The Nature of Tourism
Birders, cyclists, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts flock to Delaware for fun. A savvy group of outfitters, state agencies and marketers are hoping to parlay that activity into something more.
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Most people would consider a Serengeti safari to be the trip of a lifetime, so Delawareans might be surprised to learn that we have a Serengeti of our own right here.
“When you look at what is internationally significant as far as wildlife in the Mid-Atlantic, it’s the Delaware Bay,” says Eric Stiles, vice president for conservation and stewardship for the New Jersey Audubon Society.
“The Serengeti represents superabundance and diversity, an amazing natural resource, and that’s what we have in the Delaware Bay. It’s the foremost area in the country for shorebirds, and then there are the migratory waterfowl, the songbirds and the raptors. There is the amazing diversity of life present in the estuarine environment—underwater, above water and on the beaches.”
For more than a decade, the American Bird Conservancy has sponsored an annual trip to Kent County to see the dramatic shorebird migration, which reaches its peak in late May, when horseshoe crabs spawn and lay eggs the birds need to eat to fuel their flights. Kent County is one of only three stateside trips taken by the American Bird Conservancy, and it is the only destination on the Eastern seaboard. Though the most dedicated birders have long known about Delaware, novice birders are only beginning to discover it. This year, its 10th in Delaware, the Delmarva Birding Weekend drew 450 people during five days in May.
Delaware’s Quiet Resorts jumped on the birding wagon in fall 2008, offering its second annual birding weekend last month. The creation in 2007 of Delaware’s first Birding Trail, mapping out 27 of the best birding sites in the state, should attract even more birders to the state.
Birders are part of a new wave of nature-based tourism, a growing specialty market that Delaware and local businesses are eager to attract. The payoff could be big. Ecotourism, a subset of nature-based tourism, contributes some $730 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and it is growing faster than any other type of tourism, at a rate of 24 percent to 30 percent a year, according to The International Ecotourism Society. The society defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of the local people. Delaware has plenty of it to offer.
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