New billboard designed to lure travelers away from I-84

By ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald October 31, 2008 04:56 pm

The sign should be in place near Exit 302 within a week to 10 days


A new billboard encourages travelers to get off the freeway and visit Baker City and its historic downtown, which the sign proclaims is “Far From Ordinary, Close To Home.”

“What all the excitement is about is the logo chosen by the Baker County Development Corporation featuring the branding we have used,” said Ann Mehaffy, executive director of Historic Baker City Inc., which has led downtown historic preservation efforts since 1981.

“We are trying to get people off the freeway. If we get them off the freeway to visit Historic Baker City, it will get them to explore the rest of Baker County,” Mehaffy said.

She said the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is the area’s No. 1 tourist attraction that lures travelers away from Interstate 84, and the downtown historic district ranks second.

The new billboard will be placed about 100 yards west of the Exit 302, the North Baker City interchange, but it will be visible to traffic heading east on I-84, as well as those who take Exit 302.

The sign probably will be installed within a week to 10 days, said Andrew Bryan, marketing director for Baker County.

Bryan said the Baker County Development Corporation’s marketing board approved a one-year, $225 per month billboard contract starting Nov. 1 with Meadows Sign Co.

“The board wanted to do something to let people know Baker City truly is a historic place,” Bryan said.

Previously, the billboard featured a suicide prevention message, but Bryan said the group sponsoring that message dropped the last year of its contract in October, so the marketing board decided to lease the billboard for at least one year.

As part of the contract, Meadows Sign Co., is creating the billboard image from materials provided by the marketing board, including a logo provided by Historic Baker City Inc., Bryan said.

“Yes, we used the Historic Baker City logo, but only the graphic,” he said. “The message we are really trying to get out is ‘get of the freeway and come to Baker City.’

“We know from previous surveys that when people get off the freeway to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center or Historic Baker City, they get on some of the back country roads and explore the Sumpter Valley Railroad, Hells Canyon, Halfway and other attractions,” Bryan said.

He said the billboard message, “Far From Ordinary, Close To Home,” is intended to let travelers know that “we are not just a typical place, but we are an authentic place that gives you a sense of home and a sense of history.”

“You could make the argument that we are one of the last great authentic communities,” Bryan said.

While quite a few towns put up signs urging travelers to visit their historic downtowns, Bryan said when people get there it’s often a letdown because there’s so few historic buildings left.

That’s not the case with Baker City.

“Baker City has one of the largest commercial historic districts in Oregon,” Mehaffy said. “We have 110 buildings in our historic district, and to my knowledge more than 80 have had large or small renovations.”

She said many people who visit downtown Baker City express awe at how large the historic district is and how authentic the buildings are, compared to much smaller historic districts in some of the nation’s largest cities.

In addition to “piggy backing” on the Historic Baker City theme, Bryan said the marketing plan he is working on for 2009 will also complement campaigns for other area tourist destinations, such as the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Geiser Grand Hotel, Ski Anthony Lakes, Hells Canyon, Halfway, Sumpter Valley, including the railroad and dredge, and the area’s cattle ranching tradition complete with cattle drives, guest ranches and places like the Haines Steak House.

Eventually he’d like to see billboards promoting multiple attractions, along with the historic downtown theme, Bryan said.

“When we strengthen these brands all throughout the county, travelers will be able to connect the dots,” Bryan said, adding that a “Visit Baker” Web site, one of the things the marketing committee is working on, will help travelers connect the dots of things to do and see in Baker County.

The “Visit Baker” Web site will be a portal where travelers can find links to all the marque attractions in Baker County,” Bryan said.

He’s also planning to promote a new brand in the county’s 2009 marketing plan called “Boot Camp Baker,” which will promote Baker County’s wide array of outdoor activities available during every season, including:

n  Winter: downhill and alpine skiing, snowshoeing and riding snowmobiles.

n  Spring, summer and fall: Riding four-wheelers or dirt bikes across the sage-covered rangelands or going backpacking, bird watching, hunting and fishing, traveling scenic byways, water sports, camping, visiting ghost towns, panning for gold, or riding horses and herding cattle at a guest ranch.

The new marketing plan Bryan is working on will do more to promote outfitters who provide services for people interested in guided fishing, hunting or backpacking excursions in the mountains, where visitors might catch sight of deer and elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, hawks and bald eagles, or even a wily coyote or elusive cougar.

“Outdoor recreation opportunities are becoming a pretty major focus of our economic development,” Bryan said.