Staycations offer a new way to explore and experience the Tri-Cities

“Staycation” was the buzz word last summer when gas prices rose to over $4 a gallon and people decided to find fun closer to home. But the word is making a comeback this year, especially in a time when more people are watching their spending and are concerned about the economy.

Kris Watkins, president and CEO of the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, said the word “staycation” appeared several years ago when cities were encouraging residents to stay close instead of spending money elsewhere.

Not only can a staycation save traveling costs for fuel and accommodations, but it can also save a lot of stress, she said. “More people are aware you can make a great vacation staying at home,” she said. “I think staycations have become more and more popular in the Tri-Cities and in the nation.”

Tri-Cities residents may choose to stay at home and organize a neighborhood barbecue, a family game night or a movie marathon, but the summer months in the Tri-Cities provide some unique and beautiful experiences.

“A staycation is a good opportunity to experience your own backyard,” Watkins said. You could rent a fun car for the weekend and stay at a bed and breakfast or even a hotel to get away from the house, yet still have the comfort of knowing you’re in the same town. All it takes is a little imagination.

There are many attractions that should be on a Tri-Citians ‘to do’ list, either for this year’s staycation or a future one. The Lamb Weston Columbia Cup for Unlimited Hydroplanes, July 24-26, along the Columbia River, and the Benton Franklin County Fair and Rodeo, August 25-29, are ready-made, family fun fare.

The Tri-Cities’ are in the heart of Washington’s wine country, offering residents the opportunity to visit 160 wineries within an hour’s drive.

The Visitor and Convention Bureau also promotes the area’s 10 golf courses, including Columbia Park golf course, which Watkins recommended for families with kids just learning to play the game.

Free family fun can be had at the Family Fishing Pond and the Playground of Dreams in Columbia Park, as well as Sturgeon Cove in Howard Amon Park. Families can attend a Dust Devils baseball or a Tri-Cities Fever home game on weekends as well.

Even with limited time on a weekend staycation, Watkins said to definitely include one of the Tri-Cities’ museums, like the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology in Richland.

There’s also the Franklin County Historical Museum, the Washington State Railroad Historical Society Museum, and the interpretive center at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco. Check the local Parks and Recreation departments for activities and classes open for the public this summer, or take a dip at a free public pool.

Garage sale shopping is always fun on a Saturday morning, and Pasco’s TRAC has two more giant garage sales on July 25 and August 15. Or shop in historic downtown Kennewick or at the Uptown Shopping Center in Richland.

The Tri-Cities farmers’ markets offer local produce and arts and crafts Thursdays in downtown Kennewick from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Fridays at Richland’s Parkway from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the corner of South Fourth and Columbia streets in Pasco.

The Country Mercantile also provides produce, gifts, homemade chocolate and more a few miles north of Pasco on Highway 395.

Watkins said another idea for a staycation is taking a tour of the Hanford Reach National monument by kayak or jet boat down the Columbia River.

Columbia River Journeys and River City Tours in Kennewick specialize in jet boat tours of the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers. Just call ahead of time to reserve a four and a half hour tour of the Hanford Reach, or tours to Vernita Bridge and bar or to Ice Harbor Dam, May through September. They also offer wine tasting evening cruises with a catered dinner and customizable water and land tours for a few hours or a day.

Columbia Kayak Adventures on George Washington Way in Richland offers sea kayak courses, guided tours and rentals for beginner or experienced kayakers. Tours go along the Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers to the Yakima Delta, the McNary Wildlife Refuge, Sand Islands, Palouse River and the Hanford Reach. They even have a “Sunday Paddle Group” for those who want to get out on the river every week.

Grab your poles and a fishing license at a local sporting goods store and book a guided steelhead, salmon, walleye or sturgeon fishing trip with Ecotrip on Kirstin Drive in West Richland.

Families can rent boats and ride on the Columbia starting from docks in Pasco, Kennewick or Richland and The Happy Horse Riding School in Burbank offers horseback riding lessons to Tri-Citians in the summer as well.

For those on a tight budget, Watkins suggested a stroll or bicycle ride on the 23 miles of continuous trails along the Columbia River, stretching from Sacajawea State Park in Pasco to WSU Tri-Cities and Hanford in Richland.

Columbia Park Trail accesses Bateman Island just south of North Columbia Center Boulevard in Kennewick. The island, a Tri-Cities landmark, has dirt walking trails, fishing and lots of plants and wildlife to enjoy, at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia rivers.

The Horse Heaven Hills above the Yakima River includes trails open to horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking all summer long.

There are also a lot of great opportunities to experience art, music and theater this summer, beginning with Columbia Basin College’s summer showcase.

The Allied Arts Gallery on Lee Blvd in Richland, has its Annual Art in the Park, featuring hundreds of local artists.

Also watch for free concerts and movie at venues all over the Tri-Cities this summer, including Bookwalter Winery’s free music and Fairchild Cinema’s free family movies in Pasco.

Cities in the outlying areas, like Walla Walla and Yakima, also have a lot to offer for day trips that many Tri-Citians may not be aware of, Watkins said. There’s the Benton County Historical Museum in Prosser and the Fort Walla Walla Museum in Walla Walla.

For more outdoor activities, travel to the Ice Harbor Lock Visitor Center at Ice Harbor Dam outside of Pasco, or the McNary Wildlife Refuge and dam near Umatilla to count fish. Or camp at Lewis and Clark Trail State Park 25 miles northeast of Walla Walla, Palouse Falls State Park in Lacrosse 75 miles from the Tri-Cities or Steptoe Butte State Park in Oakesdale, 140 miles away, but accessible within a few hours.

There’s plenty of room to go off-roading, camping, or hiking on the 4,000 acres of open land at Juniper Dunes Wilderness Area, about 15 miles northeast of Pasco. Visitors access it from Petersen Road four miles north from the Pasco-Kahlotus Highway.

But Watkins had some advice for Tri-Citians who decide to staycation and want to make it a memorable and fun experience. “Plan the trip just like you’re going on vacation,” she said.

That means not doing anything you usually would, including keeping in touch via internet, cell phone, TV, etc. Set up email auto-responders or have your mail and newspaper held for the vacation. Leave projects and housework alone. Have a start and end date. Other online sources give tips including setting a schedule of activities and documenting the “trip” with photos and videos.

Explore your hometown, rediscovering destinations you don’t normally reach in your busy life. And above all, relax. “In our busy lives, we don’t have time to stop and smell the roses,” Watkins said.

A staycation could be a perfect opportunity to do that.

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