A recent program brought together business owners and outdoor enthusiasts who shared a common desire — to promote birding while also taking advantage of its potential economic impact
Rob Hawk, the new Jackson and Swain County extension director for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, presented a program on birder friendly businesses and communities at the Balsam Mountain Inn last Thursday, Dec. 9. Participants included interested citizens, community organizers and businessmen and women.
“It was a good program. I think it was a good way to get resources moving in the right direction,” said Andy Zivinsky and Diane Cutler, owners of Bryson City Bicycles.
Zivinsky said that most of the clientele at Bryson City Bicycles were outdoor enthusiasts and that he believes many would enjoy learning about birding opportunities in the area.
“We’re both birders and we’re outdoors a lot, and I feel like we could point interested bikers in the right direction.”
He said they had even considered outfitting bikes with birding gear or a place to carry birding gear. Zivinsky said that there were great Forest Service roads out there for birding and that biking would be a great way to cover them.
“It’s a lot easier than walking,” he said.
The Birder Friendly Business & Birder Friendly Community programs were created and designed to work in tandem with the North Carolina Birding Trail. Work on the NCBT began in 2003. The trail is presented in a series of three trail guides — the Coastal Guide, The Piedmont Guide and the Mountain Guide.
These guides are great ways for local birders and tourists to find great birding opportunities across the state, from the Outer Banks to the mountaintops of Western North Carolina. The guides provide maps, site descriptions, species list and nearby accommodations and attractions.
Part of the mission of the NCBT is, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.” The Birder Friendly programs were designed to help fulfill that mission.
Lena Gallitano, who is retired from N.C. State University, and Dr. Stacy Tomas of N.C. State developed the program and taught training seminars across the state until their funding ran out in 2008. Hawk co-facilitated some of the programs in the western part of the state with Gallitano.
Gallitano said she was happy that Hawk had decided to continue to work to expand the birder friendly concept in the mountains. She said she felt like the mountain region had embraced the concept better than other areas of the state.
Hawk said that while he was introduced to the birder friendly concept in his old role as community resource development agent, he thought it was a perfect fit for his new position as Extension Director in Jackson and Swain counties. He said that he hopes the program allows people to look at the landscape in a different way and learn to appreciate and understand the resources that are already here.
Gallitano and Hawk both noted that while the program was geared to mesh with the birding trail the overarching theme of the program is nature tourism in general and birding in particular. Gallitano said that the NCBT guide series is probably the most extensive list of public and private sites across the state for wildlife watching.
And Hawk said that his role as Extension Director was to encourage the wise use and the appreciation of all the natural resources across the region.
Putting the theory into practice
David Stubbs, the owner of The Waynesville Inn, was also present at last Thursday’s meeting. Stubbs said he was interested in attending the program to help the Inn focus its marketing strategy.
“We are trying to cater to people who are already interested in the natural beauty of the area and want to sustain that, and birding fits nicely into that concept,” said Stubbs.
He said Hawk’s program helped him learn about who birders are and what their needs and wants are and how to meet them. He said the Inn was currently working on it’s marketing and packages for next season and that the birding community was already a part of that dialogue.
He said that planning was in its “infancy stage,” but that guests might see some sort of birder packages and programs.
Why entice birders?
• A 2007 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment noted that 81.1 million Americans participate in some form of birding activity.
• A 2006 U.S. Fish & Wildlife study reported that Americans spent nearly $45 billion in 2006 on bird-related activities.
• A 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey noted that 71 million people spent more than $44 billion across the country in activities related to feeding and/or watching birds and other wildlife.
• North Carolina reported that 2.6 million wildlife watchers in the state spent $916 million.
• According to a North Dakota Division of Tourism report more than 22 million Americans travel each year to observe, photograph and/or study birds. More than $38 billion are spent each year in these endeavors. The report notes that bird-based tourism in Texas and Florida generates approximately $540 million and $943 million, respectively, each year.
• A study done on the economic impact of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail in 1999 noted that birders spent an average of $78.50 per person per day while on the trail.