Northeast Washington to plan for tourism as state tries to replicate success of other PNW communities
During the pandemic, while some out-of-the-way outdoor recreation areas saw visitation plummet (such as Denali National Park in Alaska), many other parks saw an influx of new and returning visitors anxious to get out of the house.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area in northeastern Washington, for example, got 160,585 more visitors than in 2019, with a near record 1.5 million total visitors in 2020, according to parks data that goes back to the 1940s.
With campsites and trails in the area also proving popular, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens counties got a taste of how tourism can benefit surrounding towns.
“We have hundreds of lakes and huge waterways, and we know that those activities are well used,” says Shelly Stevens, who runs regional marketing for the Tri County Economic Development District, which covers all three counties. “One of the results of the pandemic has been this huge influx of people that maybe weren’t outdoor enthusiasts prior.”
However, not every community has been able to manage the flow. Moab, Utah, once a uranium mining community, successfully rebranded in recent decades as a massively popular outdoor destination for hiking and biking. But with nearby Arches National Park so popular that it’s full all the time, vacation rentals driving up the cost of living, and illegal camping and dumping of human waste in the area causing issues, NPR reported this summer that the city is now trying to pump the brakes on tourism.
Luckily, there are ways to plan ahead and design destinations that are welcoming to visitors while limiting their impact. From offering free shuttles to avoid overflow parking on busy roads to designing trail systems that provide great views while discouraging people from trekking through wilderness areas, many communities have designed creative workarounds for the problems that can arise.
Now, Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille will start planning for the future in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls other regions have seen, as the first region in the state to receive a rural tourism support grant from the nonprofit Washington Tourism Alliance.
“The timing of this project is great because we want to get ahead of that increase in tourism to the area,” Stevens says, “so that we don’t turn into a Moab or Jackson Hole or something where all of a sudden the locals can’t afford to live here.”
When Washington became the only state in the country to close its tourism office in 2011 (amid ongoing budget concerns following the recession), the Washington Tourism Alliance stepped in to maintain some of the efforts to attract people to the state. After the state reopened the office a few years ago, the alliance became a contractor for the state, continuing its work to encourage visitors while making sure impacts are managed responsibly.
“We want to not only provide marketing for the state, but also try to build infrastructure and create tourism ecosystems that are not only great for visitors, but also for residents,” says Mike Moe, director of tourism development and strategic partnership for the alliance. “We hired a consultant who helped Oregon put their program together and we’re very excited to pilot this in northeast Washington. We have so many amazing assets up there.”
The three heavily forested counties are sparsely populated: There are only seven people per square mile, and it’s hard to throw a rock and not hit a piece of land owned by a public government agency or tribal government. Stevens County is 62 percent privately owned, Pend Oreille County is 34 percent privately owned, and Ferry County is just 18 percent privately owned, according to GIS data from the Tri County Economic Development District.
“Outdoor recreation is an asset that’s, for the most part, sitting there and is available,” Stevens says. “One of the exciting things about this program is that it’s very much based on public outreach and participation, and people coming to the table and helping decide what they want tourism to look like in a decade.”
Consultant Kristin Dahl, who runs private company Crosscurrent Collective, formerly worked for Travel Oregon, where she created a process for developing tourist destinations and addressing issues in areas that are already visited regularly.
“The Oregon tourism folks have it figured out,” Stevens says. “They have done a fabulous job especially with outdoor rec and mountain biking.”
For example, when communities along the Columbia River Gorge went through the process, they were able to create car-free travel itineraries, launch an express shuttle for visitors, open a new trail segment and park, and more.
Dahl says other communities that went through a similar process developed things like food tours, expanded trail systems, or maps of local points of interest.
“It runs the gamut,” Dahl says. “Sometimes what our communities will do is also look at their heritage, whether that’s Indigenous or industrial heritage, and look at a way to bring that history to the forefront.”
Through a series of workshops, Dahl asks communities what they want to look like in 10 years, with a “steering committee” of local leaders picking the starting points for those conversations.
The public workshops in northeastern Washington could start in March. The region has already established its committee with representatives from the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Spokane Indian Tribe and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, as well as regional business leaders and recreation-oriented experts. As the process wraps up, that group is meant to be the backbone that ensures projects actually come to fruition, Dahl says.
