A retreat held in February 2009 by the Business of Birding Institute taught 25 participants representing Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee the basics of nature-based agritourism. With this understanding, landowners were equipped to determine the feasibility of beginning a nature-based agri-tourism business on their farm operation. Agency and community personnel were able to return to their communities and continue the education of local landowners to encourage agritourism related industry. Ideally, cooperation and collaboration among different sectors of a community will create an integrated product for tourists. Work by Audubon Arkansas and other partners has continued this endeavor in eastern Arkansas.
The Business of Birding Institute is an educational outreach effort for farmers, private landowners, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and Cooperative Extension educators in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The Institute will help participants learn about nature-based agri-tourism, and conduct outreach to their communities. As a result of this outreach effort, participants will demonstrate a better understanding of nature tourism’s potential to improve farm income and rural economies while also conserving natural resources and increasing the public’s appreciation of agriculture. With this understanding, participants will be equipped to determine the feasibility of beginning a nature-based agri-tourism business on their farm operation. Ideally, cooperation and collaboration among different sectors of a community will create an integrated product for tourists. Steering and Working Committees comprised of farmers; local community leaders; and private, state, and federal agency staff, planed, implemented, and evaluated a week-long Business of Birding Institute. Visits to Arkansas’ Grand Prairie and southeast Mississippi River Delta regions highlighted the benefits of integrating nature into agri-tourism, and examined the potential of nature tourism to impact rural communities and their economies. After completing this course, graduates will: –have a deeper understanding of nature tourism; –be able to evaluate and make informed decisions about starting a nature-based business as an additional income source; –be familiar with business management and service industry “best practices;” –understand sound land management practices and how they benefit agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, natural resources, farm families, and rural communities; –understand how resource management and economic versatility can benefit future generations; –return home with the knowledge that building partnerships within the community develops civic pride and results in marketing strength for entrepreneurs, farmers, and landowners; and –understand how including youth in nature tourism development will bring insight, fresh perspective, and technological skills, and provide opportunities for rural youth to remain and work in their communities.
1. Plan a week-long Business of Birding Institute with Steering and Working Committees comprised of local farmers, private landowners, and businesses and regional experts from the tourism industry and Cooperative Extension Service. The Institute will be held in February 2009. 2. Develop an outreach plan and central message to educate the target audience about nature tourism and to recruit participation in the Institute. At least 25 people from the four-state region will register for the Institute. 3. Implement a week-long Institute that will provide farmers, private landowners, and entrepreneurs the tools necessary for determining the relevance and feasibility of pursuing a nature-tourism business, while also providing community leaders and Extension educators with educational materials and an action plan for outreach to rural communities. All participants will receive a certificate of completion and complete an individualized action plan. 4. Conduct formative and summative evaluations to measure program impact and outreach. Evaluation results will be compiled by October 2009 with a goal of an 80 percent survey response rate.
Institute participant goals were accomplished by: -teaching classes on business management, understanding legal issues, marketing, understanding nature tourists and birders, hospitality, identifying local wildlife species, improving wildlife habitat, and identifying resources for technical and financial assistance; -visiting or describing successful nature tourism businesses to improve participant understanding within the context of the rural agricultural community; -instruction and demonstrations of sustainable land management practices for improving wildlife habitat on the farm, including USDA natural resource conservation programs; -discussion of community partnership development to illustrate the greater strength in collaborative marketing and business planning; -demonstrations of youth inclusion strategies for nature tourism development to bring insight, fresh perspective and technological skills to business development from within the community; -completion of a “next steps” strategic action plan for each participant to implement on their farm, land, or in their local community; -evaluating the short-term and long-term effectiveness of the workshop in assisting farmers, private landowners, and entrepreneurs in their decision to pursue a nature-based enterprise; and -evaluating the impact on Extension educators, community leaders and communities. Objective 1: Institute Planning and Development A Steering Committee made up of farmers, private landowners, local community and business leaders, Cooperative Extension staff, and nature tourism experts was organized. This Committee, communicating through teleconferences, e-mails, and a face-to-face planning meeting, determined how best to present a thorough yet understandable curriculum covering all of the necessary topics. A Working Committee including representatives from the major partners, as well as local landowners and Refuge staff was also assembled. The Working Committee addressed logistical issues