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Open space, trails can be a big boost to our economy | Port Gamble Gazette

For more than 100 years, the town of Port Gamble was synonymous with one thing: lumber.

Today, Port Gamble still relies on timber — not by cutting and milling it, but by using it as part of the allure to attract to thousands of tourists into the community and the surrounding forestland and shorelines of north Kitsap County.

Tourism became a major focus for this beautiful part of Kitsap County about 10 years ago, when Olympic Property Group (OPG) and its parent company, Pope Resources, initiated a deliberate plan to attract small business and develop the Port Gamble area as a tourist destination.

Since 2001, 38 new businesses have opened in and around the town of Port Gamble, employing 132 people. Ten years later, the timing appears to be spot-on as the state’s tourism industry is booming.

According to the Washington State Tourism Alliance, 80 percent of all small business in the state is tourism-related. Additionally, $15 billion is spent on tourism annually in the state, resulting in more than $1 billion in tax revenues.

At Port Gamble, events such as June Faire, Old Mill Days and an annual Civil War re-enactment. These events draw approximately 30,000 visitors into the area, many of whom shop, dine and find lodging in the town’s businesses as well as in other north Kitsap communities. Port Gamble Weddings books approximately 80 weddings per year, which benefits Port Gamble businesses as well as caterers, photographers, florists and musicians throughout north Kitsap County.

Despite these promising activities and impressive growth, the tourism economy in the historic town of Port Gamble still has a long way to go. OPG subsidizes the town with $250,000 annually. However, the company has plans to address the town’s future. In 2012 OPG will, at long last, submit a master plan to revitalize Port Gamble so that it can prosper and survive on its own.

However, just as it did 100 years ago, significant economic potential for north Kitsap likely lies in the timberlands and shorelines around Port Gamble. But today, the economic engine isn’t trees themselves, but the hundreds of miles of trails that wind through them. Each year, the 7,000 acres of north Kitsap lands owned by OPG attract thousands of visitors from across the region. They flock to the area to enjoy hiking, off-road cycling, trail running, horseback riding and wildlife viewing on the property.

And if national trends are any indication, there’s gold in “them thar trails” in the form of active outdoor recreation. Take hiking, for example. More than one in three Washingtonians identify themselves as hikers, backpackers, trail runners and climbers, according to a 2007 study by the Washington Trails Association on the economic impact of hiking.

Hiking and other forms of active outdoor recreation activities contribute nearly $12 billion to Washington's economy, support 115,000 jobs, generate $650 million in annual state tax revenue and produce $8.5 billion annually in retail sales and services statewide, according to the Washington Trails Association.

The sector accounts for 3.5 percent of the gross state product; only the state's software industry is larger.

The Methow Valley’s 125-mile trail system in north-central Washington serves as a national poster child for the positive economic benefits of active outdoor recreation, such as cross-country skiing, off-road cycling, hiking and horseback riding. A study published by the Methow Valley Sports Trails Association in 2005 found the following:

- Trail user expenditures average nearly $1,500 per party, per trip;

- Nearly $4.5 million in direct expenditures are made annually to the Methow Valley economy by trail users;

- The ripple effect creates an additional $4.1 million economic contribution to the local economy.

Regional tourism focused active outdoor recreation has plenty of room to grow in Kitsap County, which ranks last among Washington’s 39 counties in terms of tourism revenue generated per capita. Yet the opportunities are there and communities such as Port Gamble are taking advantage of them. For the immediate future, the trails throughout Pope’s timberlands are open. That status is likely to remain unchanged for the next 18 months, as a public partnership led by Forterra (formerly Cascade Land Conservancy) works to find funding to purchase the property and conserve it as open space.

The partnership, which was announced in October at a press conference held fittingly at Port Gamble, includes Kitsap County agencies, the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes, and Pope Resources. One official noted that it may be the first time that “the biggest land owner in the county, two tribes and county government are all working together on something, cooperatively.”

But these same officials acknowledge that it will take more than a collaborative partnership to conserve these lands for active recreation and public use. “It’s simple,” said one, “the people of Kitsap County and more specifically the user groups that enjoy these lands regularly need to get involved. Without that involvement, this won’t happen.”

To that end, OPG has set up a website called “It’s Your Backyard” (www.itsyourbackyard.com) designed to help people understand the opportunities and issues surrounding Port Gamble. The site features sections with the latest news about the property as well as features that enable users to ask questions or get involved in the conservation efforts.

“We want the public to learn about the property and stay abreast of the project,” OPG president Jon Rose said. “This is a remarkable opportunity for our community in terms of creating jobs and economic growth as well as long-term recreational in Kitsap County. The website is just another way to ensure that everyone can participate in this process.”

— Shana Smith is manager of the town of Port Gamble and curator of the Port Gamble Museum. Contact her at ssmith@orminc.com.

 

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