By Rick Stedman
Having Mount Rainier in Eatonville’s backyard is a godsend to the area, not only for its intrinsic beauty and recreational opportunities, but also for the tremendous economic benefit.
A recent National Park Service report revealed that in 2018, 1.5 million visitors to Mount Rainier National Park spent $54.9 million in communities near the park. The report also said spending supported 599 jobs in the local area and had a cumulative benefit to the local economy of $68.4 million.
“Mount Rainier attracts visitors from across the U.S. and around the world,” says Alana Smith, president of the Greater Eatonville Chamber of Commerce. “Many local residents enjoy all the park has to offer on a regular basis. The destination is Mount Rainier, but along the way they also enjoy connecting with our local community of Eatonville.”
Despite living in the shadow of Mount Rainier, many Eatonville area business owners find it challenging to capture the residual benefits from that gift of Mother Nature.
“Eatonville has some challenges in capturing park visitors,” Alana says. “The general thoroughfare through town bypasses the downtown district, which is home to many great businesses.
“The Eatonville Chamber board members and business owners spend a significant amount of time trying to develop ways to persuade visitors to stop in Eatonville, but we haven’t developed any real solution to that problem yet.”
She says Eatonville lacks adequate lodging and weekend activities that might attract potential visitors. Improvements could encourage visitors to spend more time and money in the community.
Eatonville and surrounding communities stand to benefit from the recent marketing efforts of Pierce County officials. Last October, the county introduced its new marketing brand: Travel Tacoma—Mount Rainier Tourism and Sports. The new tagline is “Mountain City Sea.” The organizations formerly known separately as Travel Tacoma + Pierce County and the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission joined forces in this effort.
According to Dean Burke, president and CEO of Travel Tacoma—Mount Rainier Tourism and Sports, Mount Rainier offers a mental picture of the area.
“The mountain sells itself—along with everything in its shadow—and it is a giant beacon that’s always present,” he says. “Using the word ‘county’ when describing Pierce County doesn’t spark an image with visitors from outside the region. We’ve done various tests to see if someone can actually name the last out-of-state county they visited, and nobody has an answer to that. Pierce County is no different.”
Dean brought the Mountain City Sea tagline from his previous role as executive director of the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission.
He says not many places around the country offer close proximity to mountain, city and sea at once. The tagline encompasses all three elements.
Pierce County officials have a plan to market the entire region, which is a benefit for all. However, for the communities in and around Eatonville— including Kapowsin, Graham, Roy, Orting, Ashford and McKenna—the benefits of Mount Rainier’s proximity are immense.
“National park tourism is a significant driver in the national economy, returning $10 for every $1 invested in the National Park Service, and it’s a big factor in our local economy as well,” says Mount Rainier National Park Superintendent Chip Jenkins. “We appreciate the partnership and support of our neighbors and are glad to be able to give back by helping to sustain local communities.”
The Eatonville Chamber recognizes those efforts.
“The National Park helps to raise the standard of living, provide volunteer opportunities and attract workers and businesses to our area,” Alana says. “Mount Rainier continues to positively impact our community by providing places to meet with friends and family, spaces to experience and reconnect with nature, and find places where they can get a great meal along with supporting local businesses.”
New businesses continue looking at the area.
“Mill Haus Cider Co. will be breaking ground in the near future, which will be a great local and tourist attraction,” Alana says. “Also, the Scenic Railroad is coming to Eatonville in the next few years, which could possibly be a real game-changer.”