If photos of vibrant sunsets, towering trees and rugged beaches weren’t enough to remind them they live in a beautiful place, attendees of a local economic summit Friday were encouraged to take a piece of Del Norte home with them in the form of a redwood sapling.

But although the 15th-annual Economic Summit highlighted Del Norte’s recreation economy, the overarching theme was that it takes partnerships with representatives of both the private and public sector to ensure tourists have an amazing experience that will keep them coming back.

Hosted by the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, the economic summit provided an update on city and county projects, the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission’s new crowdsourcing tool, the new terminal at the airport, a new program for providing youth with job experience and the ongoing cultural exchange between Del Norte County and Rikuzentakata, Japan.

Travel and tourism

In her introduction, the chamber’s Executive Director, Sarah Caron, noted that California’s outdoor recreation economy generates $92 billion in consumer spending annually as well as 691 direct jobs, $30.4 billion in wages and salaries and $6.2 billion in state and local revenue.

One highlight of the event was a panel discussion featuring Victor Bjelajac, California State Parks North Coast Redwoods District superintendent; Hanna Hoener, whose family owns Trees of Mystery; Bev Noll, whose family organized the Noll Longboard Surfing Classic; Adam Spencer, co-owner of Redwood Rides; and Mike Coopman, of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service.

The discussion was moderated by Kathy Moxon, capital development manager for Greenway Partners in Arcata. During the event Moxon asked questions about challenges each faced in encouraging tourists to visit.

Coopman, who founded his fishing guide service in 1993, said the sportfishing industry has seen a decline in fishing license sales statewide from 1983 to the present. He said his challenge has been “how do we stay out in front of that and stay in business.”

Sportfishing was once among the oldest recreational industries in Del Norte County, Coopman said. He cited a study he and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors conducted following a closure of fishing on the Klamath River that stated sportfishing will bring more than $1 million a month into this community. Another study from 1996 stated each fish caught on the Smith River was worth $450.

Coopman noted he advertises on the Internet to millennials and Baby Boomers quite a bit and is able to “stay ahead of the game.”

“My industry being the sport fishing industry was at one point in this county probably the No. 1 outdoor, now we see more of the hike and bike type of outdoor industry taking over,” Coopman said. “We need to do cohesive advertising, our industry is circular and we need to build partnerships.”

After organizing the Noll Longboard Surfing Classic for 16 years, Bev Noll said even though it’s no longer, people who came to participate in the competition still visit Crescent City and Del Norte County. She said the key to organizing a successful and lasting event is to make sure all of the permits, insurance and other requirements have been taken care of as well as to make sure it’s fun and safe.

Noll said it’s also important to “keep true to yourself.” She noted that the Noll Longboard Surfing Classic could have had sponsors from Red Bull and other major names, but turned them down.

“Why didn’t we do it? Because then they own our event. The community, we don’t own it,” she said. “The community has to buy in on any event that you want to put forward. Basically, it’s your business. Our business really didn’t make any money, what we did was break even, but we see these people all year and then they frequent our business.”

When asked if there would be a 17th Noll Longboard Surfing Classic, Noll said she’d be willing to work behind the scenes, but that another group would have to organize the event.

Hoener, who noted businesses in Klamath are putting their heads together to create package deals encouraging people to stay in the area, said transportation is one hurdle for tourists visiting the area. She said a shuttle service would be helpful in getting people from Point A to Point B.

Bjelajac added a shuttle service could also serve to reduce traffic on Howland Hill Road from Crescent City to Stout Grove during Redwood National and State Parks’ peak season.

Mike McGuire

This year’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Mike McGuire, touched on the state of education and health care in California as well as ongoing efforts to bypass U.S. 101 around Last Chance Grade.

McGuire said he was notified Thursday that $5 million was secured to kick off the environmental review process for the alternate route around the slide starting this fall. This is in addition to another $5 million secured last year to pay for geotechnical studies that should be completed by next fall, according to McGuire.

“Caltrans is going to start looking for an environmental consultant to kick off the environmental review process by this late fall,” McGuire told attendees at the economic summit. “We are challenging Caltrans to be able to accelerate the rate of the environmental (review) process. As we all know the process could take up to eight years and we have to do better. You deserve it.”

In addition to moving forward on Last Chance Grade, McGuire said Del Norte County and Crescent City are slated to receive between $16 million and $18 million in new revenue over the next decade to fix roads and bridges. Over the next 18 months, $1.5 million in road improvement projects from the state will be delivered to Del Norte and Crescent City, he said.

These projects over the next few months include drainage repairs and repaving of K Street as well as install chip sealing on Kelly Road, Lower Lake, Mosley, Morehead and South Bank roads, he said.

When it comes to the state of education, McGuire said the North Coast has more students in poverty per capita than in any other part of California. There are 3 million students in California who don’t have access to free and reduced lunches with more on the North Coast than anywhere else in the state per capita, he said.

“Over the last three years we’ve been focusing on expanding our free and reduced lunch program,” McGuire said. “We were able to get a bill passed last year that will bring free and reduced lunch services to over 1 million additional kids, knocking that list from 3 million to 2 million, starting this school year. Thousands of kids between Humboldt, Trinity and Del Norte now have access to free breakfast and lunch at school.”

McGuire also touched on homelessness, noting that of the 114,000 homeless Californians, 24 percent were veterans and 32,000 were chronically homeless. He noted that $2 million was set aside in 2015 to build 14,000 units of permanent homes providing mental health and drug addiction treatment for those who are chronically homeless.

“Chronic homeless cost taxpayers $100,000 per year,” he said. “Two main drivers: Unreimbursed stays in the emergency room and stays in county jail. We must do better. We must do better for those who are on the streets and we must do better for the taxpayers.”

McGuire recognized the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, saying they secured a $75,000 grant to cover costs of engineering to build permanent housing units for homeless in the community. The board also secured $500,000 to move a permanent housing project forward as well as $490,000 from Partnership Health, which serves MediCal patients, McGuire said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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