Eleven Gorge chambers and tourism organizations are working together to find new ways to support local businesses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The participating chambers include Goldendale, Mt. Adams, Skamania County, West Columbia Gorge, Hood River County and The Dalles Area with supporting tourism groups from Washougal, Cascade Locks, Wind River Publishing, the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge Regional Destination Management Organization (RDMO) and the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance, according to a press release from the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance.
The groups have begun meeting regularly to explore ways to help businesses in the region recover and gain a wider audience for visitation through the winter and into next spring.
Tammara Tippel of Mt. Adams Chamber said, “Stronger Together is a phrase that has been used a lot over the past six months. COVID-19 has impacted all of our communities and businesses tremendously. It makes sense to look for collective ways to strengthen our businesses, as well as in our towns.”
The kickoff to this chamber and tourism initiative was a familiarization tour in late-October to familiarize leaders on both sides of the Gorge with the outings, history and businesses throughout the region. This approach has been used successfully by the Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge RDMO in the past as a way to train staff on the front lines.
“We’re looking for ways to spread the word to visitors about highlights and hidden gems that are off the well worn path,” said Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of Visit The Dalles and Dalles Chamber of Commerce.
The route circled the entire Gorge from Goldendale to Troutdale on both sides of the river, with each leader elaborating on their respective area.
“We’ve found that visitors to our area are coming to experience the Gorge as a region,” said Angie Waiss of Skamania Chamber of Commerce. “They’re not just coming to one town or one trail and they aren’t aware of county boundaries. So we’re very well versed in promoting both sides of the river but this initiative will give us the chance to expand upon that knowledge.”
“It was really eye-opening stepping into different parts of the Gorge, viewpoints like Rowena Crest I had never been to and new businesses I had not yet heard of,” said Rene Carroll of Washougal tourism. “Now I am very looking forward to going back and sharing with my community”
“I was astounded to find out that there is a legal fine for shooting BigFoot in Skamania County or that there is a ranch that specializes in extra-terrestrial watching in the Mount Adams/Trout Lake region,” said Geoff Kenway of the West Gorge. “The Gorge is full of some very exciting stuff.”
The group additionally met with Cascade Locks City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman and the special project coordinator from the Port of Cascade Locks Brittany Berge to learn about the great innovative business and economic development work the town is doing.
“Going all the way from the Sandy River in Troutdale to the Deschutes River east of The Dalles made me realize how large and diverse our region is. It’s already inspired some interesting ideas on how to move forward,” said Dana Peck of Goldendale Chamber.
Gray Line of Portland volunteered their services and bus for the day. It was the maiden voyage for the 35-foot vehicle purchased for the new regulations on the Historic Highway before the pandemic hit. The 38 passenger seats were reduced to 10 to create safe social distances, along with other strict safety measures taken during the trip. Hand sanitizer and masks were also offered by Gorge-based West Coast PPE.
The Columbia Gorge chambers and tourism groups will continue to convene to innovate new ideas and experiences for Gorge communities, the release stated.
Emily Reed is network director for Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance.