Between 2013 and 2014, the Wild Rivers Coast, which includes the towns of Bandon, Brookings, Gold Beach, Langlois and Port Orford along Oregon’s South Coast, participated in Travel Oregon’s Rural Tourism Studio program. This was the first time the region came together as a whole to talk about the future of the local economy.
In 2017, the region took part in another Southern Oregon Coast Rural Tourism Studio, which offered skill building, planning and product development workshops to bolster the tourism economy in this region. The program was designed specifically for residents and organizations operating in the Coos County and coastal Douglas county including – Reedsport, Winchester Bay, Lakeside, North Bend, Coos Bay, Charleston, Bandon and the communities of the Coquille River Valley.
Since the completion of these programs, local communities have been working together to stimulate their home-grown economies through Culinary & Agritourism and Outdoor Recreation initiatives.
Why? Because the communities recognized that tourism is a vital part of a healthy and diversified economy on the Southern Coast and can could do much to enhance the livability of the region.
In 2017, 5,340 residents of the South Coast owed their jobs to the tourism industry, which generated $404 million in revenue and $13 million in state and local taxes.
In Coos Bay, visitors generated $271 million in revenue and $9.5 million in state and local taxes, with the industry directly employing 3,300 locals.
The regional collaboration that occurred during the Rural Tourism Studio (RTS) has already led to many successes, including the formation of the Oregon South Coast Regional Tourism Network, a collection of tourism organizations, Destination Marketing Organizations and cities that are breaking new ground when it comes to partnerships and collaborations in the area. It is a true success story about how to take a grouping of seemingly independent and competitive communities and develop it into a collective network of stakeholders that work together on Oregon’s South Coast.
“One of the things that I appreciated about our entire region is that we embrace who we are, and I think that’s what unites us,” said Julie Miller, Tourism Network Manager for the Southern Oregon Coast.
Community leaders participating in the RTS focused on three areas to work on: food and agritourism; outdoor recreation; and building community relationships.
Before the RTS, most of the food that was grown in the area was shipped away. This realization gave rise to the Eat Fresh & Local Action Team, who hosted a series of networking events bringing together local growers with the area’s vendors in order to have more local food available for visitors to the area. This led to more local foods in the areas restaurants and a local food-co-op, which have helped enhance the local economy while also while also improving the visitor experience.
The robust agricultural industry here also gave rise to the idea to create an agritourism trail, called the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail. It highlights the regions’ culinary assets like craft brews, seafood, farms, markets and artisan products.
Inspirational ideas within the food trail include a Berry Byway Itinerary that runs from Port Orford to Bandon; a Seafood Search Itinerary the goes from Brookings to Gold Beach, and a Timeless Beauty Itinerary that spans Reedsport to Brookings.
The Outdoor Recreation Action Team highlighted the regions’ natural splendor by producing a series of maps that show best places to recreate in the area.
The mapping process also brought to light some areas that needed more help. To that end, the action team created a mountain bike plan and advocated for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Commission to designate the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway.
After identifying the opportunity to develop trails in the region, the South Coast was able to secure more than $610,000 in trail-related funding.
The funds are going toward developing 30 miles of mountain bike-optimized singletrack trails in the Coos County Forest, new trail segments in Brookings’ Azalea Park and rebuilding the historic, multi-use Lower Rogue River Trail.
“When I started the Rural Tourism Studio, my business South Coast Tours was really small, and now we’ve grown to five or six guides” said Dave Lacey, owner and operator of South Coast Tours. “We’re doing tours all over now, from Brookings all the way to Coos Bay.”
Most recently, the RTS community came together to form Oregon South Coast Regional Tourism Network, a region-wide, cross-sector of independent individuals and organizations who collaborate to enhance economic development through sustainable tourism.
“We will focus on leveraging relationships, opportunities and dollars,” said Miller. “We will work to create consensus around priorities that will set up other tourism organizations for success. And we will focus our regional tourism organizations in a direction that will lay the groundwork to develop the Southern Oregon Coast into a destination.
“We are doing work that has not been done in this region before,” continued Miller. “It is the kind of work that makes me appreciative to live in the greatest state ever and proud to show my daughter I make a difference.”