Frequently Asked Questions

    1. How did this work come about? Why is the preliminary draft called the SJI Destination Management Plan?

    The County and its partners began engaging the community in this effort in 2016, and have completed multiple surveys, conducted research, and held public engagement events, including a series of community meetings last year. Several guiding documents (detailed in Section 2.0) helped form the basis. The draft Plan builds off the feedback and recommendations received along with the extensive work already completed. Please refer to the Community Meeting Series and Background Resources sections below for further details.

    The original title has been updated from Sustainable Tourism Management Plan to Destination Management Plan to capture the full breadth of visitation's impacts, benefits, and responsibilities to the San Juan Islands as a whole. This widens our focus to managing the destination, not just the people who are visiting it, for the long-term preservation of the Islands. It also recognizes the complex makeup of our visitors, which include residents’ friends and family, seasonal and service workers, as well as traditional tourists. “Sustainable tourism” still applies to the type of visitation our community envisions.

    2. What is the purpose of the SDMP, and what are the goals?

    Our community has expressed a strong desire for a plan to address the complex challenges our visitor economy presents, to harness its' potential, and to create a meaningful framework to manage it. The purpose of this work is to deliver a roadmap to thoughtfully guide visitation that meets the needs of our community, environment, economy, and visitors, and that supports and enhances the unique quality of life, environment, and cultural heritage of the San Juan Islands.

    The Goals were created with feedback during the engagement sessions and are as follows:

    Goal 1. Protect and preserve nature to build climate resilience and a stewardship ethos.

    • Increase resilience to climate change by adapting management approaches and infrastructure, calculating the carbon footprint of actions.
    • Protect, conserve, and interconnect natural areas to ensure ecological functions, values, and cultural lifeways are maintained.
    • Manage recreation on land and at sea to balance low impact use with protection of wildlife and their habitats.

    Goal 2. Maintain a thriving, Island-based rural lifestyle by promoting community well-being and diversity.

    • Improve access to trails and bike lanes, marine facilities and local electrified mobility options to ensure multimodal transportation is accessible and affordable.
    • Manage both housing and visitor accommodation stocks so they are well-regulated, diverse, accessible, and adequately affordable to residents.
    • Foster year-round art, culture, and agricultural activities and events to promote well-being, collaboration, and learning for residents.

    Goal 3. Cultivate sustainable and authentic Island experiences that generate a sense of place.

    • Enhance the quality of Island experiences for residents and visitors with sustainable destination improvements and alternative farm and art accommodations.
    • Adapt existing infrastructure to effectively accommodate seasonal variations in use.
    • Implement stewardship actions that reflect Island values and sensitivities through visitor and resident educational initiatives, business certifications, and other related incentives.
    • Cultivate widespread positive relationship building opportunities between locals and visitors.

    Goal 4. Grow a vibrant, year-round local economy that is balanced and supports local businesses in multiple sectors.

    • Enhance the Islands’ economy by strengthening the sustainability ethos, eco-friendly niche distinction, and resilience of local businesses.
    • Support local ownership and collaborations of tourist and accommodation activities while discouraging off-Island businesses from capitalizing on Island benefits without investment.
    • Work collaboratively to ensure the visitor economy continues to reinvest in infrastructure (such as seasonal worker housing, and indoor winter activity space) and activities in the community.

    These four goals and their corresponding objectives were refined from the public engagement process of May 2022 to align with the shared values identified throughout previous surveys and other planning efforts. These goals and objectives are cross walked to specific actions outlined in the Cooperative Action Plan (Section 5.0).

    3. When is the public review period and what is it for? Is there a vote?

    Public review of the preliminary draft is open August 22 - October 31, 2023. This is an opportunity for the community to read the preliminary draft of the plan and give comments and feedback.  

    All of the feedback will be reviewed and will inform the next steps to work with the community's feedback to further refine and develop the plan.

    This is not a juncture when any kind of vote of approval or rejection is happening. We are still at a preliminary draft stage, so your comments help inform the next stage of developing this work.

    4. How can I give feedback on the preliminary plan?

    You can submit comments two ways:

    1. Via this platform - click on the "Submit Feedback" tab.
      Please note that registration is required to comment on Engage.

    2. Email to

    5. When will the Destination Management Plan be completed?

    The preliminary draft is available for public review as of August 2023. We will analyze public comment and continue community engagement to help refine the Plan. We expect the final draft to be presented to Council for adoption in 2024 after completing further engagement and tribal review, and revisions and updates have been made.

    6. How were the recommended actions created? Is the action list final and will they happen immediately?

    The recommended actions in Section 5.0: Cooperative Action Plan were identified through research, resident surveys, and input from a variety of sources, including community engagement processes implemented over the last decade (see Section 2.0: Plan Development). This includes three sets of community meetings for the ferry-served islands in 2022 where participants helped home in on strategies and potential actions and voted electronically to help set priorities.

    This is a preliminary draft, and the actions are recommendations which emerged through the plan development process. Input from the public and tribal review period will help to further refine and prioritize the strategic action.

    The plan is a synthesis of ideas and suggestions to improve tourism management in the San Juans. While actionable language is used in the Cooperative Action Plan Table, these are still proposals which will need to advance through a process of refinement through various departments for further feasibility study, prioritization and funding consideration. 

    7. Who is creating this plan and who will be responsible for carrying this out?

    County staff has been working across departments. with local partners to create the draft plan. Consultants from our region have been engaged for specific analyses and design work. No agencies outside of the Pacific Northwest have been involved in the project.

