Lewis County will begin 2021 with a new official commission — the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Commission — with the goal of developing a more cohesive, countywide approach to enhancing tourism in the area.
According to Discover Lewis County Director Tamara Hayes, the unofficial commission has been meeting for about a year and a half and has its sights set on creating a new long-term strategic plan for the county.
“The goal of this group is to identify current challenges and future opportunities associated with recreation and tourism in Lewis County,” Hayes said Wednesday. “The county has to adopt it, otherwise it has no real value.”
Incoming District 2 County Commissioner Lindsey Pollock has been tapped to represent the county on the commission, and $10,000 in lodging tax funds will help jump-start the group’s efforts in January. The commission will meet 11 times over two years.
Earlier this fall, Hayes presented the idea of a strategic plan to county commissioners, saying a more united approach to tourism could help secure state and federal funding.
“If we want to go out for some grants for parks, and it’s aligned with our strategic plan, that looks great,” she told commissioners.
According to Hayes, the commission grew out of the 2018 Outdoor Recreation & Tourism Summit hosted by the White Pass Scenic Byway. At the summit, dozens of participants, including legislators and individuals from the private and nonprofit realm, discussed the possibility of rebranding Southwest Washington as a hot tourism destination. Some saw Lewis County’s wilderness as an asset to leverage in the face of a declining timber industry.
Commissioner Edna Fund said throughout her eight years in office, tourism has thrived in Lewis County.
“We’ve become a Mecca for people wanting to get out of the cities and recreate here in our beautiful county,” she said.
Fund largely credited the lodging tax grant process, in which applicants are asked how their business, event, or entity will benefit the county as a whole, whether it be by putting “heads in beds” at local inns, or by encouraging customers to venture into other parts of the county.
Incoming District 1 County Commissioner Sean Swope has also identified improving Lewis County’s parks as a critical step to not only draw in tourists but also new residents.
“We need to beef up our parks,” Swope said in an interview earlier this month. “Our parks haven’t been the greatest.”
The new Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Commission, Hayes said, will hopefully become the guiding entity of large parks and tourist destinations in the county.
For now, the commission is analyzing older strategic plans, like the long-term plan written for the White Pass Scenic Byway.
“They’re old at this point, but they’re worth looking through and familiarizing ourselves as we start to think about long-term plans,” she said.
Although active county resident Bill Serrahn voiced concern Wednesday that the commission was being “rushed,” commissioners pointed to the year and a half of work the group has already completed.
“I think they’re eager to start the new year with this,” Fund said.