In FY20–21 EOVA leveraged the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) program to hire additional staff to broaden the organization’s work around outdoor recreation. RARE is a unique AmeriCorps Program serving rural Oregon to strengthen communities, economies, food systems, and the natural environment.
The RARE placement focused on outdoor recreation, one of EOVA’s core marketing and destination development pillars, to continue the work of past tourism studios and help the region pivot in response to COVID-19.
One of the goals for this investment was to identify development and marketing needs, opportunities, priorities, determine costs for projects, and coordinate some of those projects moving forward. Another goal was to get a baseline handle on the status of outdoor recreation projects in the region as an update from past tourism studio work. EOVA’s intended impact on the region and visitor experience is to continue developing high quality outdoor recreation assets, while creating a strong foundation of support for the public lands that are critical for these outdoor experiences. EOVA’s RARE placement worked with local non-profits, land managers, and businesses throughout 2020–2021 to pursue these goals.
Measures of success of this tactic include:
- Increased connectivity in our community of recreation and trail stakeholders in Eastern Oregon.
- Coordinated collaborative funding approaches to support regional stewardship of public lands and trails.
- Increased capacity and infrastructure to support outdoor recreation assets.
The RARE placement conducted extensive outreach to outdoor recreation stakeholders in the region through 63 interviews. These interviews helped illuminate the existing network of stakeholders and goals, identify specific gaps in resources to support outdoor recreation development and management, and identify the outdoor areas significantly impacted by the influx of visitors due to COVID-19. This stakeholder feedback provided a strong baseline for Eastern Oregon’s RCTP planning, as well as making a path forward for pursuing our goals.
Increased capacity and infrastructure to support outdoor recreation assets
With collaboration from multiple land managers, non-profit partners and local DMOs, the RARE placement assisted in securing more than $50,000 of grant funding to support outdoor recreation assets throughout the region. These include:
- Volunteer crew management staff and communication devices to support wilderness work parties in the Wallowa Mountains and Hells Canyon.
- Trash service at the entrance to the Alvord Desert and a pilot WAG bag distribution program to manage human waste on the Alvord Desert to accommodate the 600% increase in visitors in 2020.
- Facilities improvements to support the Skull 120, a signature gravel race in Harney County.
Together, these assets will ensure that Eastern Oregon is able to continue delivering a high-quality outdoor recreation experience to visitors while also protecting the region’s sensitive environments.
Increased connectivity in our community of recreation and trail stakeholders in Eastern Oregon
With the assistance from the RARE placement, EOVA was able to host a virtual regional trails meet-up in collaboration with Oregon Trails Coalition. Thirty-nine stakeholders attended the event from across the eleven-county region including trail groups, land managers, and businesses. Attendees shared on-the-ground needs and opportunities, specific challenges in Eastern Oregon due to COVID-19, and projects that are ready for investment.
EOVA also hosted a virtual event on capturing tourism dollars from trail users, aimed at helping businesses better leverage the region’s outdoor recreation assets.
Coordinated collaborative funding approaches to support regional stewardship of public lands and trails
Through stakeholder interviews, we learned that destinations like the Eagle Cap Wilderness, Anthony Lakes, and Alvord Desert experienced unprecedented use in 2020 due to COVID-19. This knowledge allowed us to escalate these concerns to appropriate parties and secure added support. Through a combination of grants, investments through the Oregon Trails Fund, and staff time, we were able to provide added support to these “hot spots” as they face another busy year and future visitation.
While hot spots were a reality due to COVID-19, broader regional support for trails is also important. The RARE placement coordinated with local trail partners and the project lead for the Blue Mountain Trail to begin building a regional partnership for training and volunteer-sharing. This will ensure that as the Blue Mountain Trail project builds momentum and attracts visitors as one of Oregon’s iconic trails, the groups that are critical to maintaining the route will be well-supported.