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Along the Way: Reedsport

Here’s a quote, courtesy of Nancy Hammond, vice president of the Reedsport Chamber of Commerce, that nicely sums up the character of the town: “We have the greatest fishing in Oregon. Everyone says that, but we can prove it.”

There’s a distinct flavor of local pride in Reedsport, and it’s not the manufactured-for-tourists kind. This is a coastal community that’s not on the coast, a natural wonderland that is often overlooked, and a tourism destination even though many residents want to keep it a secret.

But let’s go back to that claim. Nancy explains that the state’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife keeps track of “catch ratios” – number of fish caught compared to number of boats fishing – and Reedsport consistently sits atop the yearly rankings. Locals call the town “The Sportsman’s Secret.”

It was that very bounty that led the Kuuich Indians, the first residents of the area, to settle there. The abundant salmon fishing, along with the milder weather from being slightly inland from the ocean, attracted the tribe. And those factors have not changed over the centuries.

Sited at the mouth of the Umpqua River, Reedsport is three miles from Winchester Bay, the nearest ocean access. And its economy has historically been based on fishing and timber, which is why you won’t find a “tourist strip” along the highway filled with T-shirt and knick-knack shops. This is a working town, where commercial fishing or the timber mill in nearby Gardiner provided work for most locals, who preferred to keep the natural resources to themselves.

But the timber industry soured, and fishing declined somewhat over time. And so Reedsport began to embrace tourism – “out of necessity,” Nancy says. “We needed to import an economy; by default, it was tourism.”

Not that Reedsport hasn’t thrown itself headlong into promoting its bounty of nature and activities. Chamber manager Robin Dollar proudly declares that her organization has “more events than any Chamber of Commerce in Oregon.” That includes award-winning events such as Confluence, a February festival of wine, beer, seafood and music; the Oregon Divisional Chainsaw Sculpting Championships, held every Father’s Day weekend; and DuneFest (Aug. 3-7, 2011), a celebration of the Oregon Dunes that won an award as “Best Sporting Event in Oregon.”

The nearby Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area features 50 miles of shifting coastal dunes, including the tallest dunes in the nation – up to 500 feet tall. The dunes are a Mecca for ATV riders, with designated riding areas and many rental companies for visitors. The Umpqua Discovery Center in Reedsport offers fascinating information on nature, Native Americans and the history of the area. And, of course, you can catch fish, oysters and crabs if you’re feeling like truly fresh seafood.

As part of the push to embrace tourism, the city is making strides toward sprucing up its Old Town area, which features an art gallery and eclectic shops.

But in the end, what makes Reedsport a great place to live or visit is its authenticity. “It has a small-town feel that isn’t covered up by ‘charm,'” Nancy says.

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