A recent survey shows visitors at Haystack Rock like to come often and from places outside of Oregon.
The survey, facilitated by the federally and state-funded Oregon Sea Grant, was conducted over six weeks this summer to study the demographics of those who visit the 235-foot sea stack each year.
While Haystack Rock Awareness Program has tracked the number of visitors for years — which has now topped more than 90,000 — this is the first time the group has seen a better look at the demographics.
“We really wanted to learn about why visitors came here,” said Melissa Keyser, program director of the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. “We wanted to ask them who they are and figure out how well we were educating them, so we can learn how to better engage with them.”
Over the course of the summer, Dylan Rozansky, the marine science scholar chosen by the awareness program to conduct the study, interviewed people at the beach and at educational events, and collected data from online surveys. He asked beachgoers questions about where they traveled from, whether they had visited the rock before and whether it is important to protect Haystack Rock for stewardship purposes.
Some of the findings, like the fact that 95 percent of visitors agree it’s important to preserve the rock and 49 percent of visitors were between the ages of 35 and 54, were to be expected, he said. About 75 percent were women, and 56 percent were aware of the program before arriving.
But other findings, like 50 percent of all visitors coming from outside of Oregon and the fact more than a third have visited the marine reserve more than 10 times, were a surprise.
“And no one surveyed identified as a local, so that was just amazing to me … that so many people outside Oregon were coming back again and again,” he said.
For awareness program staff, the results were an accurate representation of what they have been seeing on the beach. On a larger scale, the results also mirror the rise the state is seeing in international tourism, which has grown about 11 percent since 2012, according to a report from the research firm Tourism Economics.
“We almost expected to have higher than 50 percent outside of Oregon, so that doesn’t surprise me,” Keyser said. Many of the program’s interpreters are from out of state and started volunteering after multiple visits, she added. “It’s such a unique place,” she said.
In the past few years, the program has introduced new initiatives to be more inclusive of a more diverse visitor profile, including a beach wheelchair program and bilingual interpreter for Spanish-speaking visitors.
Program staff believe the survey indicates the program’s recent shift to serve more as an educational body rather than as an enforcement group at the rock is working, and will ultimately help to show the program’s relevance in future grant opportunities.
“It validates why we’re here. It shows that there is interest … that we have the capacity to bring more people from outside the area,” outreach coordinator Pooka Rice said. “From a grant perspective, it’s significant because it shows there’s more potential for the program.”
As for the original question, the answer still isn’t clear as to what motivates people to come visit the rock. About half of the respondents expected some form of interpretive program, while others were surprised the landmark was conserved and protected, not clearly indicating whether an interest in environmental stewardship was driving their visit, Keyser said.
But the numbers indicate more people from more places want to keep coming.
“It’s not like we want to advertise and bring more people to here … that’s not our job,” Keyser said. “But we do know that number is going to increase, and that we will need to capacity to keep educating.”