The success of Winston’s campaign to profit as “the Home of Wildlife Safari” ultimately will depend on what the city has to offer visitors.
Which is why anyone concerned about promoting tourism in Douglas County should also be worried about the health of the timber industry.
Winston is smart to nestle up to Wildlife Safari like a cub cuddling up to its mother. The town should take advantage of its proximity to one of Oregon’s best-known tourist stops. The banners of wild animals hanging around the city are an eye-catching way to forge a connection.
The banners also are reminder that there is more to tourism than animals and scenery. The banners imply that Winston’s restaurants, lodging, shopping and parks are worth patronizing, too.
For out-of-towners, a place can be charming or depressing. It depends on whether the city has vitality or the whiff of permanent recession.
Some cities, like Las Vegas, rely on visitors for their vitality. But most places need more than guests to sustain them. The restaurants and shops enjoyed by visitors need residents with money in their pockets to support them year-round.
Douglas County’s wineries, rivers and coast are terrific attractions. Yet as an economic mainstay, tourism can’t compare to a roaring timber industry.
Don’t misunderstand. Tourism is important. A recent study prepared for the Oregon Tourism Commission by Dean Runyan Associates of Portland reported some impressive numbers.
Tourists spent $9.2 billion in Oregon in 2012. The spending directly created 91,000 jobs and indirectly created 41,000 jobs.
In Douglas County alone, travelers spent $221.1 million, the 13th highest total among the state’s 36 counties. The spending created 2,700 jobs, according to the study.
That’s outstanding, but pales in comparison to the timber industry’s historic contribution to the economy.
In 1988, the wood-products industry employed more than 8,000 people in Douglas County, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Now, it employs between 3,000 and 4,000. Almost as bad, those jobs don’t pay as well as they once did compared to other industries.
Timber industry employment has declined for several reasons, including automation, competition and fluctuations in demand for wood products. Along with all that has been the decline in timber harvests in federal forests.
Conservation groups sometimes pit recreation vs. logging. But increasing logging on federal timberlands wouldn’t harm Southern Oregon’s tourism industry one bit.
Travelers would still come to enjoy the parks, mountains and wilderness areas.
It’s hard to imagine Wildlife Safari losing a single visitor because timber harvests were upped on the Oregon & California Railroad trust lands.
We can imagine, however, Winston missing out on opportunities to attract guests if the county’s high unemployment and poverty rates persist.