Uniform signage helps visitors, businesses alike

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I will begin my column with an amusing story a friend told me about trying to find an event while visiting another town. She and her sister rented a car and drove nearly two hours northeast of San Francisco to check out a famous strawberry festival.

When they arrived at their destination, lo and behold, they could not find the festival … anywhere. There were some rudimentary signs pointing in different directions but they led to nowhere. So, my friend and her sister, stopped and asked at least four locals who instructed them to take lefts and rights, and to pass this church and curve around that tree and "you can't miss it" … but they did.

They literally spent two hours trying to find this "world famous" strawberry festival but finally gave up when they concluded it was all a sadistic trick.

In this day of GPS and Internet maps, maybe this scenario is no longer possible but it demonstrates the importance of good signage, especially for visitors but also for everyone concerned.

So that no one ever gets lost in the Walla Walla Valley trying to find a festival or attraction or iconic land mark, the community is coming together to provide uniform signage. Tourism Walla Walla is spearheading the effort along with many partners in the community. At this juncture, the funding has been procured for a study of the area's signage needs. Tourism Walla Walla footed the first $8,000 with the partners providing $22,000 for the $30,000 assessment.

On Nov. 15, Merje, a planning and design firm, will arrive for its first visit to assess the critical areas. It is important to note that this study does not include any design elements, but rather, focuses solely on assessment.

Partnership Walla Walla determined that having a uniform wayfinding signage system was a top priority, for it would greatly enhance the experience of visitors to the valley. Reference my opening anecdote. Additionally, the World Tourism Organization states, "There is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of a signage system and the satisfaction of individuals and groups traveling throughout the region. Tourism signs and symbols should express their meaning in the most universal and simple language possible."

Hence, the major objective of Walla Walla's signage program: to provide visitors to our region easy and understandable access to tourism-related destinations. A uniform region-wide system of tourism signs, instead of a multitude of local systems.

So, what qualifies as a sign-worthy destination? Cultural institutions, attractions, historic sites, recreation areas and transportation centers all fit the bill. Some of the major principles of the program are safety, standardization, accessibility, maintenance and self-finance, meaning each attraction or business assumes the cost of sign erection and maintenance.

It is notable to list the partners in this program for without them, it would not be possible. They are the cities of Walla Walla and College Place, the Community Development Partnership of Milton-Freewater, the Ports of Walla Walla and Columbia counties, the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce and the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance.

Justin Wylie, of Va Piano Winery and TWW board member did yeoman work as head of the signage committee and played a key role in getting it off the ground.

Due to his and the efforts of many others, we can be certain that no one will ever curse Walla Walla after never finding a "world-famous" festival or winery.

Andrew Holt is tourism services manager for Tourism Walla Walla.

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