such as instructor needs, field trip locations, transportation, lodging, and meals. This committee worked through e-mail and teleconferences, as well as face to face meetings to review instructional materials, test field trip activities and demonstrations, and verify that all lodging, classroom, and dining facilities adhere to Institute standards. Objective 2: Outreach Plan Elaine Nesmith, President of 4Sight Development, Inc. was contracted as an Outreach Consultant. She worked with the Steering Committee to develop a detailed outreach plan addressing short and long-term goals. The outreach plan included educational materials such as mini-posters, an electronic invitation, website links, and articles in appropriate media outlets about nature tourism to educate and recruit course participants. Steering Committee members assisted with participant recruitment by identifying sources of potential participants, appropriate mailing lists, and other recruitment outlets for the target audience in the four-state region. The Working Committee had oversight over publication and distribution of educational materials and course registration information. This Committee was also responsible for handling registration of participants. Objective 3: Implementation of Business of Birding Institute All partners had a role in the implementation of the Institute. Classes were held at the PCCUA DeWitt campus in the Mississippi River delta region of Arkansas. Field trips and demonstrations took place at nearby public and private lands, including the White River National Wildlife Refuge, Stuttgart Municipal Airport, Arkansas Post National Memorial, and the Morton and Bowlin properties. Arkansas Extension, Audubon Arkansas, University of Arkansas, the National Wildlife Refuge, and Arkansas Parks and Tourism provided Institute instructors. Each participant developed a specific, measurable action plan detailing strategic “next steps” for implementing a nature-based agri-tourism business on their farm and in their local community. The plan included potential partners that the participant can involve to make the venture more attractive to tourists. A registration fee covered instructor fees, curricula development materials, student books, lodging, meals, transportation, and other expenses pertaining to the week-long course. Participants were housed in local nature tourism facilities to experience a nature tourism venue and gain insight about the operation of these businesses. Any program income generated from registration fees supported continued program sustainability of the Business of Birding Institute. A grant from the Lower Mississippi River Delta Initiative also assisted with meals and lodging. Objective 4: Evaluation University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service designed and implemented the evaluation component of this project with input from the Institute’s Steering and Working Committees. An evaluation of learning achievements and impact will be conducted using qualitative and quantitative methods prior to, during, and after the conclusion of the course. A pre-test conducted prior to the start of the workshop determined interests, knowledge, and demographics. The goal of the pre-test was to assess course impact. A post-survey and round-table discussion conducted before course participants are dismissed will assess effectiveness. A follow-up survey implemented approximately 6 months after the course will determine whether participants used their knowledge to implement their action plans. Evaluators will request feedback from participants and instructors regarding future directions and course improvements.
Nature of Agri-Tourism Retreat Summary of Results from Telephone Interviews Why they attended: • To promote tourism in our area. • Our county has an enormous range of habitat. Birding is something that we can add to our heritage tours. • To get information about agri-tourism in general, and specific information about things to do to on the farm to further our business. • To learn new information. I only attended one day, but the information presented that day was what I expected. • To learn more about agri-tourism as a way to entertain and educate people. (Didn’t realize that the “Nature of Agritourism Retreat” meant an emphasis on the natural world, thought it meant the nature of something.) We are more interested in getting the history and culture of agriculture in a particular area and aiming tourism toward it. How has the retreat help them meet their goals: • The retreat helped our community move further ahead. The business side of nature tourism was important to learn. And marketing is key – we need to create attention about what the community has to offer, what makes our community different from others. • The retreat has helped with our community outreach. • I came away with not what I thought I would, but it was all good. • The retreat was pretty good, we learned a lot of new things that we could apply to our situation. • The retreat increased our awareness of what other people are doing in other areas. We got to talk to other people throughout the state, as well as people from other states. We were able to gather ideas from other people who experienced things first-hand, and learned about their mistakes and achievements. • The biologist that spoke dovetailed with other research that I have been doing. The tour at 5 Oaks was time well spent. • Our goal was to learn more about agritourism and what it takes to develop a living history farm. The retreat did not meet that goal, but we now go birding and spent a vacation doing that. We learned about how to identify birds and the ranger showed fun activities for kids. We also enjoyed the farm museum and the schoolhouse that was turned into a tiny little lodge (1% museum, 99% agritourism). If we owned a large farm, it would have been helpful. It was moderately helpful. However, when we retire, we plan to set up an agritourism business. We want to buy a cabin in the woods, talk about farming of long ago to Boy Scouts and school groups, and sell woven products and such made at the farm. What they have