San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan

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San Juan County is creating a Destination Management Plan (SDMP) to thoughtfully guide visitation that both supports and enhances the unique quality of life, environment, and cultural heritage of the San Juan Islands.

The goal for this project is to deliver a plan of action to visitation that meets the needs of our community, environment, economy, and visitors. The San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan will lay out a shared community vision, goals, and implementation measures to thoughtfully guide sustainable tourism in the San Juan Islands, now and into the future.


Tourism is a major economic driver in the County

San Juan County is creating a Destination Management Plan (SDMP) to thoughtfully guide visitation that both supports and enhances the unique quality of life, environment, and cultural heritage of the San Juan Islands.

The goal for this project is to deliver a plan of action to visitation that meets the needs of our community, environment, economy, and visitors. The San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan will lay out a shared community vision, goals, and implementation measures to thoughtfully guide sustainable tourism in the San Juan Islands, now and into the future.


Tourism is a major economic driver in the County that helps support year-round livability for Island residents. It is also a management challenge for our sensitive natural and cultural resources, our limited public and utility infrastructure, and for those seeking consistent employment and affordable housing in the Islands. Each of the ferry-served island communities in the County hold differing interests and preferences regarding tourism but retain commonly held values they wish to protect. Coast Salish Tribes also wish to protect their ancestral lands and waters, and the rights they hold here. The County will work with Tribes on a government-to-government basis to gather input and facilitate engagement with the formation of the County’s Destination Management Plan.

The County and its partners began engaging the community in this effort in 2016, and have completed multiple surveys, public engagement events, and information gathering. This Plan builds off the extensive work and recommendations already completed.

Funding

The total estimated budget for both phases of the project is $200,000. LTAC voted in favor of requesting approval of an updated total project budget to this amount at the December 16, 2021 meeting. The work is being executed under the Department of Environmental Stewardship.


  • Highlighted Resource: Amenity Trap report

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    In May 2023, Headwaters Economics released an insightful report - Amenity Trap: How high-amenity communities can avoid being loved to death. This report captures the paradox of a place with natural attractions that make it a great place to live but also threaten it with being “loved to death” (known as the amenity trap). From the report's Executive Summary:

    More than ever, people are visiting and moving to places with inspiring natural amenities: forests, lakes, beaches, trails, and wildlife. The influx of tourists and new residents into these cities and small towns brings economic opportunities and can create a positive feedback loop whereby new businesses and services make a place even more attractive. It can also come with serious drawbacks.

    More people and new development can put pressures on existing infrastructure and contribute to growing inequality, including dramatic increases in housing costs that force long-time residents out or into the crisis of homelessness. Fiscal health, public discourse, and community well-being can be overcome with challenges.

    The paradox of a place with natural attractions that make it a great place to live but also threaten it with being “loved to death” is what is known as the amenity trap.

    The amenity trap is confounding more communities across the United States than ever before. This report offers a detailed examination of the problem by highlighting the challenges of housing, infrastructure, fiscal policy, and natural disasters. It also explores proven solutions from amenity communities across the country that leaders can adopt as they try to circumvent the problems caused by rapid growth in population and tourism.

    You can find the document included in our Background Resources here.

  • San Juan County Responds to Public’s Feedback on Destination Management Plan

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    San Juan County would like to acknowledge the public response to the Preliminary Draft San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan (SDMP) and thank those community members who have taken the time to submit feedback, ask questions, and engage in the conversation about the islands’ future.

    The Preliminary Draft SDMP

    The preliminary draft of the Destination Management Plan is a component of a larger, broader effort by the County to proactively consider the islands’ future. This effort includes climate science and adaptation strategies, capital investment prioritization, and community planning that will guide the County now and into the next 150 years.

    The preliminary draft received over 900 comments from islanders on every island as well as mainlanders. County staff are analyzing each component of the robust feedback received to understand public sentiment and priorities.

