For years Wallowa County has been known as an end-of-the-road destination. Tourists have come in to Wallowa Lake and then backtracked to their next stop.
A major effort to change that reputation is being made by a national scenic byway designation called the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway. The scenic byway takes tourists on a 218-mile paved trip from La Grande to Wallowa Lake, back to Joseph and around the Wallowa Mountain Loop Road to Hells Canyon and the Snake River. From there the Scenic Byway takes the visitor to Halfway and on to Baker City.
According to Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce Director Vicki Rosgen, the goal is to attract more money-spending tourists into the county "as another form of economic development."
The Scenic Byway, however, will not help Wallowa County during its biggest time of need, the winter months, because the Loop Road is not maintained for auto traffic through the winter.
Rosgen says the Loop is generally open "from Memorial Day until the snow flies."
To help promote the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, the Oregon Tourist Commission and the National Scenic Byway Organization recently printed 25,000 colorful brochures advertising the route. They will be made available free of charge at visitor centers, chambers of commerces, motels, the Wallowa Lake Tram and museums in the three county area.
A large map and brief sketches of all of the cities and key places along the route are included on one side of the brochure. The other side describes the history, route and recreational opportunities available to visitors.
The idea of creating a Scenic Byway was originally conceived by the Forest Service some 15 years ago, said Rosgen, and first evolved into a State Scenic Byway and now into a Federal Scenic Byway. Rosgen says that grant opportunities expand markedly as the byway reaches up to the next level.
In the last two months a number of Scenic Byway signs have been erected all along the 218 mile route. The signs were designed by Forest Service Forest Landscape Architect Donna Mattson who works in Enterprise.
Rosgen said that the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway was the first All-American Road in Oregon and that there are now some 20 Scenic Byways designated in the state.