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Community organizations collaborate on improving river experiences along the Clackamas through new program

ARCHIVE PHOTO - Whitewater activities are popular on the Clackamas River. Community leaders are working on an ambassador program to connect visitors to the river with information about stewardship and safety.

A future program along the Clackamas River will increase visitor knowledge and safety as they embark on adventures on the wild and scenic body of water.

After several meetings earlier this year, participants in Travel Oregon's Clackamas River Studio have opted to implement a trailhead ambassador program at popular spots on the river. Leaders hope to have a pilot version of the program next spring and then expand it in later months.

"It will create a better user experience for everyone involved," said Jeannie Panchal, a development specialist for Clackamas County Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

Though several details of the trailhead ambassador program on the Clackamas River still need to be determined, Travel Oregon has collaborated with community partners to implement a similar program in the Columbia River Gorge.

Andrew Grossmann, a destination management specialist for Travel Oregon, said the program is helpful in increasing visitor awareness of best practices while spending time in nature.

"We're seeing visitor behavior in destinations with unintended negative consequences, and one reason why this probably exists is a lack of educational opportunities and awareness," he added.

The Columbia River Gorge program began in 2018. Last year, 94 volunteer ambassadors were stationed at 10 trailheads in the area. Over the course of 1,900 hours of time, they connected approximately 24,000 visitors with information about proper supplies for hiking, preserving the natural environment and reducing congestion in popular areas.

ARCHIVE PHOTO - The future ambassador program on the Clackamas River will connect visitors with information to improve their time on the river.

"As visitors walk through, they're invited to talk to these folks," he said. "It's a really important visitor experience for these trails. People often come unprepared, and they receive a really nice customer service opportunity that makes their stay better. People are walking on these trails more aware."

Trailhead ambassador programs also exist at Forest Park in Portland, the Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon and the Oregon Coast.

Those involved with the Clackamas River trailhead ambassador program noted that volunteers will be stationed near popular areas of the river, though specific locations will be determined in the future. Their messages will likely focus on river stewardship and safety.

"We'll have information about how to recreate safely and well on the river," said Alexa Carey, director of community-based services for Travel Oregon.

In November, leaders in the Clackamas River region will apply for a grant from Travel Oregon to help develop the trailhead ambassador program.

Creating opportunities along the river

During three meetings in April, participants in the Clackamas River Studio collaborated to identify priorities for the river.

"The studio was an opportunity to bring together stakeholders to address the needs and gaps people were experiencing on the Clackamas," said Carey. "We were fortunate to have so many different people at the table."

The group consisted of representatives from Clackamas County Tourism, the Downtown Estacada Commission, Estacada Chamber of Commerce, City of Estacada, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, Mt. Hood National Forest, Sandy River Watershed Council, Clackamas County Economic Development, Oregon State Marine Board, City of Oregon City, Mount Hood Gorge Regional Destination Marketing Organization, N.W. Whitewater Adventures, eNRG Kayaking, Oregon River Experience, Clackamas River Outfitters, Winthrop Web Services, Dave's Fly Fishing Guide Service, The Leavitt Group, Clackamas River Water Providers, Clackamas County Parks, Metro Parks & Nature, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon River Rentals, Blue Sky Rafting, Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce, A Hart Associates, Friends of the Columbia Gorge, Ron Lauzon's Fly Fishing School, the recreation community and Travel Oregon.

The main priorities determined by studio participants included connecting downtown Estacada to the river, expanding community partnerships and engagement, increasing visitor comfort and safety, expanding guided recreation opportunities and increasing communication.

Those involved found the discussions valuable for developing opportunities along the river.

"The studio brought people together, and conversations happened that weren't happening before," Panchal said. "Bringing people together was tremendous."

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