OUR VIEW: Continue pursuing tourists
When it comes to major tourist attractions, Oregon has them in abundance.
Crater Lake. The Painted Hills. Mount Hood. Century Drive out of Bend. The Columbia River Gorge. The Eagle Caps. The incomparable Oregon coast.
Even though it is not one of the seven wonders of Oregon, Union County offers incredible beauty. The people who live here are constantly surprised at the visual appeal of the Grande Ronde Valley, which is one of the smallest valleys in the world surrounded by mountains, in this case the Wallowas and the Blues.
Still, we offer no Disneyland. No Sea World. No Yellowstone National Park. Our beauty and attractions are more subtle.
Attracting tourists here, when we are considered more of a gateway than a destination, will always be challenging. That Union County was one of three counties in Oregon where transient room tax declined in the period between 2004 and 2011 is troubling.
However, the trend now seems to be reversing. There is more that we can do to bring more tourists who spend the night, or a week, in Union County.
One suggestion the tourism folks are pursuing is attracting snowmobile enthusiasts. Anyone who knows Oregon knows the rain shadow effect of the Cascades and the Blues. Storms march in off the Pacific Ocean and stall out in the Cascade range, with its plethora of volcanos, and even more storms stall out in the Blues and Elkhorns. That gives us better weather, generally, than the Cascades and drier snow. To capitalize on this, we need to get the word out about the tremendous snowmobiling opportunities here, especially reaching markets like the Tri-Cities in Washington to which we are close enough to be an attractive weekend destination.
Union County also has opportunities to enhance off-road-vehicle trails and reach this growing market. ORV enthusiasts will travel many miles and spend lots of money enjoying their sport in places with superior trail systems.
The area is also special in regards to its opportunities for bicycle tourism, with its designations on the Oregon scenic bikeway network. With our less volume of traffic, and scenic vistas, bicyclists have much to love. The 134-mile Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway is just one option that showcases the awesome beauty of northeast Oregon. Oregon has the only scenic bikeway network in the nation, and the Grande Tour is one of 11 options in the state.
Scenic drives around the Grande Ronde Valley and into the mountains beyond are ideal for car tourists as well. The Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which loops from La Grande through the Eagle Caps, should be on all car tourist’s bucket lists.
The tourist trains running out of the Elgin Depot also offer another great option for people visiting the area.
Union County can and should make the most of its opportunities in these areas so word gets out that we are well worth being not just a gateway but a destination.