SALINAS – There’s an important historic story underfoot in the region that could be mined into an international attraction, expanding tourism and hospitality while creating revenues to pay for social programs.
That’s the hope of Salinas Valley Tourism and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Craig Kaufman whose idea for a program called the Valleys of Anza could provide regional economic development by leveraging historic sites to attract tourists to the inland valleys of Monterey and San Benito counties.
In 1776, around the time of the American Revolution, Spanish Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, leading a contingent of more than 240 men, women, and children for more than 1,800 miles, arrived to establish a settlement at San Francisco Bay. That expedition came through Alta California in what is now Monterey County including Mission San Antonio de Padua established in 1771, the Salinas Valley along the Salinas River, over to Monterey and the Carmel Mission – then only about six years old – through Salinas and on to the San Juan Bautista area 21 years before its mission was built.
“I’ve been for years trying to figure out what kind of story could be told on an international level that would bring people to this part of (Monterey County),” said Kaufman.
The river was the lifeline for the diverse group of settlers, military escorts, and support workers of Spanish society made up of Native American, African, and European heritages, and included about 1,000 head of livestock. The expedition used the missions as stopping points along the way.
The Valleys of Anza program is the footprint of the San Antonio Valley, the Salinas Valley and the San Juan Valley where the Anza trail passed through the region. Kaufman points to a postcard he came across from 1906 urging tourists to come see Monterey County for its historic three nations of Spanish, Mexican and American cultures.
“That’s truly what I’m picking up on is trying to reinvigorate this and trying to show that this is how we initially became a tourist attraction,” said Kaufman.
A 2015 study from Harvard University showed that in Monterey County, hospitality and tourism had the greatest growth potential in accommodations and related services, and in cultural and educational entertainment, he said.
Kaufman believes the Anza program checks both of those boxes.
The Valleys of Anza program would incorporate assets that are underutilized in the region and create better circulation so that the over-tourism that occurs on the Monterey Peninsula, especially on the Big Sur coast, could be alleviated.
With the Anza Trail as the path, visitors could stay in accommodations at points along the trail in tiny house villages may be built in a Spanish-era theme, or camp out in grass huts based on what native peoples in the area lived in so that there is a tourism experience based on the expedition. It incorporates mobile hospitality, with a social-distancing aspect built in for people who do not necessarily want to stay in a hotel environment.
The trail could be marketed using the detailed journals left by the Anza expedition that helped the National Park Service meticulously map out the path and stopping points, and will enable the telling of the Anza story. The program could use augmented reality technology using smartphones in the natural settings that still exist along the trail as backdrops.
“What we are able to do is create re-enactments based upon those stories,” said Kaufman.
The technology would help to tell the stories found in the detailed journals, and with the help of GPS, people could see what happened at that location during the Anza expedition.
“You have the background that’s obviously live, but with these prerecorded vignettes telling the story of the Anza trail,” said Kaufman.
The tours become self-guided either by car or by trail walks in multiple languages so there is no need for a crowded tour bus.
The idea has caught the attention of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. Its Masters of Urban Design program will present six draft strategies later this month for bringing tourism to the Salinas and San Juan valleys to the stakeholders in the area including both Monterey and San Benito counties.
The Valleys of Anza program hopes to create new transient occupancy taxes with a portion being targeted to the development of new tiny home communities funded by a sustainable influx of revenue.
“If this model can work and we can start to get these villages up and running, we can now start to create new TOT for at-risk populations, or low-income, or teachers,” said Kaufman. “That’s the goal here and that’s where Berkeley comes in.”
The mobile communities can deal with different aspects or population of homeless individuals that are paid for by TOT and does not impact general funds, yet deals with the problem.
Kaufman is hoping that after the MUD presentation that people come away with a sense of urgency.
“We need to do something. If this is not the idea please come to the table with something because we’re in trouble,” said Kaufman. “The urgency is in economic development and job creation, and in protecting the tourism industry.”