The trail will inform birders about interesting birding sites across the state, how to get to there, and what types of birds they can expect to see.
From a tourism angle, the bird trail will be beneficial to communities along the route. Birding trails exist in more than 30 states, generating millions of ecotourism dollars.
Environmental awareness and conservation is also a goal behind the bird trail. One in four bird species in the United States shows signs of population decline. The leading cause is loss of habitat due to development. Placing an economic value on natural resources gives communities an incentive to get involved in conservation.
Eco-nomics of birders
Birders are considered the largest single group of ecotourists.
About 18 million people a year travel at least one mile from home with the primary purpose of observing birds, according to a 2001 survey of wildlife-associated recreation conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Birders tend to be middle-aged or older and have a higher level of education and more money than the average person — a demographic the tourism industry generally tries to court.
The survey found wildlife watchers in general spent $7.5 billion on wildlife watching trip expenses such as food, lodging and transportation.
A 1999 survey of visitors along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which links 300 bird-watching sites across the state, reported that the average visitor on the trail spent $78.50 per person per day, and the average trip lasted seven nights and eight days. More than 95 percent of travelers on the trail were visiting from outside the immediate region.
The North Carolina birding trail will connect birders to more than just bird-watching sites. Historical attractions, landmarks and small towns will be included in maps and listings, connecting birders to rural communities they might not otherwise visit.
The trail will engage museums and nature centers along the route to offer programs connecting visitors to the resources of the birding trail. The trail will also link birders with activities and outings of local birding clubs across the state. Birding trails could also serve as a catalyst for private tour companies and nature guides.
Nature-based tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of global travel. According to birding trail organizers, 90 percent of tourists in North Carolina are driving, so the North Carolina Birding Trail could become very popular.
Mapping a bird trail
The North Carolina Birding Trail is beginning in the coastal region. Nominations of bird-watching sites for the coastal leg of the trail are due by Feb. 3. Nomination forms are at the North Carolina Birding Trail website at www.ncbirdingtrail.org.
A list of the nominations will be sent to birding experts for additional input. Sites will be selected based on bird habitat and populations, public accessibility, and the available space for educational kiosks and viewing platforms.
The coastal component of the trail should be mapped out and running by the end of the year. The Piedmont portion of the trail will be mapped out in 2007, and the mountains will be targeted for 2008.
Organizers hope local communities and not just birders will get involved in creating the birding trail. The planning phase for each region will include town meetings with the aim of involving chambers of commerce, conservation groups, outdoor clubs and local leaders.
With the Internet being such a popular way for people to plan trips and research vacations, a North Carolina Birding Trail Web site will be the primary focus of marketing. The Web site will have maps of the trails, a list of species known to frequent each bird-watching site, and tourism information such as nearby bed and breakfast inns.