Rural Tourism Study

Notice: This page refers to a project or program that is no longer active. As of 01/01/2018, this page is no longer actively maintained by Washington County. It is retained for historical reference only.
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About the Study

In late 2014, the Washington County Board of Commissioners authorized the Department of Land Use & Transportation to conduct a study, funded in part by the Washington County Visitors Association. The study was intended to explore the extent of rural tourism already in operation here, how the industry might be evolving, and community preferences for potential checks and balances. The study scope includes examination of existing, trending and desired conditions for agriculture, tourism, and their interface throughout rural Washington County, and research related to existing and upcoming legislation. Understanding that protection of rich and vital farmlands is paramount, the study also looks at practices for minimizing potential impacts of tourism on agriculture. 

The study grew out of County outreach efforts in 2013, related to possible implementation of state Senate Bill 960 (2011). That legislation allows counties to develop a regulatory framework for agritourism (certain commercial event/activities in conjunction with farming) on resource farmlands.

The outreach generated diverse interests and concerns, including a number related to rural lands and tourism activities beyond the scope of the Senate bill, suggesting that a broader look at rural tourism was in order.

For the purposes of the study, rural tourism was regarded broadly as activities above and beyond traditional farm and ranch use that draw visitors to rural lands. Examples include farm-to-fork dinners, corporate and celebratory gatherings, recreational events, farm stand visits, overnight stays and other tourism-related events/activities that occur in the County's farm, ranch and forest areas.

To gain insight, the study employed standard statistical research/analysis methods as well as outreach through a citizen work group, focus group, and personal interviews. These included a sample of farmers, ranchers, winemakers, various rural tourism practitioners and other small commercial interests reflecting a diverse range of rural locations, land use districts, practices and perspectives. The focus group and individual interviews were designed to provide all participants the opportunity to safely raise ideas, concerns, hopes and goals.

The Rural Tourism Study Report, released in May 2016, presents findings of the study. It was intended as a tool to facilitate broader conversation in the community. The report was not designed to be a plan, but primarily to increase understanding of the nature and scale of rural tourism in Washington County and rural community perspectives on it. A public comment period was open through Sept. 30. Comments received augment viewpoints reflected in the report, painting a more complete picture of community preferences and concerns surrounding rural tourism and will help to inform Board consideration of potential future actions.

Rural Tourism Study Updates

Feb. 14, 2017

At the Feb. 14 Board work session, staff presented a briefing on the Rural Tourism Study: Follow-Up Report on Citizen Comments and Options for Future Actions (released Jan. 12). The presentation summarized:
  • Interests of study participants and citizens who submitted comments:
    • Farmers: Protect farms; provide safe and efficient roads for shared use by agricultural and shipping vehicles, as well as visiting and commuting motorists and bicyclists
    • Rural tourism hosts/advocates: Allow activities with reasonable restrictions; expand motorist and bike routes, lodging, and access to nature
    • Rural residents: Protect farm, forest, and residential uses, especially from impacts due to amplified sound, traffic, frequency and hours of events, and activities at vacation rentals
  • Options for the Board to consider on how to address these concerns. Options ranged from potential policy creation to development of ordinances and informational materials (See Jan. 19 update below for details)
Board members expressed some interest in options that might:
  • Clarify rural tourism uses already allowed by the County, and
  • Allow some additional visitor-oriented uses in rural districts such as Rural Commercial that are not considered "resource" farm or forest lands, to reduce displacement of farmland by tourism uses
Rural Tourism issues are included on the Draft Long Range Planning Work Program as a Tier 2 task (Tier 1 being highest priority and Tier 3 being lowest). Public comments on the Work Program can be submitted for Board consideration through 4 p.m. March 14.

Jan. 19, 2017

On Jan. 12, staff released a written update to the Board, entitled Rural Tourism Study: Follow-Up Report on Citizen Comments and Options for Future Actions. On Jan. 18, staff briefed the Planning Commission on it.

The follow-up report presents potential actions as options for Board consideration, based on key goals and concerns indicated by study participants and citizens who submitted feedback on the Rural Tourism Study Report.

The options provide an assortment of approaches to addressing community concerns/goals, potentially through any of the following:

  • General policy support for rural economic growth that preserves farm/forest and rural residential well-being
  • Consideration of Community Development Code (CDC) amendments to:
    • Clarify rural tourism uses that are already allowed by the County and state (without adding new ones)
    • Adopt provisions of Senate Bill (SB) 960, to clarify parameters for "agritourism" on resource farmlands (applies to EFU and AF-20 only)
    • Allow some additional visitor-oriented uses in rural districts besides the EFU/AF-20 farm districts covered by SB 960, primarily to reduce displacement of farmland by long-term rural tourism uses (for example, allow small lodging operations on Rural Commercial sites, as a possible means to reduce use of farmland for Bed and Breakfast facilities, related septic and parking provisions)
  • Consideration of County regulatory changes not necessarily affecting the CDC:
    • Management of visitor-oriented activities at vacation rentals
    • Revision of permitting requirements for activities within roadways
    • Ongoing planning/funding of transportation facilities and options to serve a diversity of vehicles and users (farm and shipping vehicles, commuting/visiting motorists and bicyclists)
  • Production of educational materials addressing any of the above issues
Options are outlined in more detail within the follow-up report as Possible Actions for Consideration by the Board, beginning on page 8.

On Feb. 14, staff is scheduled to meet with the Board to go over the options. Following further review by the Board, staff may be asked to provide recommendations and/or take action on any of these options or related ones.

Oct. 1, 2016

A public comment period for the Washington County Rural Tourism Study report was open throughout the summer, closing Sept. 30. During that time, copies of the report were available at libraries and through the County's Long Range Planning office and website. Public comments were sought via press release, email, web postings, social media, and presentations to community groups by request. Comments received address distinct topics of interest including public involvement, impacts from rural tourism, and recreational amenities in natural areas.

