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.
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.
• 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.
Robert “Rob” Hawk, a Whittier resident and the former community resource development agent in this region for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, last month became the new county extension director for Jackson and Swain counties.
Hawk replaced Jeff Seiler, who retired in October 2009, after serving as county extension director in both counties for 10 years.
Hawk has held the position of community resource development agent, based in Waynesville, since 2004. He also has worked as an area extension agent for community development, based in Sylva (2000-2003) and as a community development, agriculture and 4-H Extension agent in Cherokee (1997-2000).
Hawk earned a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure administration from the University of Tennessee and a master’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism management, with a minor in public policy and resource economics, from N.C. State University.
The Smoky Mountain News asked Hawk a few questions about his plans for Jackson and Swain counties. Here’s what he said in reply:
Q: What administrative changes do you plan on making, if any?
A: Administratively there are no changes to be made at this time, due to a shortage in the budgets for additional staff. Hopefully in 2011 we can regain our family and consumer science extension agent back to the Swain County Extension Center.
Q: What special problems come for a director answering to commissioners and residents of two counties?
A: There is really not a problem serving two counties … I have been an area extension agent for the last 10 years covering 10 counties from Buncombe County west. There may be a slight challenge in doing everything administratively twice instead of once.
Q: There is no one on staff for the extension service in Jackson and Swain counties with particular experience dealing with livestock. Any plans to address this gap?
A: There are plans to hopefully hire a livestock agent in Macon County, who would also serve the counties of Macon, Swain and Jackson, the same area that is covered by the Jackson, Macon and Swain Cattleman’s Association. Until that happens I will cover livestock requests for Jackson and Swain counties. I realize the livestock folks have been without an agent to help them, so we will do our best to serve them in the future because livestock is very important to our two counties agriculturally.
Q: What special areas of interest do you bring to the job of director?
A: My interests are in community and leadership development, in which I provide facilitation and educational programs to help individuals and both public and private businesses to advance their business and mission through improving their leadership skills. Customer service and hospitality education is another interest of mine in working with the businesses in both counties. Another major interest is conservation education with the youth of both counties, and my goal is to help the youth learn to enjoy, appreciate and respect our great natural resources in the two counties.
Q: What is the overall goal of your office staff?
A: Extension educational programming and (answering) individual requests are our means for effectiveness and strength in Jackson and Swain counties. Our extension staff believes in being out in the community helping others learn how to help themselves, which helps makes better communities in both counties.