Local commerce, tourism groups welcome visitors with aim of raising state, national profile

Bloggers, magazine writers, photographers and television and radio reporters will descend on the Wild Rivers Coast region next month for a conference local tourism officials say will put Del Norte and Curry counties on the map.

Roughly 75 travel writers and other members of the Outdoor Writers Association of California, or OWAC, will stay at Lucky 7 Casino's Howonquet Lodge for the association's fall conference Sept. 13andndash;16. When they're here, local tourism representatives and businesses will show them what the region has to offer - from fishing and kayaking on the Smith River to hiking in Samuel H. Boardman State Park and jet boat trips on the Rogue River.

"We figure for the cost of the event, what we would get in return in the form of publicity would far outweigh it," said Jeff Parmer, executive director of the Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau.

According to Parmer, after the association's spring conference in Tuolumne County, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle did a full-page article on that region. Association members who attended the fall conference would continue to write about Del Norte and Curry counties well after the event. The conference also features a photo contest, which generates hundreds of images that would be available to the host community, he said.

"It's like $20,000 to take out a full-page ad in the Sunday Chronicle. If we get one article like that it more than covers our expenses," Parmer said.

The Crescent City-Del Norte Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, Gold Beach and the Brookings Tourism Council are paying Lucky 7 Casino for the use of its event center and the rooms, but at a discount, Parmer said. The activities planned for the conference's second day have been donated by local tour guides and operators, he said.

The registration cost for the event is $135, part of which goes back to OWAC; the other part goes to the host venue, Parmer said.

When the Del Norte County Visitors Bureau first began planning the conference the expected cost was between $9,000 and $12,000, Parmer said. However, the actual cost depends on the number of conference participants and registration is still open, he said.

He began planning the event in 2013 with then-OWAC President Meade Fischer, whose California guidebook "With the Sea Beside Me" ends with a chapter on the Del Norte County coast. They had initially intended the event to highlight Del Norte County, but since then Parmer has reached out to the city of Gold Beach and the Brookings Tourism Council, expanding the conference into Oregon.

Gold Beach was on board with the idea right away, Parmer said. It took some convincing, but the Brookings Tourism Council decided last week to participate in the conference as well, he said.

"The cost is higher than what we were comfortable committing," Parmer said. "I had to find out if (the association) had any reservations about writing about Oregon and they don't."

The Wild Rivers Outdoor Writers Conference also ties in with TravelOregon's decision to brand the state's south coast the Wild Rivers Coast, Parmer said. Travel Oregon is the state's official travel and tourism site.

The Wild Rivers Coast brand has been around for more than 10 years, said Gold Beach City Administrator Jodi Fritts. It caught on locally on both sides of the state line, she said.

"(The conference) is a real opportunity to get the Wild Rivers name throughout the state of California and even internationally," Fritts said. "We threw some money at it because we think it's important. We're all hoping this is going to bring a whole different group of people who will take our story back."

Fritts said Gold Beach went through a year-long program with Travel Oregon, which helps rural communities develop their tourism industries. Gold Beach is also in the process of applying for a Travel Oregon grant to develop a more robust marketing plan for the area. While the organization can't spend money in California, Fritts said, Oregon tourism officials know that folks traveling from the south pass through Del Norte County to get there.

"My hope is that our businesses in our various communities will see the value," she said. "One of those stories alone could be worth thousands of dollars to our community for people coming to visit."

According to Fischer, many conference-goers show up the day before it starts to get the lay of the land. The first day of the conference is spent with keynote speakers chosen by the host community and craft improvement workshops selected by OWAC. Association members will spend the second day of the conference going on planned field trips, he said.

But because many folks are traveling from the Bay Area and Southern California, Fischer is also planning activities for a few days before and after the conference. Because of the area's remoteness, OWAC also decided to invite members of Outdoor Writers of America, Fischer said.

"Fishermen in Arkansas read about the Smith River and think, 'By God, I'm going to catch myself a steelhead there,'" he said. "We are throwing it open for the Outdoor Writers of America to increase our participation."

In addition to attention in print media, the Wild Rivers Coast region may be the subject of television or radio coverage because of the conference, said OWAC executive director Yvonne Graham. There are also several bloggers who will attend the conference, she said. Graham added that the association encourages its members to take as many photos as they can.

"Every photo that's taken is put on a disc and is turned in to the conference that night for an award," she said. "All of them, good or bad, are turned in to our host, and those are given back to the community, and some of them have been used for brochures. If you had an activity that you donated to us and wanted to put (a photo) on a brochure, then it's yours."

For more information about the Outdoor Writers Association of California visitowac.org.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.