Idea aims to promote tourism
by Samantha White
Harney County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chelsea Harrison said Harney County doesn’t need roller coasters and amusement parks. With more than 10,000 square miles of land, she said the county’s wide-open spaces and abundance of natural beauty are enough to attract visitors, especially those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city.
“The option of having the wide-open spaces is very intriguing,” Harrison said, adding that many travel to this area in search of an opportunity to explore nature without running into their next-door neighbor. “This is that utopia that they’ve been looking for.”
In an effort to draw visitors to Harney County, Harrison collaborated with the Harney County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Harney County Community Response Team to develop The Seven Wonders of Harney County.
Travel Oregon recently launched a similar tourism-promotion campaign called The Seven Wonders of Oregon, which highlights Mount Hood, the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Coast, the Painted Hills, Smith Rock, the Wallowa Mountains, and Crater Lake.
When she saw Travel Oregon’s list, Harrison said she thought, “Wait a minute. How did Steens Mountain not make it?”
She admitted that Oregon is a beautiful and diverse state, and it’d be difficult to select only seven natural features to emphasize. However,
she said she could think of six wonders that are located in Harney County “off the top of her head.” And to discover the seventh, she was advised to look up at the brilliant myriad of celestial bodies above her head.
The Seven Wonders of Harney County include the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Diamond Craters, Malheur National Forest, Steens Mountain, hot springs, Alvord Desert, and star gazing.
Harrison said she hopes to introduce the idea to tourists this spring.
The chamber’s website will feature photos of each “wonder” on its main page. Anyone who views the site will be able to click on the photos for more information and to find travel itineraries, which will include suggestions for accommodations (such as meals and lodging) that will promote local businesses.
For example, travelers who want to experience the Diamond Craters will be informed about the Round Barn Visitor Center, Hotel Diamond and Steens Mountain Guest Ranch.
Harrison said the selected wonders represent all areas of Harney County. She explained that travelers can access Malheur National Forest
through Burns, Hines, Drewsey and Buchanan. The Alvord Desert can be accessed through Fields, Steens Mountain can be accessed through Frenchglen and The Narrows, Diamond Craters through Diamond, and the county’s various hot springs through areas like Crane and the Alvord Ranch.
Additionally, star gazing opportunities exist throughout the entire county. In fact, Harrison said Harney County has one of the lowest levels of artificial light in the United States, making it a great place to get an extraordinary glimpse of the night sky.
She added that many recreational opportunities exist in the Malheur National Forest, including “gravel grinding,” or bicycling on a mix of asphalt, gravel, dirt and single-track roads and trails. Harrison said she’s working with local U.S. Forest Service staff to recommend activities that won’t interfere with the agency’s forest-management efforts. She added that the forest’s roads are wide
enough to safely accommodate both bicycles and automobiles.
In addition to promoting Harney County’s wonders on the chamber’s website, Harrison plans to add the information to the Eastern Oregon Visitor Guide, explaining that Harney County has its own section in the guide. Harrison said Travel Oregon may also publish an article about Harney County’s wonders, which could bring national and international attention to the area.
She said the idea is intended to bring tourists to Harney County, which could help create economic growth, as tourism dollars “trickle down” to benefit the community as a whole. She added that some visitors may even decide to set up shop in the area.
“What I hope is that, as The Seven Wonders draw in people, they will see the opportunity that is available in Harney County,” Harrison said.
She said she also plans to promote agriculturally-based tourism, explaining that people around the world have expressed interest in learning more about ranching and the rural way of life.
In addition to its rugged allure, Harrison said Harney County offers a strong sense of community.
“This community embraces people,” she said. “It’s amazing how it embraces people. People come in and say, ‘This is such a nice town, and
there are very nice people here.’”
She added that visitors have reported receiving a level of customer service from local merchants that is unmatched in other areas.
But locals need not worry about a population influx, as Harrison said most of the travelers who will be brought in by the tourism promotion will not opt to move here.
Instead, The Seven Wonders of Harney County will offer residents an opportunity to show off their people and places and remember why they choose to live here.