A wise traveler knows the value of local knowledge, and that’s what visitors to the North Coast get with a new Trailhead & Beach Ambassadors program. This summer, local volunteers will staff pop-up tents at three of the North Coast’s most popular destinations, ready to answer questions and educate visitors in a friendly and inviting way about public safety and proper stewardship practices.

“The ambassador program is a tangible way to connect with visitors about managing our natural resources safely and responsibly,” says Hannah Buschert of Cannon Beach, part of the North Coast’s Outdoor Recreation action team. “It’s something we could tackle right away, so it’s a great place to start.”

Buschert shares a story of being out at the beach during a king tide in 2019, and seeing a bunch of boys (from Florida, as it turned out) playing around on top of some logs. She convinced them to jump off and, within minutes, a big wave came in and tossed the logs around. “I grew up here, so being aware of that kind of stuff is ingrained in me, like it is for most North Coasters,” she notes. “But for visitors, there are a lot of things they just don’t know.”

The ambassador program emerged from 2019’s North Coast Destination Management studio (now the North Coast Tourism Management Network), explains OCVA Destination Management Coordinator Arica Sears. Volunteer ambassadors were on hand last summer at Oswald West State Park; the program plans to add ambassadors at Cape Kiwanda and Rockaway Beach in 2020, and may expand to include other popular trailheads. “The goal is to intercept visitors and educate them before they enter our beautiful natural environment,” says Sears. With enough volunteers, the program will run from Memorial Day weekend through mid-September, prioritizing weekends. Eventually, says Sears, OCVA hopes to scale this program along the entire Oregon Coast at locations with high visitor volume and sensitive natural sites.

The outdoor recreation action team has a diverse team working on this project. Hannah is one of the core members and she couldn’t be a better fit. With degrees in natural resources and tourism management, Buschert has worked as a park ranger in Florida and in Texas, where she established a similar ambassador program. She also has deep ties to the Oregon Coast: Her family has operated the Sea Breeze Court in Cannon Beach since 1965. Now Hannah and her husband Erik have returned as the next generation to run the family business.

“I’ve always been interested in the intersection of wildlife and tourism, and how we can manage it responsibly and sustainably,” says Buschert. She especially appreciates that the program supports Oregon Parks. “Our parks are so loved, but they’re strained with so many visitors, too. This is a way we as locals can support our park staff and protect the places that mean so much to us.”

Ambassador recruitment and training gets underway this spring. It will coach volunteers on appropriate ways to talk to the public about safety and about respect for the environment— teaching about tides and rip currents, for example, or how to explore tide pools without damaging them. “We want to keep our visitors safe, and keep our wildlife safe, too,” emphasizes Buschert. The training also will provide volunteers with background on the area’s natural and cultural history, such as the geology of Haystack Rock or the dories at Pacific City.

Buschert hopes the interactions prompted by the Trailhead & Beach Ambassador’s Program benefit both visitors and locals. “Our local residents live here because they love it and want to protect it. I think when visitors learn from locals, it creates a deeper connection with a place. Maybe they care about the Oregon Coast more, and have more respect for the locals, too.”

To learn more, contact Arica Sears at icom@thepeoplescoast.com.

By Tina Lassen