    Major recurring comments include concerns with ferry service, affordable housing, and resident livability; desire for harnessing revenue from visitors and mitigating impacts; and interest in further research around capacity metrics and feasibility of some proposed ideas.

    The preliminary draft Plan provides a framework for discussion, identifies issues, and makes a number of “what if” recommendations on strategies and funding possibilities. These recommendations are subject to further Council assessment, legal review, feasibility studies, and additional public process.

    Items in the Action Table, including revenue generating proposals, can only be enacted via public process and Council action. At this time, there is no plan for Council adoption and nothing included in the preliminary draft plan is included in the 2024/2025 budget.

    Next Steps

    Staff will continue to take time to assess the diverse opinions expressed during the preliminary draft public review period. There is a clear, shared desire to continue this important conversation as a community, and the County will be working to determine how best to offer equitable participation in this ongoing work.

    The preliminary draft is still available for review and the public may continue to use the Ask a Question tool on the Engage platform.

  • Public Review Period Extended and FAQs Shared

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    SAN JUAN COUNTY, WA. September 8, 2023 – The preliminary draft of the San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan (SDMP) is currently available for public review and comment. The draft Plan is built off the feedback and recommendations received since the County and its partners began engaging the community in this effort in 2016 through multiple surveys, research, and public engagement events, including a series of community meetings last year. The goal for this project is to develop an actionable plan that meets the unique needs of our community, environment, economy, and visitors as we collectively face and must address increasing destination demand.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Several community members have asked for clarification around the revenue generating proposal for a vehicle/boat/bicycle pass (similar to a Discover Pass). At this stage, we are exploring this as one of multiple options to find alternative funding for mobility needs to address increasing pressure on our public infrastructure and implement necessary management strategies. This concept is suggested for further development and no decisions have been made; public feedback, case studies, legal review, economic consultation, and implementation feasibility are among the many factors informing its development. The current estimated cost for exploratory development of the program is $5,000; the fee to users has yet to be determined but is estimated as $10-15. This would apply to all road/marina users i.e., visitors and residents.

    This model would provide a mechanism to fund the management and infrastructure improvements needed to address impacts while tracking user numbers to help set optimal capacities. Surveys conducted in 2017-2020 suggest broad-based support from residents, businesses, and visitors for improvements such as separating bikes from vehicle traffic, increasing and improving marine facilities, and better parking/traffic management in towns. However, there is limited funding to implement the improvements that have been identified and prioritized by the community. In addition, the County currently does not track the number of vehicles, boats, or bicycles that use our public facilities. There is a need for real-time measurement of use levels at key locations to set capacity levels and inform decision-making.

    An FAQs page has been developed and is being updated as questions about the Plan are submitted. Community members are encouraged to review the FAQs for additional clarifying information as well as submit additional questions.

    Public Review Period Extended

    The closing date for public review is being extended to allow greater opportunity for full review of the draft Plan, and to maximize participation in public comment. The public comment period will remain open through October 31, 2023.

    During this preliminary draft stage, community feedback will help determine which actions the community will support to advance. Public participation in this process is an important part of Plan development and we appreciate citizens’ time and effort in thoughtfully reviewing and commenting on the Plan.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

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    Do you have questions after reviewing the draft Plan?

    As questions and feedback come in, we are updating the FAQs page.

    Click here to view Frequently Asked Questions

    Please review the page and if you still have a question, use the Ask a Question tab to submit it.

  • Public Review Period Open August 22 - October 31

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    supporting image

    San Juan County residents are invited to provide input on the preliminary draft of the San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan.


    View the Plan:
    The preliminary draft of the SDMP may be viewed here.


    Submit comments:

    - Via the Engage San Juan County platform
    Click on the "Submit Feedback" tab above.
    Please note that registration is required to comment on Engage.

    - Email to tourism@sanjuanco.com.