accomplished since the retreat: • Our park has received a grant from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for streamside improvement. We also received help from University of Arkansas – Little Rock to focus on the river culture and history of the community. Last month, I applied for an economic assessment of the feasibility of an RV park to be the community’s “secure investment,” much like the Clinton Library has done for downtown Little Rock, but on a smaller scale. We are in the process of cleaning up vacant lots in our community and putting in gardens and nest boxes and bird feeders. • Our nature tourism enterprise is an annual event, only one month of the year. We farm the rest of the year. But this past year we invested in carving out a 300 – 400 yard nature trail working towards birding and nature. It wasn’t quite big enough for birding. But we are working on it. • We did more marketing of our enterprise. • We set up an LLC. The retreat reminded us of that need and inspired us to go ahead and do it. • The information about waterfowl, habitat, and such was more beneficial and had direct application to our hunting lease. A lot of the focus of the retreat was on the birding aspect. We have not got into that in our business yet. The birding information was good for down the road, though we don’t have any plans of using it yet. • We attended The Governor’s Conference on Tourism. • We have helped private landowners design photographic safari’s, and have enlisted the aid of local birding experts to prepare a birding list so that birders will know what to look for. • We have helped 5 local bed and breakfasts, and a small resort put together brochures that promote not only canoeing but also birds, salamanders, etc. • We have organized an outdoor group as a subsection of our local tourism group. • For the first time ever, our community participated in the Great Backyard Birdwatch this year. • We have focused on heritage tourism more than nature tourism actually. But the retreat helped us think through other avenues of tourism. We are using similar procedures and avenues for heritage tourism that we learned at this retreat. Initially, we thought we would need a huge investment of public money, but realized from the retreat that we can use those people who area already out there. We thought initially we would have to raise money, but instead we have gotten the local people to invest in tourism, and that way they can deal with it on their own terms. We are trying to encourage people to do that here. Some of the things we have in place is that we had 17 blocks of our downtown declared a national commercial historic district, and are working on an additional 5 other buildings. We received an award from the Arkansas Preservation Alliance for the 3 or 4 ongoing initiatives. • My perception is that hunters and fishermen do spend money but we do not target them in our nature tourism efforts. Hunters and fishermen are very single minded as to what they are doing, and less likely to spend extra days touring a museum or birdwatching, for example. But people who do birding also look at other attractions and require a higher level of lodging. It is all a part of creating a destination. In our community, there is not just one thing that will stand alone, but a broad range of things that people can do when they visit us. The viewpoint is that we are in a rural area where there is nothing to do, but in fact there is a lot to do. • The ___ family (who attended the retreat) must be doing quite well. I saw an advertisement for their business, and hadn’t seen that before. • Since the retreat, we have helped with 2 enterprises in the county. One is along a river, 120 acres, with lots of trails and electric carts to get access to them. They have canoeing, swimming, and picnicking, and are developing “nature tourism” on the property. They have a variety of plants, animals and birds. Their unique cottages are on bluffs overlooking the river. And birding is a big part of it. Also, they added Astronomy/Star Gazing to the mix. We picked that up from the retreat and passed it along to them. We would never have considered that as a part of tourism before. We helped them plan it before anything was built or developed, and we continue to help them with their marketing, putting together a website, and so on. The second is a 2,200 acre area that has 150 elk, white-tailed deer and wild turkey. There are trails for walking or taking a jeep. The Director of the Department of Tourism will be a visiting there in the next few weeks. We also got the state photographer to come and take pictures for posting on the Arkansas Tourism website. We’ve directed visitors and travel writers to them to help with their marketing. And we continue to help them develop the property for nature, particularly birding. What they would like to see in future workshops, retreats, and other educational efforts: • Become a continuing educational effort (not a one-time deal). What good is the retreat if we don’t remain in communication with each other? Develop a better identity as a group. Keep the group together, as this is an “unusual hobby,” and share knowledge and resources. Nature tourism could mean snakes or butterflies or anything. Meet at different locations throughout the state exhibiting nature tourism. Study some of the less common bird species that will attract birders. Learn their habits and habitat needs. • I would like to see more workshops and retreats. The length of the workshop could be problematic now, my circumstances have changed since then. I probably would not be able to go for more than a day or two. Or through the weekend and maybe a day during the week. • The emphasis on birding is important, but surely there is more. I would like to see something broader and more inclusive, such as butterflies and other facets of nature tourism. Swimming and canoeing could also be considered nature tourism. And trail development. • No suggestions, it was very good. But I won’t go to another one on nature tourism. • Can’t think of anything off hand. Please see Appendix 4 for Evaluation surveys and results.
