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Reviving tourism on Washington’s U.S. 101

SUQUAMISH, Wash. – For the first time in the history of byway management, a tribal entity was handed the responsibility of managing a non-tribal scenic byway, U.S. 101, which stretches about 360 miles along one of Washington’s most scenic corridors.

Since Northwest Tribal Tourism accepted the state’s offer to take on the hefty responsibility of managing the byway, they have wasted no time in brainstorming ideas and initiating plans to bolster tourism.

In a move to boost tourism for tribal and non-tribal communities along U.S. 101, NTT will host the two-day workshop, “Reviving the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway,” May 4 – 5 at the Suquamish Clearwater Resort Casino. Registration is $60, and rooms are available at a special rate of $75 per night. The Washington State Department of Community Trade and Economic Development is sponsoring the event.

According to statistics from the Washington State Tourism Commission, visitors to the state of Washington pumped $15.7 billion into the economy in 2008. That number is expected to rise significantly when visitors to the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia trek through the Evergreen state.

U.S. 101 weaves through lush green rainforests flanked by the beauty of the tumultuous Pacific Ocean. It begins in Olympia and heads north along the Hood Canal, then down the Washington pacific coast. It’s the gateway to tourist attractions such as Olympic National Park, Hurricane Ridge, Cape Flattery, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Islands.

Leslie Johnson, co-chair of NTT and tourism director of the Squaxin Island Tribe, said that on the first day of the workshop, participants are going to travel the entire highway, so they can take note of areas that need improvements. On the second day, they will discuss the findings and explore improvement concepts.

As a tribal entity, they desire to forge relationships with non-tribal communities to improve the overall quality of the byway. “We know that we have felt invisible and want to make sure that we’re sensitive to that, and make them feel welcome as one of our partners,” she said.

NTT, formed in 2006, comprises the 10 tribes within the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula, and a partnership with the Puyallup and Tulalip tribes. They meet once a month to discuss tourism strategies and byway projects.

Their efforts have resulted in the publication of “Explore Pacific Northwest Tribes” travel digest, circulated on Washington State Ferries, and at airports, chambers of commerce and tribal businesses.

The travel digest details information about tribal enterprises, and proper etiquette for tourists visiting tribal lands along U.S. 101. An updated catalog is scheduled for release in 2010.

Victoriah Arsenian, NTT consultant and project coordinator, said they are in the process of creating an audio CD tour for drivers to learn more about the history of communities along the byway, told by Native and non-Native culture buffs.

“It combines both the history of the tribes and non-tribal communities. We want to make sure it’s an actual collaboration and not just pieces of the story.”

NTT’s Web site currently features some basic information about tribes along U.S. 101, but funding was recently awarded to upgrade the site to include a detailed directory of tribes, businesses and trip planner.

Out of NTT’s 10-tribe membership, six offer gaming establishments for tourists. The Lower Elwha Klallam will soon make that seven when they open a 7,000-square-foot casino this spring. Both gaming and non-gaming tribes offer activities ranging from fishery tours to picturesque hiking trails.

Johnson, an enrolled member of the Puyallup Tribe, said the Squaxin Island Tribe has flourished economically since the opening of Little Creek Casino in 1995. Beyond gaming, their museum made in the traditional longhouse style tells the history of the tribe and features authentic archeological artifacts from digs on the reservation.

Tourism also comes in all shapes and sizes, and with fangs.

Quileute Nation, in LaPush, Wash. has experienced one of the most rapid growths in tourism, due largely to the fanfare of the film “Twilight,” based on a popular teen vampire book series by Stephanie Meyer. So has the nearby town of Forks, where the fictional heroine Bella resides.

The usually quaint beachfront reservation that touts its excellent surfing conditions, now touts the “Twilight Escape,” which includes a two night stay, and a discount or free third night stay at the Oceanside Resort, “Twilight” memorabilia, and an invitation for guests to experience traditional Quileute drumming, singing and dance.

Wally Jackson, the tribe’s interim executive director and tourism coordinator for the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, said tour buses from Forks take visitors through parts of the reservation where the movie was filmed.

Jackson said the boom in tourism has the tribe searching for solutions to balance its tourism and preserve the sensitive environment. “We’re all concerned about taking care of the environment, and working with that group, there are ways that we can do that jointly,” he said, referring to all NTT member tribes.

To request registration for NTT’s workshop, send an e-mail to info@pacificnwtribes.ipower.com.