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Matt Kearny | the landscape is changing

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It’s always interesting when you see a stark example of how things change over time. It’s obviously true in the sports and recreation world as I once again discovered this past weekend.

I was taking in the Saturday sports section of the Seattle Times, and as I came to the final page, where they post the scores and standings, there was a small listing showing the qualifying times for the Gold Cup Unlimited Hydroplane race in Detroit. No story — just that.

It made me think back a few decades, to when that sport was without question the most popular in the Seattle area, and was very high on the list elsewhere in Washington. Even a race in Detroit would have made the front page of the sports section for several days, through the qualifying and the race itself. North Central Washington has had some skin in the game as well, led by the Evans family of Chelan — Norm, followed by sons Mitch and Mark covering a wide span of years.

Taking the place of hydro coverage on the Times’ front page of sports — a detailed story on LeBron James, who has virtually nothing to do with Seattle or the state, and World Cup Soccer coverage. Hmmmm.

It gave me pause to consider how the landscape here in the Wenatchee Valley is in the process of change right now, specifically the interest in outdoor recreation.

While we have always had a number of folks with a lot of passion for outdoor rec, this year advocacy and action have begun to accelerate. In just the past few months, many organizational efforts have not only sprouted, but are laying groundwork to shape the future of outdoor recreation here:

The Chelan County Public Utilities District is in the process of an incredibly well-thought-out process of examining nearly all aspects of its operation. Several ‘topic teams’ have been formed to analyze the future of subjects such as fiber and telecommunications, electrification, and yes, parks and recreation. The Chelan PUD owns or operates 14 recreational facilities, and their parks cover more than 700 acres. What is the best usage for these incredible assets as we move forward? Recommendations will be made by that topic team, which consists of key PUD personnel as well as members of the public sector.

Earlier this year, the Wenatchee Valley Outdoor Alliance was formed. The need for open communication between the many entities involved in outdoor recreation (cycling, hiking, running and paddling, to name a few) was a driving force behind its creation. The benefits are many. An obvious one is close to one of my charges, and that is to have coordination so that multiple events are not scheduled at the same time. This can affect hotel availability (or lack of), availability of volunteers, or has the potential to geographically stress certain areas, be it trails, roads, athletic fields or even parking lots. That example is just one of the challenges the group is openly discussing and taking action on.

Meanwhile, on the state level, a governor’s task force on outdoor recreation was formed in February. Among the goals of this statewide effort is to implement an action plan to develop Washington’s outdoor recreation assets and state programs to help encourage more active lifestyles and provide economic impact. They have commissioned a study on the economic impact outdoor recreation has in Washington. I am confident their findings will be a real eye-opener. More than 30 organizations and residents provided public comment at the task force’s Wenatchee meetings last week, again showing the passion the subject generates here locally.

There have been many motivated groups and individuals over the years that have had great vision providing us a top-notch foundation for outdoor recreation in the Wenatchee Valley. The newer wave includes the likes of Run Wenatchee, which has a free Thursday evening run/walk program that typically has more than 200 participants. Wenatchee Outdoors is another, the leader behind the WVOA and a tremendous advocate for getting people outdoors. Then there’s Wenatchee Valley Trails, a diverse group deeply involved with not only planning trail systems, but having a clear strategy on maintaining them well into the future. A two-countywide effort, Complete Streets, promoting street designs that emphasize safety for cyclists and walkers, has been gaining momentum. Consider the dozens of fishing guides who generate a tremendous amount of exposure and sports tourism spending here. The Complete the Loop Coalition, Wenatchee Row & Paddle, Wenatchee Velo, Mission Ridge ... the list goes on and on. There’s even been talk of possibly revitalizing the Ridge to River Relay in some form.

The landscape is changing, and it won’t be by accident or coincidence that you will be seeing increased media coverage of outdoor rec here. A lot of people have a lot of passion for it, and it is a multi-million dollar industry in terms of sports tourism, job creation and increased tax revenues. Those components alone will help drive the story of its continuing evolution in the Wenatchee Valley to top-of-mind awareness.

Matt Kearny is coordinator of sports tourism for the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at 509-662-2116 or matt@wenatchee.org.

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