A new North Carolina State University initiative is helping rural communities improve their local economies and protect the environment by catering to bird lovers.
To better serve birding enthusiasts visiting North Carolina’s Birding Trail sites, NC State has joined with the North Carolina Birding Trail initiative to provide statewide “birder-friendly business training” to business and community leaders.
“The birding trail gives these communities a chance to utilize the natural elements in their area as an economic tool,” says Dr. Stacy Tomas, assistant professor of parks, recreation and tourism management and tourism extension specialist. “We’re not talking about the usual approach to enticing new industry, we are taking advantage of the fact that the birds are already there.”
Tomas, who partnered with Wake Audubon on the project, says this type of “green” economic development gives leaders the ability to capitalize on the natural aspects of North Carolina and at the same time protects the state’s environment. “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,” she says.
Although many states have birding trails, North Carolina is the first state in the nation to offer this kind of training program. In the last year, more than 100 business and communities across the state completed the six-hour training module.
“What we found is that people in these communities don’t really understand what birders do and who they are,” Tomas says. “So the goal of the program is to educate community leaders about birders and provide them with resources and tools to reach birders as a market.”
Some of the trained businesses are putting together tour packages that appeal to birders. Tomas says the tour packages are one way to get birdwatchers to stay longer and visit other attractions in the area, all the while pumping money into the local economy.
“We hope that folks can see their communities through a new lens,” she says. “The new opportunities that are right in front of them don’t necessarily require a huge financial or development investment.”
The coastal section of the N.C. Birding Trail opened last year and the piedmont section of the trail will open May 15. The last section of the trail, the mountains, is scheduled to open in summer 2009. For more information about the N.C. Birding Trail or to purchase a guidebook, visit www.ncbirdingtrail.org.
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