Make us your home page
Instagram

Dan DeWitt: Eco-tourism a growth industry in Hernando

Red-cockaded woodpecker

Times file

Red-cockaded woodpecker

Believe it or not, people will travel from all over the world to see a small, black-and-white bird that lives in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Andy Wraithmell, who is originally from England, knows this for a fact because that's why he came to Florida more than a decade ago — to view red-cockaded woodpeckers.

He didn't come to Croom, east of Brooksville, because he didn't know it was a center of red-cockade woodpecker viewing and because — back in those early days of rebuilding the species' population in the forest — it really hadn't become one yet.

But it is now, and part of Wraithmell's job with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is to make people aware that red-cockaded woodpeckers and other highly sought birds live in this part of Florida — and that they're easy to see.

Think of the appeal to avid birders on family, theme-park vacations in Orlando who, understandably, are desperate for a break. After a drive of a little more than an hour, they can be walking through quiet stands of longleaf pines, adding new species to their lifetime lists.

"Eco-tourism on a plate" is what Wraithmell calls it. It's got promise as a tourism niche, he said — promise that is starting to be realized at this weekend's Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. (naturecoastfestival.wordpress.com)

It used to be called the Chinsegut birding festival, because it was all based at the Chinsegut Nature Center north of Brooksville. A lot of events still will be, but this year's festival also offers birding tours through other natural areas in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. The bad news, if you're thinking of signing up, is that several of the tours are fully booked. But that's good news for the commission and anybody who hopes eco-tourism has a future here.

In fact, it seems as though Hernando's tourism industry in general is on a roll.

The Family Motor Coach Association — which had been threatening to move one if its big annual rallies to DeLand — announced this week that the event will remain at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. Then we learned the Florida Classic Clusters Winter Dog Show will return to Hernando next January after temporarily departing for Ocala.

I have nothing against these events and the people who get a kick out of beauty pageants for dogs or driving long distances in gas-guzzling vehicles for the chance to park next to a runway.

But forgive me for being partial to eco-tourism. I like that it creates a financial incentive to preserve the environment. I think it has more long-term potential than either of those other events.

A birding festival near Titusville draws about 6,000 people each year, Wraithmell said, and the Nature Coast festival could eventually do the same. This area offers one of the largest populations of federally threatened red-cockaded woodpeckers in peninsular Florida, as well as scrub jays, swallow-tailed kites and burrowing owls.

These species are desirable enough that they could attract not just opportunistic eco-tourists, but ones making special trips.

And if we can offer a break to some poor nature lover faced with another long day on International Drive, I figure we're doing the world a service.

Dan DeWitt: Eco-tourism a growth industry in Hernando 03/21/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:15pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations rebound from stronger earnings report

    Corporate

    TAMPA — After a sharp drop in its stock price in August and September, Health Insurance Innovations on Monday announced strong revenue and net income gains in preliminary numbers for its third quarter of the year. The company also announced a $50 million stock buyback over the next two years meant to bolster its …

    After losing more than half its market value between August and September, shares in Tampa's Health Insurance Innovations are rebounding."The new share repurchase program underscores our confidence in our business strategy, financial performance, and the long-term prospects of our company while also allowing us the financial flexibility to continue to invest in our business," company CEO Gavin Southwell announced Monday. [Courtesy of LinkedIn]
  2. Trigaux: Campaign aims to leverage tourism ads to recruit millennials, businesses

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay's unleashing one of its best weapons — a cadre of successful entrepreneurs and young business leaders — in a marketing campaign already under way but officially …

    Erin Meagher, founder of Tampa coconut oil products company Beneficial Blends, is part of a group of business savvy millennial entrepreneurs and managers who are helping to pitch the work-live-play merits of the Tampa Bay market in a new marketing campaign called Make It Tampa Bay. The campaign is backed by Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and aimed at recruiting more millennial talent to relocate and stay in the Tampa Bay area. [Courtesy Tampa Hillsborough EDC, Visit Tampa Bay]
  3. Florida gas prices drop 25 cents on average over past month

    Autos

    Gas prices are on a downward tear post-hurricane. Tampa Bay fell to $2.34 per gallon on Sunday, down 10 cents over the week, according to AAA, The Auto Club Group. Across the state, gas fell 7 cents over the same period to average $2.47 per gallon.

    Gas prices across the state fell 25 cents over 31 days. | [Times file photo]
  4. Entrepreneur expands interests with Twisted Crafts

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Playgrounds of Tampa owner Mike Addabbo is expanding into the do-it-yourself industry with his new endeavor: Twisted Crafts.

     Jennifer and Michael Addabbo pose in their latest entrepreneurial enterprise: Twisted Crafts. Photo courtesy of Twisted Craft.
  5. Amazing Lash franchise expands to South Tampa

    Business

    SOUTH TAMPA — Jeff Tolrud opened the doors to his third Amazing Lash Studio franchise earlier this month, this time in South Tampa.

    When customers walk in, the studios have the same look and feel throughout the country, operator Jeff Tolrud said of Amazing Lash Studio. Tolrud opened his third in Hillsborough County earlier this month. Photo courtesy of Amazing Lash.