    While this work is being developed locally, it will require the County, Federal, State and local agencies, businesses, local tribes, the community and visitors to all engage and work together. Suggested owners to spearhead each of the recommended actions are noted in the draft Plan. Ultimately, all who appreciate, respect, and love the San Juan Islands and what they have to offer must commit to caring for and nurturing a sustainable management model.

    8. Are residents going to have to pay for a parking/boat/bike pass with this Plan?

    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.

    Please review Section 3: Situational Analysis and Section 4: Strategic Direction in the draft Plan for further context.

    9. What are the impacts being addressed with the pass proposal and what would that money go toward?

    The proposals for revenue generation are envisioned to be restricted funds focused on improvements to public facilities utilized by both visitors and residents to address bike lanes/trails, mobility improvements, parking and marine access improvements throughout the county.  This proposed dedicated funding would help deliver the community requests to address safety, access and connectivity issues.

    10. Can we use the lodging tax to pay for actions in the Plan?

    Washington State Law limits the use of lodging tax revenue for uses classified under tourism promotion. While some suggested actions in the Plan which advance sustainable tourism are fundable by the lodging tax, many measures and improvements in the Plan do not qualify. This is why generating ideas for a range of possible funding strategies is part of the Plan.

    11. Where does the Plan address ecological impacts of the nearly million seasonal visitors to the County? What are the plans to create an EV-based public transportation system that would make it possible for visitors to leave their cars on the mainland?

    The impacts of visitation to the islands is a foundational element the Plan is built to address. You will find consideration of ecological impacts and strategies to address climate resilience throughout the Plan. This work is being done in tandem with climate action planning, also led by the County’s Department of Environmental Stewardship, and we are cross-referencing potential actions in both projects to maximize co-benefits. Working to increase sustainable mobility options in the Islands is a high priority for both visitation and climate action. (Please see Mobility section in the Plan.) The County’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report is expected to be released in September 2023 and will help characterize the emissions related to visitation. 

    Ecological impacts of visitation are also address in the recently updated Recreation, Open Space and Stewardship (ROSS) Plan, developed by Parks, Land Bank and Environmental Stewardship, and the currently draft Marine Stewardship Area Plan in development by Environmental Stewardship and the Marine Resources Committee.

    12. What would the implementation of a County business license do? Will it cost businesses $5000?

    The County currently does not have a way to track what businesses are coming to the islands and doing business here. This would allow us to track who is coming and potentially allow us to get some metrics on their business activities and their impacts to the islands.

    The $5000 cost associated with this proposed action is the estimated cost for the County to explore and develop the program; the actual license fee would be much lower.

    13. Are the costs/budgets listed one time costs or annual costs? Does each item create a need for new funds?

    Some estimated costs for recommended actions are one-time and some are ongoing. Please refer to the Detailed Cooperative Action Plan (Appendix I) and look for these notes in the Project Type field. Additionally, some costs only encompass program exploration and development for new proposals. As projects are developed, detailed budgets will be created. 

    Not all estimated costs appearing in the Plan are new. Many actions and costs have already been incorporated into other plans, such as the Recreation, Open Space, and Stewardship (ROSS) Plan created by Parks, Land Bank and Environmental Stewardship departments. We have endeavored to cross-reference with related plans as much as possible to maximize cost savings and co-benefits. 

    14. Where can I ask a question that is not answered here?

    You can submit questions via the Ask a Question tool on this page, or email questions to

    15. Where can I find out why certain actions are being proposed?

    Appendix I: Detailed Action Plan Table Master contains expanded information for the proposed action items, including justifications for each proposal.

    16. What is "freedom camping" and how is it addressed in the draft plan?

    Freedom camping refers to vehicle-based camping in public rights of way, parking areas, and private roads. This unregulated activity often grows as accommodations become more scarce and housing more expensive. Concerns include neighborhood animosity, trespassing, security concerns, and degradation of frequently used pull-out locations.

    Action A4 acknowledges the challenges posed by increasing freedom camping and proposes the development of clear, Island-wide regulations to avoid negative local impacts. A policy is needed that helps to manage and redirect use to safe and reasonable scenarios, including consideration for homeless individuals. There also is a need to establish a method for following these trends to adjust planning and housing recommendations accordingly.

    17. Are there draft proposals to increase accommodations in the islands?

    There are some proposed accommodations in the preliminary draft, but it’s important to note that the majority of these are proposals to address seasonal worker housing shortages. (Action A2) The small amount of new campsites that are proposed for San Juan Island (Action A1) are an effort to create more equity in access with more affordable options, and these are designated as lower-impact sites such as bike-in and walk-in, to support car-free visitation.

    18. How will this plan benefit Islanders?

    This plan seeks to address the impacts locals experience from tourism by offering a framework for developing an actionable plan to manage it. This includes initiatives to support and promote local businesses, protect and preserve our environment and improve access to natural spaces, reduce the pressure of the summer surge, increase stewardship awareness for visitors, develop monitoring measures and capacity tracking, and implement infrastructure and mobility improvements to maintain and enhance the local quality of life.

    The draft plan was built on existing consensus that residents have a common appreciation for island values and shared concerns about the impacts of tourism and its unchecked growth, and priority strategies and actions offered in the plan emerged from direct community feedback during public engagement sessions.

    This will be an ongoing and public-involved process geared towards striking a balance between supporting an industry on which the local economy depends and ensuring that Island values and local interests are respected and protected.