Viewpoints and suggestions provided by the Rural Tourism Study consultant, study participants, and those responding to requests for public comment do not reflect official County recommendations. At this time, there is no official rural tourism "plan" or ordinance. Input from the study and associated comment period will be presented to the Board of Commissioners in early 2017. Proceeding with any actions will depend on Board direction thereafter.

Thank you to all study participants and those who provided public comment.

May 31, 2016

The Rural Tourism Study Report is available for review here.  Printed copies will be available at Washington County libraries and through each Citizen Participation Organization (CPO) after June 15. A limited number of copies will also be available for a fee at the Washington County Department of Land Use & Transportation, 155 N. 1st Ave., Suite 350, Hillsboro, after June 15.

Public comments on the report will be accepted through Sept. 30. Comments can be submitted by using the "Online Comments" box below, via email or mailed to:

Anne Kelly, Associate Planner
Washington County Department of Land Use & Transportation
Planning and Development Services, Long Range Planning
155 N. First Ave., Suite 350, MS 14
Hillsboro, OR 97124

For more information, email or call 503-846-3583.

In the fall, staff will report to the Board on public comments received and will ask for Board policy direction on some of the potential action items in the report. 

The DRAFT Rural Tourism Study report was distributed to the Board, Planning Commission (PC), citizen work group, staff, case study participants and citizens who requested copies at the April 24 PC meeting. Staff gave a presentation to the Board, the Planning Commission, the Washington County Planning Directors and the study's citizen work group (including attendees from the Washington County Visitors Association (WCVA), Westside Economic Alliance, Friends of Family Farmers, Rural Roads Advisory Committee, a farmer, and a bike tour operator) in April and May.

April 19, 2016

The DRAFT Rural Tourism Study report has been distributed to a very limited group, including the Board of Commissioners, the Planning Commission, a citizen Work Group that met early in the process, and internal staff. This was done to gather initial feedback prior to presenting the Study to the Board and general public distribution of the report. With the DRAFT report, a list of potential action items was distributed, built from consultant and citizen input gleaned from the report. The County has taken no stance on issues within the DRAFT report of the associated list of potential action items.

On April 28 Washington County staff will make an informational presentation to the Planning Commission during its work session to share details of the DRAFT Rural Tourism Study report. The DRAFT report is not currently part of an ordinance process or associated hearing.

Recognizing that protections for rich farm and forest lands are crucial to Washington County's economy and quality of life, research efforts and the DRAFT report sought to:

  • Look beyond parameters of Oregon's "agritourism" bill, which is specific to EFU/AF-20 lands, to examine agricultural and tourism uses in all rural districts;
  • Explore desired conditions for agriculture, tourism, and their interface based on input from rural Washington County interests who are diverse in both practice and location. Farming nursery, winery, recreational, residential, advisory/advocacy interests and more are represented.

The FINAL report will be released for general public review and comment, likely in late May 2016.

Nov. 15, 2015

The consultant team has prepared draft reports addressing the county's agricultural sector and related tourism activities. These reports are based on research, including standardized statistical analysis, as well as interviews with a wide range of stakeholders and a focus group with farmers and agritourism operators. A citizen work group, whose members come from diverse rural backgrounds, reviewed these reports and provided feedback.

Additionally, the consultant has prepared preliminary reports on regulatory issues related to rural tourism at both the county and state levels (existing and potential) and best practices for managing impacts between rural tourism and farming or residential land. In part, the latter included work with four rural tourism site operators who allowed their operations to serve as case studies - a winery, a zip line site, a traditional farm with a large farm stand, and a private park that hosts events, concerts and camping.

Building on consultant work, County staff used publicly available internet map services, promotional information, social media, and telephone conversations with 106 site operators to build a rural site inventory. This research compares:

  • primary uses of properties,
  • land use districts,
  • approximate acreages, and
  • onsite activities, events, or amenities publicized to attract visitors.

This inventory is intended to generally reflect the presence and characteristics of tourism in rural parts of the county today.

Review and revision of the above research documents for incorporation into a final report is ongoing. Release of the full report, intended to help us plan for rural tourism as it grows within the county, is expected in early 2016.


Feb. 17, 2015

The County has contracted with consultant leads MARStewart Group and Cogan Owens Green to conduct the Rural Tourism Study. The two, and their team members, bring significant backgrounds in related research.

To date, progress on study tasks is as follows:

  • A 13-member citizen Work Group has been assembled. The group is intended to serve as a sounding board and to bring real world perspectives on farming and nurseries, vineyard and winery operations, dining and lodging, recreation, tourism, residential issues, economic interests and advocacy that will help maintain the study's broad context. Because the consultants will be following an approved scope, the group will provide input but will not direct the work of the consultants.
  • Staff and the consultants held an introductory meeting with the Work Group on Jan. 21, 2015  (agenda | meeting summary). The consultants plan to share statistical findings on the county's production agriculture sector at a Work Group meeting in March 2015. The study scope includes two to three additional meetings thereafter.
  • The consultant's research on Washington County's historical and current production agriculture sector is near completion.
  • Individual interviews have begun with people representing various agricultural/rural interests and tourism operators reflecting a diverse range of rural locations, land use districts, practices and perspectives. The consultants have made a concerted effort to create an interviewee list that reflects the broad range of interests.
  • Staff and the consultants have drafted discussion points for a focus group session that will engage rural tourism practitioners and potentially related organizations/service providers such as farm advocacy groups, transportation and tour services operators, and caterers. A prospective participant list has been assembled and the meeting is being scheduled.

Periodic updates on the study will be posted to this site, so please make sure to check back.