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Our Valley’s new “Wander Applegate” website was a community effort.

By Christina Ammon

I’ve always considered writing a solo pursuit, consigned to corner café tables, quiet libraries or to the middle of the night, when I wake to scrawl an idea across my bedside notepad.

So, when I was asked to write an Applegate Valley destinations website with community members, I was skeptical. Write with a group of people?

A working group comprised of Applegaters met regularly to brainstorm the look, feel and content of the Wander Applegate website.

This would not only require skillful collaboration, but vulnerability.  Would a group be open to floating the dumb ideas that are inevitable to the writing process? It would take courage.

If you don’t know, a “destination website” is an online resource that travelers can use to plan their visit. These websites are often funded by a town’s Chamber of Commerce. Local examples are: Visit Grants Pass and Medford’s “Heart of the Rogue” website.

A Greater Applegate, backed our website with grants received from Travel Oregon and Travel Southern Oregon, our state and regional tourism commissions.

Since a key value of A Greater Applegate is community involvement, hiring a slick marketing firm was out. During the listening sessions held throughout the valley in 2019-2020 (documented in the Applegate Valley Vision), residents made it clear that any foray into “destination management” would have to be conscious, low-impact, inclusive, and above all, community-led. Keeping the Applegate the Applegate was a priority.

It was in this spirit that the Destination Applegate Working Group gathered for a series of meetings to brainstorm ideas for the website.

We initially asked ourselves:

How do we describe the Applegate?

What did we want the website to feel like?

What activities does the Applegate offer?

We did generative exercises, throwing out words as they came to us: Lush, Pioneering, Unplugged, Rugged, Refined. The word “real” came up over and over again. Authenticity was a priority. We wove in quotes from residents, like Diana Coogle and Evelyn Byrne Williams.

We also wanted images to truly convey the Applegate. In one meeting, the group insisted that the photos on the draft site were “too Napa.” Fortunately, we were able to hire a photographer to capture a fuller sense of the Applegate and its residents.

One of the biggest challenges for the group was finding a slogan, which is a convention among destination websites. We let ourselves get ridiculous. Some examples:

 Fill up your tank—no, seriously!

We’ve got everything—except gas and Internet

Centrally Isolated

Come for the wine, stay for the Sasquatch

Where the grass truly is greener

I wrote the phrases down, reworked them, and sent them back to the group for feedback. Over the weeks, my dreams were filled with the group’s ideas. What would best reflect the working group’s ideas and capture the Applegate well?

Then, one day, I was on a hike and hit record on my phone and began to ramble. I recalled the working group gathered in my living room, talking about all adventures to be had in the Applegate and about all the delights and surprises hidden in nooks throughout our valley. I remembered Marcy Rustad, from Applegate River Lavender, weaving her hand through the air like the curves of Highway 238. “It’s kind of wandering.”

The group liked the word “wander” so I recorded as many phrases as I could think of–Follow Your Sense of Wander, State of Wander and then…

This land is made for wandering.

“Yes!” I nearly shouted into the phone.

Laurel Briggs, our designer from Creative Marketing & Design in Jacksonville liked the concept, too. “Wander” had a playful and modular quality, meaning she could apply it across the site categories: Wonder where to eat? Wander down a Trail, Sleep Wanderfully. 

The group gave their approval and Laurel finished translating our collective vision into a beautifully designed website.

It turns out that writing with a group is a wonderful thing. A haunting blank page was never a problem. With so many minds and hearts on the job, there was an abundance of ideas.


What should we write together next?

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