    The public review period will be open August 22 - October 31, 2023.
    (new deadline - edited from previous deadline of September 29)

    After public feedback is synthesized, the preliminary Plan will be reviewed by County Council, followed by a tribal engagement effort with Coast Salish Tribes who recognize the San Juan Islands as part of their ancestral territory to gather feedback and recommendations. A final draft will be brought to the County Council in 2024.

  • Plan Drafting & Next Steps

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    Update May 2023: Thanks to the input of our steering committee, the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan's title has been updated to the San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan (SDMP). The new title aims to capture the full breadth of visitation's impacts, benefits, and responsibilities, to the San Juan Islands as a whole.

    The gap analysis work was carried out over the winter, and we are now drafting the plan and working with consultants on the document layout and design.

    In preparing to create the plan document, we’ve reviewed other destinations’ plans, especially those facing similar challenges from tourism. The focus for our document will be measurable goals with meaningful actions.

    We anticipate sharing a draft plan for public review in June, which we will then bring to the County Council in July. This working draft will set the stage to begin guiding investments and implementing management strategies. We will carry out additional outreach and complete thoughtful consultation with Tribes, to ensure the plan is meaningful and equitable for all, before presenting a final draft to Council for adoption.


  • Plan Update: Building Out the Details

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    After the community engagement sessions, we met with County Departments and partners over the summer to build out implementation details. This included: who needs to be involved, data gaps, performance metrics, timeline, and funding needs. Our master database was updated and developed further, including tracking the crossover with other planning efforts mentioned earlier.

    We are engaging our consultants to do a deeper dive in a couple of key analysis areas:

    - Capacity Analysis: the need to identify specific capacity levels or a methodology for doing so to help retain quality of experience and avoid overbuilding of infrastructure.

    - Framework to support local purveyors: developing an identity as a niche destination in support of local operators. The aim is both to support local businesses and to expand and elevate good stewardship practices.

    Meanwhile, we encourage additional online written comments from interested individuals, businesses, or organizations so we can continue to hear from the widest variety of voices. Please email us at tourism@sanjuanco.com to share your thoughts.

  • What We Heard: Findings From the Public Engagement Sessions

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    A big thanks to all the community members who participated in our public engagement sessions this April and May for the Sustainable Tourism Management Plan. We were inspired by your engagement and commitment to our community and environment.

    A summary report of the engagement sessions has been created and may be viewed here.

    We have synthesized the outcomes and recommendations from the meetings, and now are identifying and planning for the additional analyses needed to construct the plan. The situational analysis work will be conducted this fall, and plan drafting will begin in early January with that data. We will look forward to sharing a draft plan for review in Spring 2023.

  • Community Meeting Series #3

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    Meeting #3 | 5:30 - 7:30 pm
    May 17: San Juan | May 18: Orcas | May 19: Lopez

    Thank you to all who have participated in our community meeting series! We are very grateful for all the feedback we've received.

    At Meeting #3, we reviewed strategies and shared a list of all-island, and island-specific actions identified at Meeting #2. We conducted a prioritization activity for each strategies' actions to gauge what actions were rising to the top. We ended with a full group discussion for new action ideas and to review the groupings from the prioritization activity.

    Meeting 3 Summary
    Slide deck
    Action list for prioritization activity at Meeting 3

    Recording links

  • Community Meeting Series #2

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    Meeting #2 | 5:30 - 7:30 pm
    May 10: San Juan | May 11: Orcas | May 12: Lopez

    Thank you for all your feedback and ideas shared in Meeting #2 of this series. We appreciate you all spending your weekday evenings with us!

    During Meeting #2, we presented updated vision and goal elements based on community input from Meeting 1. We presented strategy examples and options, as well as case studies from other places that we can draw inspiration from based on their solutions. We held small group discussions where participants reacted to example strategies and brainstormed new strategies and actions for the STMP.

    Meeting 2 Summary
    Slide deck
    Recording links

Page last updated: 05 Feb 2024, 01:14 PM