Travel Oregon works to measure impact of 2017 wildfires on outdoor tourism

Eugene looking east from Skinner’s Butte at midday on Sunday. The smoke is from several nearby forest fires. Photo by Dan Morrison, Oregon News Lab

EUGENE, Ore. - Summer 2017 was smoked out.

It seems like from August to October, it was all hazy days and roaring flames.

Not very good for a round of golf or a romp outside - or for Oregon's booming outdoor tourism industry.

That's why Travel Oregon is asking business owners to help them learn how much the 2017 wildfires affected Oregon's tourism industry, and what that means for our state's economy. | TAKE THE SURVEY

"It was a negative situation in that people cancelling their reservations, leaving early, not showing up at all," said Andy Vobora with Travel Lane County.

Vobora heard about it firsthand talking with businesses up and down the McKenzie River.

"So we really did see that effect from those folks who had their plans canceled," he said.

The smoke hit the Oregon Aviation Historical Society in Cottage Grove especially hard.

"A couple of our guys turned around at the Columbia Gorge as that wall of smoke was just too much for them to get through," said Cassandra Barrong with the aviation society.

The society thrives in the summer. But last summer it was a different story.

The smoke made flight borderline impossible.

"It was pretty awful," Barrong said. "We tried to keep the doors shut whenever possible; we told people when it was too unsafe to fly, please don't."

Fewer planes meant fewer visitors and fewer donations.

Similar scenarios played out across the state.

The Sisters Folk Festival was canceled for the first time in its 22 year history.

Cycle Oregon canceled its week-long ride for the first time in its 30-year history.

The Cuthbert Amphitheater canceled a performance by the Gipsy Kings.

Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat closed due to danger from a nearby fire.

And Highway 242 - the historic and scenic McKenzie Pass Highway - is subject to an "indefinite closure" due to impacts from forest fires.

The lasting impact on the economy is not yet known.

"We're still concerned about those businesses," Vobora said. "We had some of our members up the McKenzie drop their membership because the impact on them financially was so difficult."

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