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Tri-Cities, Washington: A Desert Region in the Pacific Northwest

27 Sep, 2016

By: Michael Popke
An Unexpected Climate Provides Year-Round Athletic Opportunities

When sports planners think of the Pacific Northwest, images of a dry desert region may not immediately come to mind. In that case, Hector Cruz has a surprise for you.     

“We’re known for our weather,” says the director of sports development for Visit Tri-Cities, the destination marketing organization located in the Southeastern part of Washington State. “We receive about seven inches of a rain in a year, which is unheard of in the rest of Washington. In Seattle, they sometimes get that much rain in a day !”         

The surprising climate is made possible by the region’s unique geography. The Cascade mountain range, which extends from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California, is located about two hours west of the Tri-Cities and protects the region from receiving large amounts of rain and snow.

As a result, the cities of Kennewick, Richland and Pasco — which meet at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers and boast a combined population of about 275,000 people — are able to welcome a variety of outdoor sports events practically year-round.

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association brings the state high school cross-country meet to the area every November, and the Northwest Athletic Conference for junior colleges hosts an annual softball invitational in February. For both events, held at the Columbia Playfield complex in Richland, temperatures typically reach into the 50s.

That’s usually the case for the Blue Mountain Exchange Soccer Tournament, too. The locally produced event with more than 100 youth teams from the Pacific Northwest is held outdoors in late February or early March at the Pasco Sporting Complex in the shadow of the Blue Mountains.  

Meanwhile, organizers of the National Softball Association of Washington’s popular Icebreaker, an annual April tournament with 130 teams that make use of just about every softball facility in the Tri-Cities area, might want to consider giving the event a new name.

“We had to laugh this year, because the Icebreaker was played in 80-degree weather,” Cruz says, adding that temperatures also can hit triple digits in the summer — although it’s a dry heat. “One of the other neat things about our weather is that it doesn’t get too cold here. A lot of events that come here bring in teams that are eager to get out and play. We can help them do that.”

Sports for All Seasons

This mid-sized metropolitan area has a lot more going for it than its appealing climate, and that is why the Tri-Cities host a wide range of national, regional and state athletic events.

“We can do a little bit of everything, and we can accommodate just about anything,” Cruz says.

Each of the locales in the Tri-Cities region offers its own sports facilities — including the following:

  • The 15-field Tri-Cities Youth Soccer Association Complex in Pasco

  • Multiple sheets of ice at Kennewick’s Toyota Center and Toyota Arena, as well as the TRAC Center, a multi-purpose facility that also hosts equestrian events and rodeos

  • Numerous softball/baseball and multi-sport complexes, such as the Columbia Playfield and Babe Ruth Fields in Richland; the Pasco Sporting Complex; and Kennewick’s Lawrence Scott Park, Civic Center Athletic Complex and Southridge Sports and Events Complex (which boasts the “Carousel of Dreams,” a beautiful classic carousel circa 1910 that originally was installed at a Michigan beach amusement park)

  • A 500-acre motorsports complex located within minutes of the nationally recognized Columbia Basin BMX Track

  • Numerous other fields, courts and parks that host everything from basketball and volleyball tournaments to gymnastics competitions, archery and disc golf events.

Although the three destinations within the Tri-Cities area span two counties, each with their own municipal governments and school districts, they work well together. “There’s a lot of synergy going on between the entities,” Cruz says.

That spirit of cooperation stems in part from the Tri-Cities Sports Council, now in its 21st year. A marketing arm of Visit Tri-Cities, it’s comprised of several members representing high school athletic programs, parks and recreation departments and club sports from Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

Representatives from the Tri-Cities’ three professional sports teams — the Indoor Football League’s Tri-Cities Fever, the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans and the San Diego Padres-affiliated minor league baseball team Tri-City Dust Devils — also are part of the council.

“For the sports planner, it’s great,” Cruz says. “We’re a one-stop shop if they’re looking for a venue, need referees or are in search of local support and resources.”

Where Wine and History Combine

Before the sports action begins or when the competition concludes, the Tri-Cities region offers plenty of educational sightseeing opportunities for both youth and adult athletes.

Here’s yet another surprising fact: adults can explore the area’s vineyards; in fact, the location of 200 wineries within a one-hour drive has earned the Tri-Cities the trademarked name of “The Heart of Washington Wine Country.”™ According to the Visit Tri-Cities website, this area “share[s] the same latitude as the world-famous Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France [and] has the perfect soil conditions and temperature for making great wines. Award-winning Washington wines can be found at many of the local wineries. … There is an abundance of world class cabernets, merlots and petite verdots to sample from just about any Washington winery.”

“The majority of grapes in our wines come from the region, because of our dry climate, and the wineries show visitors how the wine is produced and include an agricultural element in their tours,” says Cruz, who also stresses that Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco offers direct flights from eight cities as far east as Minneapolis/St. Paul, with at least one more city expected to be added to that mix in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center, better known to locals as “The REACH,” is a new heritage center in Richland developed to celebrate the natural and cultural history of the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River and the greater Columbia Basin. It features several hands-on exhibits for kids plus an outdoor performing arts amphitheater, with an emphasis on the Columbia River area’s rich history that includes Ice Age floods, irrigation and agriculture, and (yet another surprise for visitors) the Manhattan Project.

That’s right; the Manhattan Project. In late 2015, the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of Energy established the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in three locations — including Hanford, Washington, near Richland, which is the home of the B Reactor National Historic Landmark.

Students of history may recall that the B Reactor was built by the Manhattan Engineer District (MED) of the Army Corps of Engineers to produce plutonium for the United States’ military effort in World War II. It thus was considered part of the secretive research and development Manhattan Project. Today, the Hanford site is a decommissioned nuclear production complex that was operated by the federal government during that period.

According to the Visit Tri-Cities website, the B Reactor National Historic Landmark “joins Mount Rushmore and the White House as one of America’s most important historic sites.”

“The B Reactor was one of the world’s first production-scale nuclear reactors, and it was built in just 13 months,” Cruz says, adding that tour reservations of historic Hanford and the B Reactor site fill up quickly. “It’s really neat to see how our government did that.”

It’s also remarkable how the sunny and arid Tri-Cities area, which is surrounded by other cities that are better known for their gloom and high amounts of precipitation, has evolved into a comprehensive sports destination with broad appeal and tremendous potential.

“With more than 300 days of sunshine, amazing community amenities and the infrastructure to host numerous and diverse events, the Tri-Cities region isn’t just a leading sports destination — it’s an ideal getaway for the whole family,” Cruz says. “The Tri-Cities region offers the opportunity to extend a tournament weekend into a bolder, brighter, better family vacation.” 

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