The Destination Packwood Association, a nonprofit that has been Lewis County’s lead recipient of tax-funded tourism promotion dollars, closed suddenly last week, and the county prosecutor’s office is investigating “accounting irregularities” at the organization.
“It has been referred to our office, and it’s under review by a deputy right now,” said Lewis County prosecutor Jonathan Meyer. “It’s some accounting irregularities, trying to figure out what they are. … It just has to do with money.”
The initial investigation was conducted by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, and the case was referred to Meyer’s office on May 7. Last week, the Destination Packwood Visitor Center — a tourism hub in East Lewis County — was closed down, with a sign on the door directing visitors to go to local businesses for area information. Residents reported seeing LCSO vehicles at the office during the week.
Friday, Destination Packwood board member Hal Blanton addressed a gathering of Packwood business leaders and briefly told them that the nonprofit had closed. In a phone interview, Blanton said the nonprofit’s board would be meeting Thursday, and no public update would be provided before then.
“We’ve closed the visitor center right now,” he said. “Everything else is to be determined.”
Fellow board members Lee Grose and Tracy Croshaw did not return messages seeking comment. Many others in the community said they’ve heard rumors but remain in the dark about what’s actually happening.
“I’m not really privy to any details,” said former board member Maree Lerchen.
Destination Packwood has been a leading community organization in East Lewis County, organizing seasonal events and serving as a go-to spot for the many tourists who visit the region. County commissioners have been strong promoters of the nonprofit and its mission, making it by far the lead recipient of the lodging tax funding the county distributes every year.
Over the past three years, according to county records, Destination Packwood has received more than $260,000 in tourism promotion funds paid by Lewis County’s hotel/motel tax. County commissioner Gary Stamper, who represents the East County district that includes Packwood, said he’s concerned by the closure and investigation.
“Whenever you have a nonprofit that’s taking funds from the county, specifically lodging tax dollars, when you haven’t done your due diligence — I’m not sure what it was, whether they didn’t file taxes or the proper information or whatever it might have been — it is troubling,” he said. “There obviously is a red flag, otherwise they would not have ceased operations.”
Stamper was at the meeting Friday in which Blanton gave the update, but said details have still been hard to come by.
“I’ve heard very little,” he said. “It was made (clear) that Destination Packwood is no longer in business. I don’t know what that means.”
Fellow commissioner Edna Fund, like most, had heard plenty of whispers but no concrete information about the nonprofit’s closure. She said the development was worrisome, as Destination Packwood has played a vital part of Lewis County’s tourism economy.
“I’ve only heard rumors,” she said. “They’re such a dynamic force in East County to promote tourism. ... When you look at our (Lodging Tax Advisory Committee), everybody’s worked together. And they’re a crucial part of that effort.”
In response to a public records request, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office advised that the case is still under investigation and no reports can be released at this time.