News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Marion County planning major Canyon investments

Marion County is hoping to boost the economic vitality of the Santiam Canyon after adopting updates to its Economic Development Program Strategic Plan.

County Commissioners approved the changes Wednesday, which included goals to develop local “destination attractions” and forgivable loans for Canyon businesses.

The updated plan came after extensive community outreach last year which sought input on existing economic needs and opportunities.

During September and November of 2023, a survey was conducted among residents and local city leaders. There were also focus groups as well as direct outreach to city councils and staff, and area businesses.

A summary of these efforts was included with the finalized strategic plan. It said the most common concerns were “destination development, industrial development, and community beautification.”

Destination development has been a priority for the county in the Santiam Canyon since the years after the wildfires, including ongoing efforts to extend the recreation season at Detroit Lake.

The approved plan said tourist draws like Detroit Lake can become “destination attractions” by making them more accessible to those outside the area. 

It said this could happen through increased overnight accommodations like campgrounds, cabins and RV sites, as well as equipment rentals such as kayaks, fishing tackle and mountain bikes.

The plan said the county can help achieve this by leveraging the real estate it owns in the region, and streamlining permits where necessary. The plan said the county should partner with “local outfitters, entrepreneurs, and community leaders” to achieve this goal.

With local businesses in mind, the plan suggested promoting the Canyon Area Business Forgivable Loan Program to support both businesses and communities in fire recovery.

In cities like Gates, officials have said they struggle between a lack of businesses to support more infrastructure and a lack of infrastructure to support more businesses. The loan program would provide funding for more small businesses to develop, while the county would also provide entrepreneurial support, workforce solutions and address vacant properties.

In addition to these programs, the plan continues the county’s focus on projects such as excavating beneath marinas at Detroit Lake and improvements to the Opal Creek wilderness area. It also prioritizes continued development of plans to improve or create a downtown business district for Detroit and Gates, and support for the North Santiam Sewer Authority.

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