‘Build it, and they will com’

Washougal resident proposes Lewis and Clark statue

timestamp icon
category icon Columns

We moved from Bemidji, Minn., in 1986 and chose Camas for a number of reasons. But upon looking around, I wondered where the tourist sites were. Where are the statues? What I didn’t realize at the time was the same beauty that attracted us is in fact the tourist area of the entire Pacific Northwest.

In addition to 10,000 lakes, Minnesota is big on statues. Bemidji boasts a 20 foot statue of Paul Bunyan and a smaller Blue Ox Babe, the likeness of which you may have seen in an Obamacare TV ad.

Many towns in Minnesota feature the world’s largest whatever they choose to promote e.g. walleye, loon, even Cinderella.

Bemidji has a population of 12,000 with a local draw of 40,000. 45,000 tourists from 29 states visited their Paul Bunyan park in 2012 and tourism contributes $24 million to the economy accounting for one-third of the retail revenue.

Clark County receives $800 million in revenue with about half accounted for by “visitors.” Are the visitors destination bound, or do they stop for gas and food and leave? With due respect to Officer’s Row, Pearson Air Park and Pendleton Mills, this area is missing a must-see destination point such as Multnomah Falls, Maryhill or the Portland Art Museum.

According to the Chamber of Commerce person I spoke to in Bemidji, when they come to work at 9 a.m. in the height of the summer season, people are lined up to take pictures in front of the statues. A 24-hour webcam is in place for the world to see. The spokesperson said when the cam is down they get calls from all over the world wondering what happened. Can you imagine the impact of a 24-hour webcam beaming the statues and placards describing our Lewis and Clark pageant around the world?

Paul Bunyan is lore. We have an important piece of history at our disposal in the Lewis and Clark exploration including Sacajawea, Sgt. York and their pet dog. Where are their statues? There is a nice statue of Lewis and Clark at Seaside pointing at the ocean, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate if that presentation was inland? There are 4 million residents in the metro area. Wouldn’t every one of them want to come see a presentation of the Lewis and Clark group experiencing the historic journey?

What happens when people visit an attraction? Out come the cameras and they go click-click-click. Can you imagine the economic impact on our high unemployment county? The retail dynamic would change since a shopping center and big box stores would likely be absent. What would occur is what you see at the beach: storefront after storefront selling that which their clientele demands. Possibly a year-round arcade/carnival would be an attraction. If condos and offices were part of the configuration, structures need to be created for noise control. Trees are a natural because they would also form part of the park and ecologically take carbon dioxide from the air.

I have spoken of statue building since we arrived here 27 years ago, but till now there really wasn’t a location suitable for such a venture. Now there is –the former Hambleton Lumber property along SR-14 couched between Mt. Hood and the Pacific Ocean, and close to interstate highways. There is not a comparable attraction in the area and it would complement the offerings in place.

To appreciate the venture, it has to be lived, and I have, running a business in Bemidji so I know it works. Without that living input it may seem a grandiose idea. Hopefully, it will be a small matter for the port authorities to check out my proposal to see if it is viable here.

I suspect the venture would be a smashing success. I offer the well worn phrase “Build it and they will come.” By the tens of thousands. Type “Bemidji MN Chamber of Commerce” in your search engine and you will see what they have to offer.