Visitors have found their way to the Walla Walla Valley. Now to help them navigate it.

After more than five years of planning and fundraising, a multi-agency project will soon bring new signs throughout the Valley, helping lay the course for what organizers call better “wayfinding.”

The first wave of signs is expected to begin by spring, said directors from the four agencies that make up the Walla Walla Valley Wayfinding Signage Steering Committee.

Port of Columbia Executive Director Jennie Dickinson, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation Executive Director Elio Agostini, Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance Executive Director Duane Wollmuth and Visit Walla Walla Executive Director Ron Peck jointly announced this week plans for the third and final phase of the endeavor.

Each of those directors will oversee a different facet of the sign installation.

Among the first to go up in the coming months: a gateway sign into the Valley at Nine Mile Hill along U.S. Highway 12; pedestrian informational kiosks in Dayton and downtown Walla Walla; wine district entrance signs in the west, east, south and Oregon neighborhoods; and parking signs throughout the city.

The signs will all generally integrate a historic look, the colors of the seasons and a metal arc representing the hills of the Valley.

The winery signs will also work in conjunction with the annual winery guide and a mobile wine tour, Wollmuth said.

The vision for the overall project is to provide signage that will help direct movement for visitors from Dayton to Milton-Freewater and everywhere in between.

“The driver for this is that research shows that people will spend more time and money” when they can discover different things to see and do, Wollmuth said.

Helping to identify winery clusters in various parts of the Valley is a huge part of that.

For downtown Walla Walla, the goal is to help people better locate parking. 

With the main roadways marked already in two-hour zones the focus becomes locating the public lots. As with Dayton, downtown Walla Walla will also have an informational kiosk showing visitors what’s around them.

The signs will be made Quality Signs of Kennewick, the most local business the committee said it could find that specializes in these types of signs.

Discussions about increasing signage run back to at least 2008, Wollmuth said.

With Walla Walla’s tourism agency leading the way, stakeholders began putting together input in a series of meetings. 

Pennsylvania consulting firm Merje was brought on board to assess the needs for signage and make recommendations about how to get there.

That body of work, which also included help with design and potential placement of the signs, was completed in 2011. But by then the momentum slowed because of the economic downturn.

The first two phases alone — feasibility study and sign design — cost $130,000. 

Twenty-seven different organizations and agencies helped pay for it. The largest contribution initially came from the Donald & Virginia Sherwood Trust at $44,000.

For the construction phase, the committee has collected $166,000. Other proposed contributions total $515,000. The budget for the overall work was estimated by Merje at about $1.5 million.

The committee expects to continue raising funds and installing signs in the next several years as funding is worked long-term into local budgets.

Similarly, the integration of the sign plan is one that will come in waves.

A maintenance plan sets aside 10 percent of each contribution for ongoing care. The signs should have a life span of 15 to 20 years on their own. But should they be vandalized or otherwise damaged a budget should be in place to care for them.

Separate from funding, which has been the biggest hurdle in the implementation, the work has been an intensive collaboration among an estimated 40 different stakeholder groups. Representatives from banks to hospitals to the area colleges have had seats at the table.

But a good portion of the work has been meeting codes and guidelines across two states, three counties, and at least five cities. 

“Getting the governments to agree was amazingly easy,” Agostini said. “The dilemma was the funding.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/VickiHillhouse.