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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lost in a tourist summit

A summit recently took place to discuss ways to stimulate the North Olympic Peninsula’s economy.
A $24,000 consultant was hired to facilitate a discussion with a committee of anonymous “stakeholders” and a panel of “community leaders” in a series of four-hour meetings. The final meeting was at John Wayne Marina in Sequim. The public was allowed to sit at the back of the room during the meeting and given 10 minutes to comment at the end. 
A Peninsula Daily News article described the meeting saying, “In looking at the future the (summit) group decided to borrow from the past.”
We had better hope not.
The rivalries between the various communities on the Peninsula go back to the days of the railroad, when every town dreamed of being the terminus of the transcontinental, from sea to shining sea.
The fact that we were a rugged, uninhabited peninsula, surrounded by treacherous bodies of water, did not deter our visionary pioneer forefathers, such as Victor Smith of Port Angeles. He stole the customs house from Port Townsend at gunpoint and convinced “Honest Abe” Lincoln to declare Port Angeles a Second National City. 
That’s in case Washington, D.C. was destroyed there would be a brand new capitol, all ready and waiting just a continent away. This made a lot of sense to Smith and his real estate cronies at the time.
It gave Port Angeles a sense of community pride. That, with an illegal election and a gang of vigilantes, allowed Port Angeles to steal the county seat from Whiskey Flats near Sequim, before the now extinct Port Crescent, near Joyce, could beat them to it.
Whiskey Flats, whose only industry was selling liquor to the Indians, had fallen on hard times once the Indians died off. They surrendered the county seat without a struggle.      
The coming of the Industrial Age allowed us to exploit our inexhaustible forests and fisheries. After a century of plunder these resources are locked up, endangered or just plain gone. All we got left are tourists.
One proposal to stimulate tourism called for a waterfront museum for the artifacts of Tse-Whit-sen in Port Angeles. The remains of this pre-historic village were discovered during the construction of a graving yard for the Hood Canal Bridge pontoons.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of $90 million was spent before the Elwha S’Klallam convinced the Department of Transportation to stop the destruction of this unique cultural resource. Tse-Whit-Sen is the largest known Native American burial in the Pacific Northwest. A museum of the artifacts of this site would represent a world-class tourist and cultural destination that would benefit both the tribe and the city.
Instead, Port Angeles continues to pursue its’ dreams of industry by hiring another consultant with another panel of community leaders who want to “develop” another archaeological site at Y’ennis, just east on the harborfront from Tse-Whit-Sen.
Those who ignore history seem to run things around here.     
The latest summit concluded that we need more year-round tourists. Just how we are going to fit more tourists into our narrow roads and inadequate facilities is a mystery.
An idea under way is building a walking, bicycling and horse-riding trail on the old railroad beds from Port Townsend to LaPush, which would confirm my theory of history as a process of decay.  It is in a historical sense, like abandoning the airport and turning it into landing field for hot air balloons or using telephone poles to hold coops of carrier pigeons.
I’m OK with that. Get cyclists off our narrow, crowded highways and roads an on to Olympic Discovery Trail. It is a good idea that’s been around since the ‘70s. Let me give an example of how much it will stimulate the economy.
Tourists are a hassle. That’s why we put a season on them, but they are human beings.
They deserve our honesty, compassion and respect. If you can fake that, you may have a future in the tourist industry.
When I saw a pair of soggy Canadian cyclists stranded down Oil City Road, I pretended not to laugh and that I cared. I tried to rescue them.
Just lucky I speak Canadian, eh. You just about have to since the exchange rate between Canadian and American currencies flattened out. The Canucks are headed “south of the border” to party in record numbers.
I even saw some Canucks fishing for steelhead on the Hoh River last winter. That was a shock. They were from British Columbia, eh. I thought B.C. had the best steelhead fishing in the world but, no way. The only steelhead left in B.C. are in the northern rivers, the Kispiox, Babine and Bulkley. They are summer fish.
Winter-run steelhead are rare in B.C. The reason: Fish farms. Pens full of Atlantic salmon produce sea-lice which kill baby fish.
