The Columbia River Gorge and Lower Columbia Chapters of the Ice Age Floods Institute recently participated in several Gorge Tourism Studio workshops and events intended to bring businesses, organizations, and individuals together to address Columbia River Gorge area tourism issues. The Columbia River Gorge is a unique tourism destination and scenic location. However, this destination is facing increasing challenges including congestion and overstressed infrastructure in many locations and extreme under-utilization and neglect in many others. Given the State and National significance of this destination, the Tourism Studio was designed to provide a unique opportunity for local stakeholders to develop creative solutions to the challenges facing this destination.
The Studio was organized by Travel Oregon, and through a unique bi-state arrangement it included representatives from both sides of the Gorge. The Studio comprised 6 full-day workshops and 6 evening get-togethers addressing:
- Identifying major tourism issues and developing a vision for what Gorge tourism should look like
- Culinary & Agritourism – addressing farm-to-table issues of local farms, vineyards, orchards, and restaurants
- Cultural Heritage Tourism – addressing issues affecting the arts, culture, and heritage sectors
- Adventure Travel & Outdoor Recreation – addressing issues affecting the outdoor recreation and adventure sectors
- Tourism Marketing & Communications – learning how to create effective tourism marketing and communications
- Igniting Tourism Action Teams – developing Action Teams to push forward on solutions to the issues
The ultimate intent is to establish a long-term sustainable balance in the utilization of the available resources and in the economic development of the area. There are likely to be many lessons and approaches developed out of these Action Teams that can have significance for addressing similar tourism issues throughout the widespread extent of the Ice Age Floods story.
COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE
What the Columbia River Gorge should look like in 15 Years – a Vision for Sustainable Tourism
The Columbia River Gorge region including the nationally recognized Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and the majestic Cascades Range of Mt. Adams (12,281 ft.) and Mt. Hood (11,249 ft) within which it’s nestled, offers our target visitor a world-class adventure travel experience. While the mighty Columbia River is its defining feature, nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers are the life blood of the region. The Sandy and the Deschutes Rivers flank its east/west boundaries while the White Salmon, Klickitat and the Hood River carve pathways from the Cascades. Free flowing whitewater draws in the adventurous whitewater soul, skilled fishermen and most importantly, salmon. This transition zone from rainforest to desert creates nuclear winds making the Gorge one of the world’s most sought after destinations for windsurfing, kiteboarding and technical sailing. Access to snow sports abounds on the peaks including year-round skiing on the Palmer Glacier. The region’s paved, gravel, and single-track terrain provide bicyclists with a flight-like, captivating experience of the scenic landscape. Signature trails including Gorge Towns to Trails, the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail are significant draws to the region. These trails that connect waterfalls, world-renowned wildflower meadows, basalt bluffs and the Gorge’s charming towns are frequented by hikers, cyclists and trail runners alike due to the world-class experience that they provide.
[TRANSPORTATION] Our seamlessly integrated region-wide transportation system allows visitors to come, travel, explore and connect– all without needing a car. Public and private transit options combined with our bike routes and trail systems have created a multi-modal web knitting together our communities, attractions and outdoor recreation. The region is vibrant with visitation, and traffic congestion is a thing of the past.
[CULINARY/AGRICULTRE] The Gorge with its concentration of locally-owned boutique vineyards and small farms boasts an abundant and rich local food scene. Locals and visitors alike can easily eat what’s grown and produced here and visitors are welcomed by growers to have meaningful, quality on-farm experiences. Restauranteurs are well-connected with local growers adding value to locally produced ingredients and offering memorable foodie experiences. The visitor industry has helped contribute to alleviating hunger in the region.
[CULTURE] The ‘Gorge Experience’ is unparalleled due to its exposure to history and culture. Locals in the Gorge’s charming communities help travelers gain a deep understanding of peoples who have inhabited the Gorge in the past, of people who reside here now, and of the natural and human forces that have shaped and reshaped the landscape. Stories of this powerful place, both cultural and natural, are infused into every element of the traveler experience. Local guides help travelers personalize and deepen their own connection to the place and an unusual and rich array of classes and events to experience local culture exist. Trails of national historic significance including the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, the Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail, Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and the Oregon Trail also bring the region’s history to life.
[SEASONALITY/CONGESTION] Our intuitive visitor information system has reduced congestion, and spread the benefits to all corners of our region. We have effectively targeted the high-value visitor who appreciates the outdoors and local culture, is sensitive to their surroundings and enjoys people-powered activities. Visitors are coming year-round and staying multiple days.
[BALANCE] We have found balance and offer an unforgettable visitor experience while preserving our unique living ecosystem of people, culture and nature. Local residents live in a harmonious and symbiotic relationship with our environment and with the people who travel from around the world to experience a slice of life in the Gorge.