When folks around town told Chelsea Harrison she should apply for the Executive Director of the Harney County Chamber of Commerce position, she initially laughed it off.
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by Randy Parks
“I didn’t think about applying because I enjoyed working at The Truck Stop,” she said. “Then during the bird festival someone told me I’d be good at it, and I had support from Jen (Hoke), the outgoing director, so I went ahead and applied for the position.”
Following the interview process, Harrison was hired, and said she is excited to be in the position. “I called my mom and told her and she said I have always loved being involved with community and customer service, and now I’m getting paid for it,” Harrison laughed.
Living in a small town is a comfortable fit for Harrison as she grew up in Chester, Calif., a town of about 2,200 people located in the northern part of the state. Harrison described it as a “destination location,” offering a recreational lake, as well as hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.
Before moving to Harney County, Harrison and her husband, Norm, lived in the Reno, Nev. area, working for a landscape company. “We tried ‘city life’ for a while, but it didn’t really work,” she said. “The company began to get that corporate feel to it and we started looking elsewhere.”
The Harrisons already had friends living in Burns who kept telling them they should move here, and Norm was familiar with the area from hunting trips, so they decided to explore the possibility of relocating to Harney County.
“We came in August to look around, and what sold me was the big American flag, that shows there’s a lot of pride here, and the huge park in Hines. That’s so beautiful,” she said.
And to cap it all off, the Harrisons found a house to rent on Harrison Street in Burns. They made the move the first part of September.
Norm runs Highlander Yard Care, and the couple have four children, Jeremiah, 16, Tanner, 7, Drew, 12, and Morgan, 12.
Harrison credited her predecessor with making the transition an easy one. “Jen did a tremendous job while she was here. My goal is to enhance what Jen has already done,” Harrison said.
She noted that groups like Travel Oregon are working on ideas to involve small communities around the state, and she has already made contact with them. She has also been attending a number of community meetings. “This community stays connected,” she stated. “Everybody’s talking with everybody else to come up with common goals, and I like that.”
One aspect of the job that Harrison is especially excited about is promoting the entire county. “It’s not like this is a Burns chamber competing with a Hines chamber. My focus is on the whole county, trying to help everybody,” she said.
Harrison plans to work with the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service to utilize lands to entice outdoor enthusiasts to the area. Cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and hiking cut trails are some of the ideas being talked about.
Also on her “to-do list,” is exploring the possibility of a co-op for artists fashioned after a successful one in Chester. She explained that artists pay a minimal amount to have their works displayed at the co-op, and they all take turns working a day at the co-op selling all the art. “They only have to work one or two days a month, yet their work is on display all the time,” Harrison said.
While the isolation of the area might seem daunting to some, Harrison looks at it as a plus. “We want people to visit because our trails are better than elsewhere. Our refuge is better than others, and so on,” she said. “It’s convincing the nation our area is the best, so when they plan a trip they don’t take I-84. They come cross-country through here.”
She also plans to take advantage of the growing popularity of geocaching, a modern-day form of treasure hunting. Using a global positioning system (GPS), the “treasure hunters” locate caches in areas all over the country, as well as the world, and share their experiences online. “The younger people are the next generation of travelers, and they can use technology to have fun,” Harrison said.
Looking at all the possibilities that lie ahead, Harrison is ready to go. “What an opportunity this job is, and it almost passed me by,” she said. “This is definitely going to be as permanent a job as I can make it for me. I don’t have to re-invent the wheel, I just have to put a few more spokes in it.”