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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Rapp is convinced that investment in ecotourism will be well rewarded. He points to the 2006 Banking on Nature report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which shows that each dollar invested in Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge netted returns of more than $23. Out-of-state residents accounted for more than 95 percent of the $20.2 million in economic effect attributable to Bombay Hook.
To achieve its conservation and economic goals, DLITE encourages tourism partners in Delaware, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia to market the region together. The area’s history and natural environment do not stop at county or state boundaries, Rapp says.
In addition to DLITE’s efforts, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary launched the website ecoDelaware.com in 2008, a Delaware-specific ecotourism marketing venue funded in part by the Delaware Economic Development Office.
And there are more events and destinations to plug than ever before. Two years ago the DuPont Nature Center opened at the Mispillion Harbor Refuge, one of the state’s best areas for viewing migrating shorebirds. Bethany Beach opened a Nature Center and wetlands trail in June.
Not surprisingly, kayaking and other water sports are among Delaware’s top draws. “One of our goals is to educate people about the value of low-impact tourism,” says Mitch Mitchell, owner of Coastal Kayak, which offers kayak and sailboat rentals in Fenwick Island State Park and guided kayak tours in the ocean and bays. One of several kayaking companies in Sussex, Coastal Kayak opened 15 years ago, and the business has grown every year since, Mitchell says. Kent County got its own kayaking provider a few years ago, when Return to Nature Kayak opened.
Delaware has a growing reputation as a cycling destination, too, with the addition of trails such as the Junction and Breakwater Trail, unveiled in 2006, that connects Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth Beach. “The trail is light years away from Route 1. It’s totally natural, with no motorized vehicles allowed,” says Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. Trails and other improvements earned Delaware an honorable mention in the League of American Bicyclists 2009 Bicycle Friendly States, helping Delaware race from 31st in the 2008 state rankings to ninth in 2009.
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