ONTARIO — It hosts more than 55,000 visitors every year, but most local residents probably never stop at the Ontario Welcome Center.
The center offers out-of-town visitors information about the local area or travel route alternatives through Oregon, and within a few days the Ontario Chamber of Commerce will manage the facility.
For many people traveling west out of Idaho on Interstate 84, the Ontario Welcome Center and rest area is their first stop after crossing the Snake River Bridge. In fact, that is the only access the general public has to the rest area, which is probably one of the reasons most local people do not go to the facility.
Travelers go to the welcome center, in the middle of rest area, to dig up information about the state and also research specific regions or towns that sent brochures to the center.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Breidenbach said he plans to use the welcome center to promote Ontario and Malheur County more. He said he will also encourage area businesses to put brochures in the racks at the facility.
Travel Oregon, which is the business name for the Oregon Travel Commission, oversees travel and tourism promotion in the state and previously managed the facility.
“They came to me,” Breidenbach said about the proposal to transfer management to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Travel Oregon will still provide funds to operate the center. Other travel centers are situated in Umatilla, Lakeview, Oregon City for the Portland Metro area, Klamath Falls, Brookings, Astoria — where they are also managed by the chambers of commerce — and Ashland.
“The chamber has entered a contract with Travel Oregon to manage the Ontario Welcome Center,” Breidenbach said. “The effective date is Aug. 1. Travel Oregon wants to put this under more local control.”
The Ontario Welcome Center has been one of four facilities staffed May through October, but it is slated to close in September this year, Breidenbach said.
“Our goal is to be open year-round,” he said.
Karen Cleaver will continue to manage the center, and one other current staff member will also stay.
The building for the Ontario Welcome Center is owned by the Oregon Department of Transportation, which also owns the rest area property, Breidenbach said.