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Travel Oregon is hoping to attract more visitors and create more outdoor recreation opportunities in Southern Oregon. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

Capitalizing on the outdoors

Travel Oregon is poised to launch a new organization and marketing initiative targeting the state's outdoor recreation industry, seeking to boost recreational access and the outdoors economy statewide and in Southern Oregon.

Bolstered by a new poll that says almost 1 in 4 tourists come here specifically for outdoor recreation, the Oregon Outdoor Recreation Initiative seeks to ramp up an industry that the Outdoor Industries Association says generates $12.8 billion in consumer spending annually.

For Southern Oregon, that would mean increasing outdoor visitations and joining wine country, Crater Lake and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as main marketing draws, said Brad Niva, the new executive director of Travel Southern Oregon.

"We're wanting people who come to Crater Lake or Shakespeare to extend their stays," Niva said. "We have all these great recreation opportunities accessible right out our back door."

The program will be boosted by a new 0.8 percent tax increase on hotel rates that goes into effect July 1, Niva said.

Travel Oregon will hold a public meeting Tuesday in Ashland and in four other locales over the next month to present the initiative's goals and draw on members of the industry, as well as conservation groups and public land managers, to share their priorities and ideas, Niva said.

The Ashland meeting will be from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Southern Oregon University's Stevenson Union.

The OIA survey concludes that Oregon's outdoor recreational industries already account for 141,000 jobs, $4 billion in wages and salaries and $955 million in state and local tax revenue.

A study by Longwoods International shows that 23 percent of the people who visited Oregon cited the outdoors as the motivation for their trip, nearly double the national average of 13 percent, according to Travel Oregon.

Niva is the former owner of Rogue Wilderness Adventures, a Merlin-based outfitter, and has been a prominent proponent of rafting, kayaking and angling in Southern Oregon, particularly in the Wild and Scenic Section of the Rogue River.

But he sees myriad opportunities for other outdoor ventures, such as mountain biking, bike touring, hiking, stand-up paddleboarding and other pursuits common here to blossom into an even bigger economic cornerstone for the region.

"This has been my baby for nine or 10 years, getting more representation for the outdoor industry in Oregon," Niva said.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtfribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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