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History of tourism in the San Juan Islands


While discussions are ongoing about the proposed San Juan Islands Destination Management Plan, a solid background on the history of tourism in the islands seems in order. Lucky for us, local historian Lynn Weber/Roochvarg has written a comprehensive two-part series that was posted in 2019 on historylink.org. Posted below are her introductory paragraphs to both essays and links to the complete essays.

The San Juan Archipelago, publicity pamphlet for Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, 1909 Courtesy San Juan Historical Museum

"The San Juan Islands, an archipelago located in Salish Sea waters between Washington and Vancouver Island, B.C., have always held a strong attraction for visitors. From the first peoples who inhabited the area, through early explorers and pioneer settlers in the late 1850s, to today's thousands of tourists who arrive by ferry, private boat, or plane, those traveling in the area have found the islands a beguiling place to visit. Tourism, at times, has been encouraged, even promoted, while at other times it has been viewed by many residents as intrusive, destructive of a fragile ecosystem, and a strain on island infrastructure. Part 1 of this two-part history focuses on the earliest tourists in the San Juan Islands, especially on Orcas, San Juan, and Lopez islands, and initial accommodations for them as well as the first promotional campaigns to encourage travelers to experience the remarkably beautiful scenery, variety of available activities, and atmosphere of relaxation that characterizes the area. From the late nineteenth century to World War II there was continuous growth in the number of visitors, and tourism was well on the way to becoming an important island industry." Tourism in the San Juan Islands, Part 1

"From the earliest settlement of the San Juan Islands, visitors traveled to the enchanting archipelago in the far Pacific Northwest Salish Sea to fish and hunt; explore rocky coasts and inland forests; undertake a variety of outdoor, cultural, or social activities; or just to enjoy rest and relaxation. Island residents found that providing accommodations and services to visitors was profitable, and promotion and expanding opportunities for travelers sparked the development of a nascent tourism industry in the early years of the twentieth century. Part 2 of this two-part history describes the growth of tourism from the years after World War II into the twenty-first century." Tourism in the San Juan Islands, Part 2

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