This makes the Olympic Peninsula the last refuge of the winter steelhead. People come here from all over the world for the opportunity to see one of these rare fish.
The environmental, economic and cultural value of steelhead has been ignored. Meanwhile, the rivers these fish depend upon for their survival are being commercially gill-netted and logged right down to the water.
Those who ignore history also manage our fisheries.
When I first saw the Canadian cyclists, I thought there was something funny about them. They weren’t fishing. They were headed for Tierra del Fuego.   
They had gotten some bad advice from one of the locals who sent them down Oil City Road.
Giving wrong directions to tourists is a proud tradition on the Olympic Peninsula. It goes back to when the Indians misled explorers as a form of amusement. There is no better way to trash talk the neighbors and keep the newbies out of your hunting country than to tell them it’s inhabited by a tribe of giant cannibals.
Whoever told the cheeseheads to bicycle down Oil City Road to get to Tierra Del Fuego had a good sense of humor. Oil City Road dead-ends at the Pacific Ocean, which is mighty tough for bike riding, especially without a fishing pole. 
I felt it was my duty as a guide and representative of the tourist industry to warn those hosers about Oil City. I told them it was worse than Sodom and Gomorrah with a hangover.
If they insisted on going to Oil City, they should put their money in their shoes, not talk to strangers and stay off the streets after dark. The Canucks quickly threw their bikes in my truck. We went to the Hoh Store for supplies. They bought a gallon of water. We said goodbye, eh.
John Speerin’s blog @ describes this epic journey. Continuing south, Speerin almost bought a T-shirt in Florence, Oregon, but decided it was too much extra weight to pedal.
Then I met some “425ers.” It is a dirty little secret of the industry, that we profile tourists by area code. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it can give you a clue about what kind of foreigner you’re dealing with. “425” means Bellevue. “206” is Seattle. Any other area code we just assume is a Californian.
The “425ers” stopped at the store to get supplies for a fishing trip. Several hundred dollars later they came out of the store and went to dinner, the liquor store and the motel. The next morning they bought breakfast and a box lunch and stopped at another store for more beer, smokes, doughnuts, chew, bait, gas, ice, herring, personal products, and everything they forgot to buy the day before.
One of the “425ers” got a call from the war department. She was in Victoria. As a fishing guide and relationship counselor I have noticed in my practice a correlation between men who fish and women who go to Victoria. It’s part of a give and take in a relationship. Give her a chance to go fishing. She’ll take a trip to Victoria to get even. 
Victoria is a beautiful city, but I won’t go there. Victoria dumps 40 million liters of raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca every day. Their city motto is, “Flush twice, it’s got to make it to Port Angeles, eh.” 
So there’s no real need to go to Victoria. Sooner or later it will come here.
Going through Canadian Customs is another good reason not to go to Victoria. You may be asked a series of skill-testing questions like, “Why did you come to Canada?” 
Chances are you’ll ask yourself the same question once the drug sniffing dog sticks its’ nose up your kiester. Why would anyone try to smuggle drugs into Canada? It’s where the drugs come from. Just outside the Canadian Customs office, sidewalk vendors openly sell drugs and paraphernalia to mobs of stoner tourists and nobody seems to notice. 
Meanwhile back on the Peninsula, the “425er” was in trouble.
Since he was fishing instead of visiting her mother, his wife was in Victoria grudge shopping for some retail therapy. That’s until her plastic didn’t work.
Let’s review. All tourists are created equal and yet each is as individual as a snowflake.
Like the snowflake, we need tourists for the health of our economy and to ensure we’ll always have something to complain about. What kind of tourist has the greatest impact on the economy?
The cyclist who bought a gallon of water or the fisherman spent money like a drunken sailor, before his wife could.
Someone really should do a study on the economic benefits of sport fishing but I think they already did. It’s probably filed with all the other studies.
Someone should study the studies or, have a summit.  I think it’s the least we can do.      

1 comment:

  1. A nice read Pat. By the way, indeed there is a economic study of hunting and fishing in the US conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The link below is to the Washington state report.