When you start researching ideas for things to do and are planning a trip, do you wish you could just find one site that had it all? Well, that’s the idea behind Discover Lewis County.

Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund explains that one day a question was asked – “How would visitors find out about us?” So the county invited bids to create a website that would house Lewis County visitor information. The winning bid came from an unexpected source – the Information Technology (IT) Department, which really felt it could offer a great idea and great service with financial support for another position. So the contract was awarded to them.

Willapa Hills Trail
Discover Lewis County helps visitors discover wonderful trails, like the Willapa Hills Trail. Photo courtesy: Discover Lewis County

Funding for the program takes a lot into consideration. It is funded by lodging taxes for all of unincorporated Lewis County, and by general fund dollars for the cities. “Legally we can’t use lodging taxes for the cities,” says Edna. “But it also wouldn’t have made sense to exclude the cities when we want to cover the whole county. That’s why the general fund helps out.”

“Often when you have a website, you have to contract out to other places, sometimes as far away as Seattle. If there’s a problem with the site, you have to contact the contractor and work on a solution, which can take a while. With the IT department running the site, as soon as an issue is discovered, they can immediately fix it,” Edna explains. “We have very talented staff.”

Enticing visitors to come to Lewis County is really up to local communities. Washington is the only state with no Visitor and Convention Bureau to work on tourism. “But the legislature is working on that again this year,” smiles Edna.

Hummocks Trail
Discover Lewis County tells you how to get up close and personal with Mt. St. Helens on the Hummocks Trail. Photo courtesy: Discovery Lewis County

Steve Wohld, IT Executive Director, is in charge of the website, and is very excited about how it is going. “We knew we could build it frugally, and can take care of re-designs ourselves. First of all, we wanted to get a good site up and running, and make it easy to navigate. We did that and now we are focused on content and SEO.” SEO stands for search engine optimization and that means using specific words in the content and on the website so that when someone is searching for information on a subject, your site is the first to pop up.

The IT department also took old surplus county computers and created tourism kiosks. C.J. Neer at the Packwood Visitor Center, where the kiosks were tested first, can’t praise them enough. “We can have 10 to 20 people at a time in here, and with only one staff person, it can get hectic. But with the kiosk, we can tell folks to check out the hikes and lodging on it while they’re waiting their turn to be helped. It really is like having an extra staff person on-site.” This program will be expanding to other high traffic areas in the county, too.

Discover Lewis County helps visitors as well as residents find the best spots for canoeing and kayaking. Photo courtesy: Discover Lewis County

“Some folks have no idea what we have,” Edna explains, “but we have the volcano, hiking, biking, skiing, fishing and hunting. We are rebranding Lewis County as a Washington hidden treasure. We want folks to think of it for outdoor adventure. We have that small community culture all over but with lots of fun stuff to do.”

Discover Lewis County also partners with and cross-promotes anywhere it can, such as working with the Economic Development Council, White Pass Scenic Byway and Lewis County Community Trails.

The online statistics are showing phenomenal growth, especially recently. On their Facebook page, the most-read article was Five Hikes to Do in Any Weather. In December of 2016, 8,361 viewers had clicked on that post with a total reach of over 100,000 people. By early February 2017, it had more than doubled to 17,106 clicks with a total reach of nearly 300,000 people. In that same time period, their followers jumped from 16,000 to 20,000.

Cowlitz River
Discover Lewis County helps spread the word that the county has some of the best fishing in the state. Many people catch bragging-size fish at Barrier Dam. Photo courtesy: Discovery Lewis County

Furthermore, in this timeframe, the website increased an additional 20,000 page views. Statistics also show while people from all over the world look at the site, most of the viewers are within driving distance. Wohld also reports that in the past year or so, “Around 4,600 people transferred to the ‘Where Can I Stay’ section, so that shows they’re looking to stay where they will also be paying the lodging tax that funds this program.”

“We’re the only website with all lodging and all restaurants in Lewis County,” says Wohld. “And if they see we’ve inadvertently missed their lodging or restaurant, we would like to know that so we can fix it right away. We also want to include every event out for the next 18 months, so we really want people to submit them to us as soon as they can.”

Emu Ranch
Discover Lewis County will be letting more visitors know about the burgeoning Agritourism scene in the county, such as the 3 Feathers Emu Ranch. Photo courtesy: Discover Lewis County

The website can be searched by various criteria such as region or cost. It has Yelp reviews and dollar amounts where available. “We continue to develop the content more richly,” says Wohld. “We’ll be adding a section for Family Adventures soon, and that is by the request of a reader. We intend Discover Lewis County to act as your personal tour guide for the area.”

(No county funds were used for this story. Edna bid on the item at an auction and donated it to tell the story of Discover Lewis County.)


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