Our amenities are clean water, clean air and friendly people
What is the definition of amenities?
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it must be understood that there are millions of interpretations of what beauty is. And yet Wallowa County’s rare beauty doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Last week I kept hearing jokes about some opinions of our fair land from politicians in Washington County. I finally had to ask what the joke was. I was told that it was the opinion of some politicians at a statewide meeting that what Wallowa County needs to do, among other things, is offer “amenities.”
Always the one to ask the dumb question, I asked, “What amenities?” and I was told, in the opinion of some who live in a county dominated by Intel and box stores, that WHAT WE NEED TO DO is build a luxury spa and resort.
Well, I said, we have a six-mile-long swimming pool called Wallowa Lake — and we have the Wallowa Mountains; the lake and the mountains are what most people come to experience, if not our rivers for steelhead fishing or our prairie and forests for hunting big game.
But no, we have no luxury spa or resort as one would find in Vail or Aspen. The main reason for this, I surmise, is nothing brings conservatives and liberals and everyone in between together in this county like LAND USE PLANNING. Mention a major development, or even a moderate one, and the seats will be filled in the courthouse, Cloverleaf Hall or the Enterprise High School Gymnasium.
When you imagine the land around the lake, the north end is dominated by a county park that gets tremendous use in the summer. I find myself there more days than not between July 1 and Sept. 15 — and often before and after those dates. The lot is often stuffed full of vehicles, the beach lined with bathers and the extra-long lake has everything from pontoon party boats to Stand Up and Paddle boarders.
As for the west side of the lake, private homes line the bank and on the south end is one of the most highly visited state parks in Oregon. And don’t forget about the east moraine. There is a concerted effort afoot to keep that park-like space open for hiking, horseback riding and even livestock, but not a hotel.
Visitors enjoy the coffee shops strung along Highway 82 from Wallowa to Joseph and the ice cream, fudge and gourmet chocolates available, not to mention several very good restaurants.
Our tiny county has TWO breweries, a winery and a distillery — three of which are within walking distance of each other. There are two body product shops as well as other soap makers who offer their products in the locally owned and operated gift shops.
During Chief Joseph Days Rodeo week some may grumble about the traffic for just a moment, then take a step back and are grateful for the spike in our economy.
Businesses from pubs to grocery stores will tell me that the tourist season keeps them afloat. One family that moved here for an office-style job got into the tourist business and they now own and run two hotels, both with swimming pools and hot tubs.
If you want a facial or massage on your visit, you better call ahead because our massage therapists and estheticians are booked out a couple weeks.
And as for the mountains? I’m afraid you better get a horse or a mule or a good pair of boots and a backpack — for most of the best trails are in the WILDERNESS — a definite amenity. Winter visitors bring their back-country skis and can experience the lap of luxury in yurts or huts — and can hire guides to do most of the work for you.
Not to be missed, to our eastern border is yet another major draw — the Snake River. Local guides are happy to buckle you into your life jacket, cook, clean up, set up your tent, and they might even leave a mint on your pillow and sing you to sleep.
No, we have no luxury spa and resort. There is no monstrous lodge overlooking Wallowa Lake, or the Hells Canyon, for that matter. Our amenities are clean water, clean air, friendly people, no traffic lights and some livestock in the fields for that pastoral feel one must have when visiting the country.