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There’s an acronym for when someone calls to report a problem with a rental bike to Peak Sports in Corvallis: JRA.

“I was just riding along..." is often how the sentence begins in an attempt to explain the damage.

“I’ve heard that a lot,” said general manager Jim Blount.

The fleet of mountain bikes for rent at Peak has been getting a lot of use, and occasional abuse, as word gets out about the Alsea Falls Mountain Biking Trail System, which offers world-class riding experiences nearby.

The recreation opportunity not only generates business at the downtown Corvallis bike shop, which keeps the rentals in like-new condition. But it also supports the local economy as visitors spend money on gas, food and lodging.

Blount, an avid mountain biker, said South Block is a popular place for mountain bikers to wind down after a day riding. That’s short for Block 15 Brewery & Tap Room in South Corvallis, where it’s become tradition to down food and drink and take in the sunset over Marys Peak after a day at Alsea Falls.

Outdoor recreation is more than just a fad of the West. It’s becoming a focal point of travel and tourism promotion efforts. And with good reason.

Recreation spending 

As popularity surges for camping, fishing, hunting, snow sports, trail sports, wheel sports, water sports, off-roading, motorcycling and wildlife viewing, these activities drive commerce. Many outdoor activities require gear and lead to travel spending.

Like pedals propelling a bike up a mountain trail, outdoor recreation is an economic driver.

According to a report by the Outdoor Industry Association released in March, American consumers spend more on outdoor recreation than on pharmaceuticals and fuel combined, a total of $887 billion annually. This spending supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $125 billion in tax revenue for federal, state and local government.

Only spending in health care and financial services exceed outdoor recreation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

So promoting outdoor recreation makes sense in a nature-rich setting like the Willamette Valley and Oregon, local and state tourism experts agree.

A concerted effort

During the 2017 session, the state Legislature established the Oregon Office of Outdoor Recreation as part of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. The office is working with the state’s tourism bureau, Travel Oregon, as well as local and regional destination marketing organizations, including the Albany Visitors Association, Visit Corvallis and the Willamette Valley Visitors Association.

Travel Oregon is leading a collaborative effort through the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative to expand outdoor recreational opportunities. Gov. Kate Brown and first gentleman Dan Little have a complementary initiative, "Roadmap to the Outdoors," aimed at increasing access to the outdoors.

Curtis Wright, interim director of Visit Corvallis, said local and regional organizations participate in these efforts by localizing state tourism campaigns.

“We take advantage of every opportunity we can to use their research and resources to improve our marketing effectiveness, and to extend the impact of their messaging, locally,” Wright said.

For example, the upcoming issue of the annual visitor’s guide features sections on the great outdoors and the seven wonders of Corvallis, of which five are natural areas including Marys Peak, the Willamette River, Alsea Falls, Finley Wildlife Refuge and Fitton Green Natural Area.

“Inviting people to Corvallis to ‘hike, it, bike it, paddle it, and love it’ is central to our brand promise,” Wright said.

Cycling is a particular focus for Corvallis, which has repeatedly been awarded gold-level bicycle friendly status by the League of American Bicyclists.

A 2014 study commissioned by Travel Oregon found that the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway generated 18,700 rides, resulting in $3.1 million in travel-related expenditures, including $61,000 in transient lodging taxes. Of those rides, 11.6 percent stayed overnight in Corvallis.

Capturing a share of that spending is good for the local economy and the community, Wright said.

Linn County Parks Director Brian Carroll agrees. The push to promote outdoor recreation could be very beneficial if the state picks local destinations to promote. He has not yet had contact with the new state Office of Outdoor Recreation. But his agency already is engaged in marketing Linn County as a recreation destination.

The most popular places for outdoor recreation are Green Peter and Foster reservoirs, Clear Lake in the high Cascades and Riverbend County Park along the Santiam River, where a vacant campsite is as rare as finding two-ply toilet paper in a campground outhouse.

A lot of park visitation is local, said Carroll. To reach potential visitors, Linn County Parks has a contract for social media marketing to promote its facilities, particularly during off-peak times.

Tourism has a relatively small role in generating economic development in Linn County, Carroll said. But the parks do play a part in attracting visitors.

Common threads

Oregon is one of nine states actively promoting outdoor recreation, said Lindsey Shirley, associate director of the  Oregon State University Extension Service. Shirley was invited to participate in Oregon’s "Roadmap to the Outdoors" initiative because of her prior experience with the outdoor products industry in Utah, another state engaged in promoting outdoor recreation. Shirley worked at Utah State University, where she helped create a bachelor of science degree in outdoor product design and development.

Shirley said Oregon State Extension is a good partner in the state’s outdoor recreation initiatives because of its mission to improve the lives of Oregonians and its statewide presence. Oregon’s Outdoor School program moving under the scope of Extension is another reason to participate.

Shirley said leaders are just beginning to explore the possibilities of Oregon State University’s involvement with "Roadmap," such as offering continuing education to recreation businesses, workforce training and expertise through the College of Business and exploring the aspects of improving wellness through the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“'Roadmap' is looking at the outdoors from a lot of different perspectives,” she said.

Other states with outdoor recreation initiatives are focusing on their own unique plans. So far, everyone has been collaborative, not competitive, Shirley said. With a team from Oregon’s 'Roadmap' project, she traveled to Colorado earlier this year to learn promotional strategies.

“We’re all so different,” Shirley said, “But there are common threads.”

Rebecca Barrett, a mid-Valley freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to InBusiness.

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