‘Lewis and Clark spoken here’

Bicentennial group, headed up by Kathy Watson, plans for large influx of visitors to the Gorge

The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration is just around the corner and the Gorge could capitalize on the thousands of visitors retracing that historic route.

To maximize the economic gain from increased tourism, the Columbia Gorge Visitors Association obtained grant funding to hire Kathy Watson as the local coordinator for the “epic” journey.

Watson and her husband, Stu, have written a book on the latter stages of the Corps of Discovery passage through Oregon and Washington.

She brings that expertise to her new consulting role and on Monday challenged the Hood River County Commission to prepare for the upcoming opportunity.

Although the national celebration begins in 2003, Watson told county officials that the Gorge will be highlighted at the two hundred year mark in the fall of 2005 and the spring of 2006. However, she said the three-year span of the anniversary is expected to draw as many as 25 million people to the Gorge.

Since studies have shown that most of these individuals would be somewhat affluent but live in the Northwest, she said the challenge was to get them to make more than a day trip.

“How do you get them to stay and spend the night because that’s the real benefit of tourism,” said Watson.

To help accomplish that goal, the Visitors Association has raised $40,000 in funding that will be used, in part, to educate employees of the local service industry about facts related to the expedition.

The specialized hospitality training will allow area businesses to post signage in their windows assuring clients that “Lewis and Clark is spoken here.”

“It’s really what we make of the commemoration whether it helps us to build on the region’s brand as a place of natural wonder and discovery,” Watson said.

She said there could be many long-term benefits from the commemoration since business owners many times decide to relocate after becoming attracted to another area during a visit.

Watson told the county board she would keep them updated as Lewis and Clark events unfolded but urged them to look for “synergies” between the commemoration and existing programs.

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