Wayfinding in Tillamook County: Connecting People to Place

Brand Story – New county tourism organization installs signage to inspire visits to coastal towns

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“Welcome,” “parking,” “one way,” “tourist office,” … When directing visitors to our towns, we focus on guiding their cars to entrances and services, and rightly so. Communities use wayfinding to create safe, smooth visitor experiences that enhance the local tourism economy.

But wayfinding can be more than that. It has the power to increase local and visitor understanding of the places in which they live and travel. A memorable visitor experience connects people to place. It creates a journey that involves both tangible and intangible factors.

Many places, especially popular destinations, offer kiosks with printed or digital maps, transportation routes, QR codes or even a visitor center hotline. Historical sites will often feature informational placards about associated figures or events.

Less commonly found, especially in rural areas, are interpretive signs that share stories about wildlife, natural resources, stewardship, local history and native peoples. 

In 2014, when Tillamook County implemented a transient lodging tax, it issued a directive to the new county-wide tourism organization, Visit Tillamook Coast: Develop a comprehensive wayfinding system. The county commissioners aimed to direct visitors to small towns across the 72-mile-long county in order to ease traffic on Highway 101, the ribbon of road that connects the entire Oregon Coast, and bring economic vitality to businesses not on that highway. 

Visit Tillamook Coast worked with Lennox Insites, a well-known wayfinding and interpretive firm that previously worked with Nehalem Bay State Park and Partners in Design, which specializes in design and fabrication specifications. Community meetings were held throughout the county to determine the types of signs residents and agencies wanted and to develop a style that reflects a comprehensive sense of place and allows each town its own identity. 

The county plan, completed in late 2016, has informed the individual city plans. 

First up was the city of Tillamook, which worked with the Oregon Department of Transportation on an alternative traffic pattern in the center of town. Tillamook used its “The Dairylands” cow logo and cheddar-orange color palette for four gateway signs located at each town entrance. 

Nehalem, a small town in north Tillamook County, was eager to share the story of its connection to the Nehalem River. In addition to gateway signs and directionals, four interpretive signs were developed: native peoples’ history, connecting mountains to ocean, living with a river and the history of the North County Recreation District swimming pool, which was built during the Great Depression to teach every child in the community to swim in response to a tragic drowning accident.

“These four stories were important to the legacy and values of the Nehalem community,” says Charles Lennox of Lennox Insites. “Interpretive signs are key to educating both residents and visitors about history, culture and stewardship, and with the intent of inspiring respect  for the place they live and visit.”

Pacific City wayfinding is being done in two phases, with Phase One focusing on the east side of the Nestucca River and Bay. During planning, community members chose to share stories of the beloved Pacific City airport and the historic Dory Fleet, the only dory boat fleet in the lower 48 states. 

Phase Two will focus on Kiwanda Drive, the road along the beach, and will commence when planned infrastructure is closer to completion. These stories will include native peoples’ history, and stewardship of land, water, recreation and the Cape Kiwanda headland.

The two most recent wayfinding projects took place in Rockaway Beach and Bay City. The Old Growth Cedar Trail in Rockaway Beach has several interpretive signs about stewardship, wildlife, flora and fauna. Along the beach, signs highlight Twin Rocks (sandstone rocks offshore) and the Emily G Reed shipwreck.

Bay City, nestled on Tillamook Bay, will soon share its history of fishing and oyster harvesting through an interpretive sign about farming the sea. 

The bay also features multiple signs that Visit Tillamook Coast developed in collaboration with Tillamook Estuaries Partnership. They share stories of ocean stewardship, fish, shellfish, shoreline habitats, ocean wildlife and birds. You can find them at waysides south of Garibaldi and on the waterfront decks at Port of Garibaldi.

For more information, visit TillamookCoast.com/Wayfinding

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.