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Bus tours of Vancouver to focus on city’s history

Partnership’s vision may become reality as soon as summer

By Calley Hair, Columbian staff writer
Published: December 3, 2018, 6:00am

As early as this summer, Vancouver may have a 14-passenger shuttle bus offering historic tours throughout the city.

The Clark County Historical Museum received a $19,867 grant from Clark County Community Planning on Tuesday to go toward the purchase of the bus. The expected route will include 20 stops, with guides sharing an oral history of each.

The effort is a partnership between five public, business and nonprofit entities, including the Clark County Historical Museum, Vancouver Downtown Association, the Vancouver Barracks Military Association, Ryd ride-sharing service, and the Historic Trust, said CCHM Director Brad Richardson.

The bus will allow the city to take advantage of its rich history and offer tours during the winter months.

“We do walking tours of the downtown area in the summer,” Richardson said. “Really, once it gets kind of cold and wet, we want to be able to get people out. This is going to allow us to be able to do this year-round.”

The shuttle itself is surprisingly affordable, he added — the bus will cost around $30,000, and the purchase will likely be completed in early 2019.

“It’s a really reasonably priced shuttle that we’re able to get,” Richardson said.

Tours will cost an as-yet undetermined amount per passenger and be conducted by a combination of paid staff and volunteers. The full tour will last around two hours, though tours can be customized for specific groups and events.

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The entire project is expected to cost $60,000. Part of the remaining cost may be covered by the Lodging Tax Grant Program; Richardson said the shuttle bus partners recently underwent the grant application process. Lodging tax grants are available to nonprofit or tourism organizations with projects or activities designed to increase tourism. They are funded by a 4 percent lodging tax on hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts.

Though still in the planning stages, the LTGP application includes the planned route for the shuttle: it “will move from the Port and the new Waterfront, through downtown historic locations, the Clark County Historical Museum, Providence Academy, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Pearson Field and Airport, the Land Bridge, along with numerous quick stops.

“This is not just the purchase and maintenance of a bus, but instead is a program conceived to promote and activate interest and participation in the rich history of our community,” the application states. The tour will “feature the stories, places and peoples who have made Vancouver the genesis of the Pacific NW.”

Ryd will house, maintain and ensure the vehicle, as well as train the drivers, in exchange for use of the shuttle to transport employees of LSW Architects during commuting hours.

The bus eyed for the project is a 14-seat Star EV electric vehicle.

Walking tour, plus tech

In addition to the historic shuttle bus, CCHM is working with Washington State University Vancouver to create a smartphone app lead users on a self-guided historic walking tour of downtown.

Under development by WSUV’s Creative Media and Digital Culture program, the app, titled A Walk Through History, will “utilize augmented reality,” Richardson said.

“It’s another tourist-centered activity coming out of the community of history groups in Clark County,” he added.

Think “Pokemon Go,” but for local history buffs. The app will enhance existing, real-world sites with more information and media on a smartphone — historic photos, documents, and audio recordings related to the site. The app will guide users from place to place.

Dene Grigar, director of the CMDC program at the university, said the app should be accessible by both Apple and Android devices and “will feature videos, images, soundscapes, and other content, much of which will be delivered via augmented reality.”

The 28 graduating seniors in Grigar’s capstone class will begin production on the app when class starts on Jan. 9, she said.

In a written outline for the project, A Walk Through History is described as a potential tourism booster.

“Vancouver’s history is part of the overall package that makes our city a destination. With close to one million visitors exploring the history at Fort Vancouver each year, we know that people are coming to Vancouver to explore its story,” the outline states.

“This mobile app will provide an experience for visitors that will draw them into the area of downtown Vancouver and encourage them to explore its rich narrative, and, just as a guided history walking tour, bring them to the doorsteps of local business.”

The 12 sites featured on the walking tour will be: Slocum House, Esther Short Park, Smith Tower, Evergreen Hotel, Heritage Building, Schofield Building, Elks Building, Providence Academy, Kiggins Theatre, Medical Arts Building, Hidden House and the Clark County Historical Museum.

Columbian staff writer