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   These are the stories we are working on for this week's newspaper:
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  • Railroad Days revival: Organizers say the annual festival in Portola was a great success, with attendance estimated at about 2,000 people.

City becomes Graeagle Plumas Alliance member

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor
8/11/2010

At its latest meeting July 28, Portola's city council voted to become a member of the Graeagle Plumas Alliance at the $2,000 level. All council members voted for the membership except William Weaver, who had been in favor of a lower level, lower cost ($600) membership. The expenditure required a budget amendment as well.

Arguing for the higher level and greater benefits available, City Manager Jim Murphy said Portola businesses were having a difficult time right now and many of them could not afford an individual membership. He asked some business owners whether marketing the city heavily through an expanded Internet presence and the distribution of city brochures would help them and the answer was yes.

"That's one of the ways the city can help with economic development," Murphy said. "Perhaps when they see the benefit, they will join individually."

Basic level memberships in GPA are $600 and provide an interactive listing on graeagleplumas.com as well as a link to the member's website. The $2,000 membership adds distribution of members' brochures and fliers at marketing events and an expanded Internet presence, as well as other special considerations.

Jack Bridge, president of the GPA, attended the July 28 meeting to explain GPA's mission and to answer questions from the council members. Other GPA board members include Rob Young (Grizzly Ranch), Chris David (David Enterprises), Brandon Bowling (Plumas Pines Golf Resort) and Bob Hickman (Chalet View Lodge).

The group was established in fall 2008 as a nonprofit, mutual benefit corporation, with the initial investment coming from the core members. Their mission: To effectively market eastern Plumas County by promoting tourism and economic development for the community.

Bridge addressed the board with a preliminary message that GPA was not trying to compete with the chambers of commerce or merchants associations or "anyone else trying to create business for the county covering the area from Quincy to Sierra Valley."

Talking about the eastern part of the county, he said, "We have tremendous resources here but they're underutilized and underpromoted."

Answering council members' questions, Bridge listed the trade shows the group had participated in over the past two years - from Reno, Nev., to the Bay Area - and described the focus of current marketing efforts.

Bridge said GPA is expanding its Internet presence with more social marketing, such as Facebook and Twitter. People were planning their vacations on the Internet, he said, and GPA was finding out that people increasingly wanted vacation packages.

He explained the concept of packaging as providing golf, dinner and hiking, for example, around a special community event already offered in the county and making the reservations for all those pieces for the vacationer. Thus, a single afternoon event might become a three-day weekend and summer visitors would expand their experience of the county beyond what they already knew.

Currently, GPA is working with a group in Reno, who are taking reservations for Plumas vacation packages, but he saw the need for a local concierge business to develop.

Bridge believes that to pool the efforts of individual businesses, chambers, merchant associations and the visitors bureau, marketing efforts had to promote the region as a whole, offering a full range of recreational opportunities and with individuals sharing in the lodging and dining business that would come with increased tourism.

To this end, GPA went to the Railroad Days committee to ask if it would be willing to make Railroad Days more regional in nature and found the group receptive to the idea of extravaganza performances, such as Stars in the Barn in Blairsden.

The addition of a special train (and the associated filming by PBS) to Railroad Days had already expanded the Railroad Days concept considerably. The influx of 400 people on a special train, all of them staying the night and needing options in entertainment, but without transportation to get to their lodging and dining places, presented a problem.

Chris Skow, of Trains and Travel and creator of the special Railroad Days train, solved the problem by hiring coaches to deliver people to their destinations. The sudden availability of buses during the day also provided the key to expanding Railroad Days into a regional event.

Currently, the buses are scheduled, for public benefit and a modest fee, every 30 minutes 1 - 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 21, leaving the parking lot of the Western Pacific Railroad Museum of Portola on the hour and on the half hour.

The coaches will travel to Nakoma Golf Resort for wine tasting, stop to let off passengers at the Graeagle craft show and deliver show attendees to the Stars in the Barn matinee performance and travel back to Railroad Days in Portola.

The last bus of the day will bring people from the matinee performance back to Portola.

Bridge said the group is working with Skow to plan a "Snowflake" express train for winter, which would arrive in Truckee, then bus the train visitors to the area.

A "captive" audience is ideal for mini-vacation packages, and Bridge said GPA wanted to combine the Rotary Poker Run, sled dog races and other winter activities to encourage tourists to visit Plumas in winter.

Bridge said his group saw the need to develop wintertime recreation enticements to even out the seasonal financial fluctuations businesses now endure. He felt that they needed to bolster the spring and fall shoulder seasons.

City council member Dan Wilson requested particulars of GPA's accomplishments and Bridge responded fully to his questions and fleshed out Murphy's observations; Murphy was appointed to GPA's advisory board and has attended many meetings this year.

Council member Curt McBride offered support for the GPA membership, based on his participation in the Railroad Days Committee and the ensuing collaboration with GPA.

In the end, the council was unanimous in believing that greater efforts in economic development and increased tourism in Portola were necessary. Four of the five members voted to endorse the efforts of GPA at the highest membership level.

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