Through the process, community members will also be asked to address any tensions around tourism that already exist or that may come up in the future.
“You can’t stop the flow, unfortunately, but you can manage it and use tools to up-play or downplay when you want visitors to come,” Dahl says. “How do you continue to develop visitation in places that aren’t seeing as much so you can kind of spread the love?”
Stevens says it will be great to get the process going and to continue building the relationships that have already started to take shape in recent years in the region.
“We want to be thoughtful about the growth and what that’s going to look like,” Stevens says. “The most important thing to remember is to make improvements for the people that are already here, and enhance their quality of life, and by virtue of that others will enjoy it, too.” ♦
The following projects, initiatives, and economic developments are making news in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. This release is distributed by the Inland Northwest Economic Alliance on behalf of its regional partners.
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — StanCraft Boat Co. is expanding from manufacturing watercraft to offering aviation services with the addition of a $15 million StanCraft Jet Center at Coeur d’Alene Airport-Pappy Boyington Field. Construction on the new 85,000-square-foot FBO began in August east of Empire Aerospace, and the project is expected to be completed by May 2020. Coeur d’Alene-based Eric Hedlund Design is the architecture firm that designed the structure, and Hayden-based Young Construction Group of Idaho Inc. is the contractor. The 40,000-square-foot Southfield Aviation building will be used as a maintenance facility after the new jet center is built. In addition to refitting jet interiors, StanCraft Jet Center will offer jet refueling, conference rooms, waiting and pilot areas, and a tenant improvement space for offices. Contact Robb Bloem, StanCraft President, for more information.
Dauntless Air, an aerial firefighting company, relocated its aircraft maintenance operations to the Coeur d’Alene airport this year. Dauntless protects people, land and property from the devastation of wildfires through advanced aerial fire suppression tactics in Minnesota, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, North Carolina, California and Oregon. Learn more about the company at www.Dauntlessair.com or contact Brett L’Esperance, Dauntless CEO.
PULLMAN, WA — Washington State University’s Cosmic Crisp apple will hit the fruit stands on December 1, a project over 20 years in the making. Cosmic Crisp was developed specifically for Washington’s climate and growing conditions. WSU researchers combined the disease-resistant Enterprise with the Honeycrisp, known for its crispness, juicy sweetness, and hint of tartness. There are 12 million trees planted in the state of Washington and this year 450,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples will be available. Washington apple growers will have exclusive rights to the Cosmic Crisp for 10 years. Washington produces 65-75 percent of the nation’s apples, yet this is the first variety that originated from the state. Contact Proprietary Variety Management for more information.
HAYDEN, Idaho — Roller coaster manufacturer, Rocky Mountain Construction (RMC), continues its Six Flags success with the innovative Jersey Devil Coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. Known as a single-rail coaster, riders in one-passenger cars will straddle a 15.5-inch-wide steel, monorail track and navigate a twisted course that will include multiple inversions, climbing 130 feet and hitting a top speed of 58 mph along 3.000 feet of monorail track. RMC has grown to 115 full-time employees and 5 manufacturing facilities, totaling more than 75,000 square feet. See USA Today’s article for more.
DAVENPORT, WA – Washington Department of Commerce, USDA, and Washington State University Medical School hosted a daylong workshop with 100 community leaders and residents from Eastern Washington to address the broadband law approved this year by Washington state lawmakers. A new statewide broadband office will approve and distribute grant and loan funds to local governments, tribes, public, private and nonprofit entities working together to expand broadband. The program has $21.5 million available, including $14.5 million for loans and $7 million for grants. The state will prioritize funding to public-private partnerships, with a focus on underserved areas in the state. Contact Margie at Lincoln County EDC for more information.
MARIES, Idaho — City officials and housing developers, Troy Lozano, are projecting construction of new homes in Ragan’s Addition to begin in early 2020. Lozano purchased 21 lots in the addition and plans to partner with Julian Construction to build single family homes. Updates can be found at greystonehill.com.
