The Umatilla County economic development office is in the process of growing a new limb, in the form of a tourism committee. The new body will be accountable to the Board of Commissioners and comprise representatives from every community in the county.

The board believes in not only the power of the new group's concerted efforts, but that there are things to do in Umatilla County.

"I believe we have a lot to offer ... from historic sites to world events," said County Commissioner Bill Hansell.

To understand the newly appointed Umatilla County Tourism Committee, it helps to know the history of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee. The one would not exist without the other.

In 1999, the Board of Commissioners appointed a trusted group of citizens to prepare for the bicentennial commemoration of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition, in such a way that would involve all of the communities in the county.

Starting with a big idea - the creation of an interpretive center at historic Hat Rock that was found to be impracticable - the group quickly learned to set their sights on attainable goals.

Over the next seven years, they collaborated and got their hands dirty in a variety of history-related projects, establishing a 17-mile commemorative trail along the Columbia River and, more recently, a network of eight informational kiosks set up throughout the county that direct visitors to both nearby and county-wide places of interest. Some of those still are being finished.

They also hosted field trips and events, including a Trace the Trail gathering at historic Hat Rock that drew more than 500 visitors. As part of that event, they invited kayakers on a trip down the Columbia River, guided by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

"It was a grassroots, bottom-up approach," said Hansell about the committee.

Moreover, during their seven-year tenure, they accumulated $763,076 from grants and donations, including $174,000 from the county.

"They appointed us and asked us to do something, and by golly we delivered it," said former committee chair Sam Pambrun. "And that doesn't always happen."

So when the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee went before the Board of Commissioners in December 2006 and offered to establish a tourism committee, the board was interested.

Since that December meeting, a task force has worked to establish a constitution and bylaws, draft a work plan and appoint group representatives, who are approved by the board. The makeup of community representatives varies from city managers to local business leaders.

The work plan proposes several actions to promote events, such as a Web site, but also says the committee will meet with all of the city councils.

"The committee is committed to going to every community and asking instead of telling," said Pambrun. "It could be the best public relations the county commissioners ever had."

Pambrun said he was not a representative of the new committee, but maintained his opinion that the best marketing and communications was face to face.

"What members of our community happen to be really good at is sweat equity," said Pambrun. "I mean, they show up in mass. And they hike around. And they direct traffic. And they sit at the Umatilla County Fair with a booth."

Kathy Ferge, former coordinator for the Lewis and Clark committee, explained the relationship with small cities in economic terms.

"Tourism dollars are huge; we're talking multi-million dollars," Ferge said. "We need to continue to garner our share of those and spread those out beyond the big communities."

Whereas small communities such as her town of Echo have things to do for tourists, said Ferge, they have no hotels. Coordinated efforts could benefit all involved.

"It has the potential of being a very good economic development piece that has largely been untapped," she said.

All of the items developed by the task force were presented to the county commissioners on July 2. The county commissioners are processing those items and will meet with the committee after Aug. 1.

Ferge said the official committee likely will gather for the first time at the end of that month.

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