The mountain section of the North Carolina Birding Trail (NCBT) is complete and the Mountain Region Trail Guide, describing, with directions, the 105 sites along the trail should be available by early summer 2009.
Many of those sites are in Haywood and surrounding counties. They include Lake Junaluska, Max Patch and the southern Great Balsam Mountains adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Haywood County. Other area sites include the Little Tennessee River Greenway, Tessentee Farm and the Highlands Biological Station in Macon County, plus Kituwah (formerly Ferguson Fields) in Swain County and Stecoah Gap and the Cherohala Skyway from Graham County. The Mountain Region Trail Guide will join the already completed Coastal Guide and Piedmont Guide in linking outstanding birding sites across the Old Home State. North Carolina’s myriad and diverse habitats from coastal barrier islands to 6,000-foot mountaintops provide nesting sites and stopover sites for more than 450 species of resident and/or migratory birds.
It has been the mission of the NCBT, since its creation in 2003, “To conserve and enhance North Carolina’s bird habitat by promoting sustainable bird-watching activities, economic opportunities and conservation education.”
Part of NCBT’s vision statement includes, “Our unique geographic setting along the Atlantic coast flyway provides both breeding and wintering grounds for many birds, making North Carolina a premiere bird-watching destination. Yet this rich natural heritage is largely untapped as an economic resource for promoting nature-based tourism. The North Carolina Birding Trail (NCBT) will provide a common thread to tie together bird-watching, nature-based tourism and our great natural and cultural resources for the economic benefit of our citizens.”
Part of that common thread is NCBT’s “Birder Friendly Business & Birder Friendly Community” training. The program provides tools and training for businesses and communities along the trail, which will allow them to anticipate birders’ needs and wants and devise appropriate marketing plans.
A 2007 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment noted that 81.1 million Americans participate in some form of birding activity. And a 2006 US Fish & Wildlife study reported that Americans spent nearly $45 billion in 2006 on bird-related activities. North Carolina reported that 2.6 million wildlife watchers in the state spent $916 million.
According to Dr. Stacy Tomas, North Carolina State University assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management the birding trail will give communities a chance to utilize the natural resources in their area as an economic tool.
“We are the third fastest urbanizing state in the country, so the birding trail gives us a way to keep our open spaces open and develop our economy,” Tomas said.
To date, Haywood and Jackson counties are lagging behind neighboring counties when it comes to birder/community friendly certified businesses. The Haywood County Cooperative Extension in Waynesville is the only county entity listed at NCBT’s Web site and the only one for Jackson County is the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. That compares to Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville, Fontana Village, God’s Garden, Taylor’s Greenhouse, Appalachian Inn Bed & Breakfast and Nantahala National Forest all in Robbinsville for Graham County. And Land Trust for the Little Tennessee in Franklin, 4 1/2 Street Inn, Highlands Hiker, Highlands Area Chamber of Commerce, Highlands Plateau Audubon Society, Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, Jackson-Macon Conservation alliance, Morningside Bed and Breakfast, The Bird Barn, The Chandler Inn and Whiteside Cove Cottage all of Highlands, in Macon County.
Remember when it comes to birders’ bucks — the early bird gets the worm.