OTHELLO, WA — McCain Foods broke ground on a 170,000-square-foot expansion, a project that will cost $300 million and is scheduled for competition in 2021. The expansion to the frozen potato products line is estimated to bring about 180 new jobs to Othello and is expected to be the biggest manufacturer of frozen potato products in the world. Dale McCarthy, McCain Foods, said Othello’s proximity to West Coast shipping makes it a crucial location for the company. “Othello is very strategic for us.” Adams County officials are working with McCain Foods and the state to develop a recruitment process and support. They plan to conduct a countywide housing needs assessment to confirm housing needs and development solutions. Email Adams County Economic Development Council for more info.
MOSCOW, Idaho — Northwest River Supplies (NRS) began operations from its new facility on South Blaine Street on November 5. The newly constructed 155,000-square-foot building includes a warehouse, customer service center, corporate offices and a 3,500-square-foot NRS flagship retail store. The $13.5 million project received a tax break from Latah County that exempts 75 percent of the increase in the site’s value from property taxes for five years, ending in 2023. Read more here.
PULLMAN and COLFAX, Wash. — Two Inland Northwest businesses were recognized through the Washington Secretary of State’s Corporations for Communities Award Program. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, of Pullman, was recognized for donating and raising funds for local charities and providing money for employees to donate to the charity of their choice. Bunyard Automotive, of Colfax, was honored for repairing vehicles at little to no cost for families in need. Both businesses were awarded the National Association of Secretaries of State Medallion for their efforts in their communities. The full press release is here.
OSBURN, Idaho — The city dedicated the newly completed Shoshone Fire District #1 facility, which was awarded a $500,000.00 block grant earlier this year. The new 10,000-square-foot facility is a significant fire, training, and emergency services upgrade for the region. Contact Silver Valley EDC for more information.
LEWISTON, Idaho — With a start-up $839,809 grant from the National Science Foundation, the Northwest Intermountain Manufacturing (NIMA) Association has created a pilot project to train high school students in fabrication and machining. In partnership with Lewis-Clark State College, the Clearwater Economic Development Association, the University of Idaho and 16 school districts, the program gives students a solid skill set and educational background in manufacturing so they can be ready to start work right after high school for local companies. The first group of students will complete the program in 2020. See Idaho Department of Labor article here.
LIBERTY LAKE, WA — In response to a gap in the city’s flex office market, Liberty Lake Coworking LLC will open Jan. 2 at 23505 E. Appleway. The 4,600-square-foot space will have 11 private offices, six semi-private spaces, and open table space. The space will also feature booths for private calls, two semi-private meeting booths, a podcast and media room, access to high-speed fiber internet, and free parking. More details can be found here.
POST FALLS, Idaho — Construction on Idaho’s fourth state veterans’ home is expected to start next year. The 82,000 square foot project is to be built in Riverbend Commerce Park in Post Falls and will have 64 beds. The home will be built on 7.3 acres donated by the Jacklin Land Co. in Riverbend Commerce Park on Post Falls’ west side. It is adjacent to BioPol Laboratory and Buck Knives. See the full article here.
SPOKANE, WA — The Toolbox manufacturing incubator expanded to 17,000 square feet in a recent move to Logan Neighborhood. Anchored in the space is Vestis, which manufactures specially designed commercial awnings and canopies. The Toolbox continues to serve as collaborative space where established companies and business mentors share expertise, ideas, tools, and equipment with manufacturing startup and entrepreneurs. The Toolbox is overseen by nonprofit Spokane Create. Read full article here.
On December 4, the Edward Lowe Foundation and Washington Department of Commerce will lead businesses through the basics of Thrive!, a new state program that helps second-stages businesses to increase revenue, streamline operations, and expand into new markets. Contact Susan Joseph Nielsen for more information about Thrive!
POST FALLS, Idaho— Northwest Specialty Hospital completed a $4.5 million addition to include an Endoscopy Center and two additional operating rooms. The 15,000-square-foot addition brings to eight the number of operating rooms for patient surgery. The Endoscopy Center, a 8,650-square-foot addition to the hospital, features two procedure rooms, one exam room and eight preoperative and post-anesthesia care unit bays. See company news release for more information.
Inland Northwest Economic Alliance (INEA) is a consortium of fourteen economic development agencies representing fifteen counties in the North Idaho/Eastern Washington region. The collaborative effort is aimed at building economic growth through enhancing the brand recognition of the Inland Northwest and its communities and showcasing its business value.