Out and About

Why not eco-tourism?

A scheduled monthly task I have as a member of the Friends of the Locust Fork River is picking up trash at Swann Covered Bridge. Since that covered bridge is an attraction in Blount County, I often cross paths with “tourists.”

I recently spoke with a group from Georgia that was in Alabama primarily to explore the state’s covered bridges. I took the opportunity to share some history of the Swann Covered Bridge and the Locust Fork River. Then I told them about other county attractions that should be of interest such as Palisades Park, Rickwood Caverns, and Mardis Mill Falls. I mentioned Powell Falls down river from Swann Bridge and the hike that takes place in the fall in conjunction with our Covered Bridge Festival.

Next thing I know, they went to their car, grabbed their day packs and hiking sticks, and headed to the trail that leads to Powell Falls. The chance encounter made me think again about what Blount County has to offer tourists, especially in outdoor recreation.

What if county leaders intentionally promoted our chamber of commerce’s Blount County – Awesome by Nature marketing hook? The state is focusing on eco-tourism. Blount County needs to be a part of that.

According to the Alabama Innovation Commission (www.innovatealabama.org) a Nov. 3, 2021, article by Michael Sznajderman for Alabama Newscenter – Business (www.alabamanewscenter.com), “Alabama is exceptionally endowed with a vast array of natural assets that can be leveraged to expand its outdoor recreation industry, enhancing the state’s attractiveness for high skilled individuals and new tourists, as well as yielding substantial returns for both rural and urban communities.” That statement exposes tourism benefits for all counties in Alabama, especially Blount County’s eco-tourism opportunities.

The gist of the article is that Alabama’s natural assets are underdeveloped. Subsequently, “holding the state back from realizing its full potential to draw high skilled workers and establish itself as an outdoor recreation powerhouse within the southeastern region.”

Think Blount County when you read the previous sentence. Building and promoting eco-tourism in Blount County will create new businesses around outdoor sports and activities that will make for a stronger local economy. The direct return will be dollars spent by out-of-county tourists. The indirect return will be an ability to attract jobs such as river outfitters, eco-tourism guides, restaurants, lodging, and other related industry.

Blount County trails its neighboring counties in income attributed to tourism. That should not be since we have as much, or more, natural beauty to offer a visitor. We, the general public, seem to selfishly want to keep the secret to ourselves for our use only. I understand the sentiment, but the benefits of eco-tourism should outweigh our selfishness.

The mindset of influential people in our county is changing. Some totally understand eco-tourism potential. Let us ramp up attention to and spending for outdoor recreation. Let us show the world Blount County is Awesome by Nature!