottom means we’re surrounded by hills with winding trails through some of the most breathtaking scenery this side of the prairies. The number of provincial parks and lakes in the area is staggering, as is the seemingly endless network of back roads through varied terrain.

It seems to me that people visit Merritt for the recreational opportunities that come along with these features of the landscape, such as fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, boating, ATVing and snowmobiling.

More importantly, these are largely the kinds of activities that many Merrittonians like.

And most importantly, these kinds of activities aren’t fading in popularity or at risk of shutting down.

These things are marketed, of course, as attractive features of living and visiting here, but they seem to be overshadowed by the Country Music Capital of Canada branding.

That branding is unique to Merritt and it no doubt took a lot of hard work from a dedicated group of people to put the Walk of Stars and murals in place to complement the initiative. With the city’s history as a ranching hub and the western charm of its building’s facades, the country music branding fits.

But without the staple country music festival, has that brand fallen flat? It seems to take a lot of work to keep viable. This year, the Country Music Capital of Canada will host two big festivals that feature musical acts, neither of which is country-based: one is electronic music while the other is heavily rock-and-roll.

Merritt is expanding its musical horizons right under the noses of the smiling faces of country music superstars painted all over town.

I’m not saying that the country music branding hinged on the music festival, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

And I’m not saying to dump the country music branding in favour of the outdoor living brand just because the festival shut down. What I am saying is this: maybe it’s worth looking at Merritt’s marketing eggs and distributing them a little more evenly between baskets. The outdoor activities that bring so many people here and unite so many of the people already here are not at risk of shutting down or losing relevance any time soon.