Voice of Voie: Date Night in Toledo Shows Small Town’s Potential

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Is it possible that the town of Toledo is the most underrated of all rural Lewis County towns?

My husband and I were sort of tired of all the usual spots we visit for date night. It’s not that we don’t love all our local Centralia and Chehalis options, we were just in the mood for something new. An adventure, if you will.

So, we dropped the kids off at Grandma’s in Winlock and headed across the freeway to Toledo.

We heard rumors that Bonanza BBQ had relocated from south Chehalis to Toledo — and they were true! But we were sort of shocked and amazed as we drove through town that we hadn’t thought to pop down into Toledo before.

Downtown Toledo now boasts not only one of the best BBQ places in Lewis County, but also Big Chief Deli & Filipino Food, and Chimis Mexican Restaurant, and not to mention the hometown option, Donna’s Place — all within a block or so from each other.

And, we can’t forget about Betty’s Place for a good burger just up the road from there.

What a time to live in Toledo! The Friday evening we went into town there, every single restaurant had a full parking lot and a dining room full of hungry patrons. It was pretty amazing to see a small town hopping on a Friday night.

After dinner, we walked down to the small riverfront park on the Cowlitz near the bridge. There’s a small covered patio area and walkway down near the water — perfect for a peaceful sunset.

It just got me thinking about Toledo again and how easy it is to forget what they’re bringing to the table as far as local tourism. Toledo really is a fantastic gateway to Mount St. Helens, but they’re quickly becoming a weekend tourist destination in their own right. There’s already a few private home rentals listed on VRBO.com (“Vacation Rental By Owner”). And, a quick search on the lodging site AirBnb.com indicates that cabins are being rented out at the old Camp Singing Wind.

I’ve always been curious to see what would become of the old Camp Singing Wind. If you aren’t familiar, it was similar to Cispus when I was in school — it was where we went for outdoor education camp in the 6th grade. There were cabins, full facilities, an in-ground pool and a fantastic main lodge.

The camp closed and sold years ago — though in addition to the cabin rentals I ran across online this week, I see that there have also been some events hosted at Camp Singing Wind, off and on, over the past year or so.

To me, it’s always screamed potential as a “Thousand Trails” type of campground park. And, with such a cute little town like Toledo nearby, with the downtown culture and everything else — it seems like all the elements are there.

Imagine — between Skydive Toledo at the local airport, the couple of decent parks, Mount St. Helens, and all of the deep ties to Cowlitz Indian Tribe throughout history — Toledo seems ripe as an up-and-coming weekend getaway offering for a younger demographic. 

A little bit of lodging tax coming into Toledo could go a long way towards helping the town grow, too.

On top of all that, Toledo is one of the few rural towns in Lewis County that has a friendly and receptive attitude towards what the cannabis industry could bring — passing zoning and ordinances specifically to keep Toledo and attractive town for licensed marijuana growers, processors and retailers.

This will sound absolutely crazy to those who haven’t seen similar things in other towns, but could you imagine the draw that a cannabis-friendly guided bus tour up to points of interest on Mount St. Helens might have in Toledo? They’d be no different than an all-inclusive wine tour (transportation included, if that wasn’t clear). Look at the success of the local guided tour companies that organize the itinerary and transportation for you — their customers return again and again.

To stand out — you have to do or be something different. Could Toledo be the town to do just that?

Who knows, maybe they already are.

At any rate, kudos to you, Toledo. Thanks for a wonderful date night experience. I can’t wait to see other people discover all the wonderful things you’re doing out there together, as a community.

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