Educational & Outreach Activities
See Appendices for the following materials: 1. Nature of Agritourism Retreat electronic invitation and registration form 2. Nature of Agritourism Retreat promotional poster 3. Retreat Agenda, Instructor biographies, “what to bring” information, class and field trip descriptions, and 4. Evaluation survey forms and results 5. Summary of promotion and article from local paper 6. Retreat CD with instructor materials and photos 7. Retreat jotter and t-shirt for participants
The Retreat was a success! It accomplished the objectives of teaching landowners how to incorporate nature tourism in agritourism, reached previously unreached audiences, strengthened existing partnerships and cultivated new ones, and has generated enthusiasm among attendees. The strengths of the Retreat were: -The event organization/administration functioned well. It is important to have a two-three person primary organization committee with one member involved in the local community to connect with venue providers, coordinate grant reporting, administration, etc. -Involvement of local people as presenters, hosts, food, experts, etc. The workshop itself is seen as an economic boost to the community and it enjoys being the host to unique areas of interest. -Immersion in hands-on activities and working with actual nature/agritourism providers -The handouts/materials/tools for participants -Mixed venues (historical, land management, public lands, private lands) -The network of speakers continues to improve -Shelly Plante was a great addition -Utilizing electronic networking among the working committee for marketing -The strengthening of existing partnerships -Finding additional funding through LMDI -Networking opportunities for attendees
Effectiveness of the Retreat cannot be measured by the number of participants who started a business, but rather by the incorporation of the provided decision making tools. Nature-based agri-tourism may not work for every farmer or rural community. Although nature tourism has been shown to provide supplemental income for some farmers and has improved the economic well being of some rural communities, it may not work in all cases. Therefore, a decision not to pursue a nature-based agri-tourism business and expend unnecessary resources was as important of an outreach mission as starting a nature-based agri-tourism business. Audubon Arkansas and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service have taken the lead with related training geared towards farmers and Extension Agents. Workshops and training related to the Nature of Agritourism that have been completed or are planned include: The Nature of Agritourism: Exploring Nature Tourism and Birding as a Business Winthrop Rockefeller Institute Feb 19-21, 2010 In 2009, the Business of Birding Institute collaborated with the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute University of Arkansas System to bring our workshop framework to Petit Jean Mountain in Central Arkansas. WRI took the lead on workshop planning, and they have the ability to host future workshops, therefore the Business of Birding Institute has successfully transferred its concept to an independent organization. The February 2010 workshop format included panel discussions, a birding seminar (taught by Dr. Dan Scheiman), a tour of WRI’s Heritage Farm, and a visit to Petit Jean Farm. Twenty people from across Arkansas attended the workshop, including those considering developing their own land or business into a nature tourism operation. Waterfowl Management In-service Training University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Feb 16-17, 2010 In February 2010, Fowl Play Lodge hosted an in-service training session for Cooperative Extension agents, organized by Dr. Becky McPeake. Agents learned not only about waterfowl biology and wetland habitat management, but also about developing a wildlife enterprise (taught by Dr. McPeake) and the business of birding (taught by Dr. Scheiman). Agents can introduce nature tourism concepts to their constituents. There were 8 in attendance. Wildlife Habitat Restoration on Private Lands Conference U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Feb 2-3, 2010 The conference was intended to improve communications among organizations, offer cross-training about private lands programs, share landowner success stories, learn about successful on-the-ground techniques, and provide updates about Farm Bill programs and other information of relevance to those working with private landowners. Dr. Scheiman described some of National Audubon Society’s private land bird conservation projects, including the Business of Birding Institute. He described the concept of avitourism, the opportunities for private landowners, the Institute’s accomplishments, and the importance of partnerships. 110 natural resource professionals attended. Natural Resource Enterprises for Limited Resource Landowners Audubon Arkansas 2008-2010 Through an agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Audubon Arkansas is delivering a series of workshops for limited resource landowners in the Delta of Arkansas and Mississippi. Although the emphasis is on increasing minority enrollment in Farm Bill programs, workshop topics have also included nature tourism and other natural resource enterprise opportunities. Even owners of small parcels of land can diversify their income by offering a variety of recreational activities such as birding, camping, and pick-your-own farming. Audubon hopes to continue and expand this work for the next three years through a grant from the USDA.
The areas of improvement are: Marketing -Place more articles in different publications – timeline of deadlines -Start early enough to get articles into magazines -Post the website earlier (ability to collect the funds?) -More personal phone contacts to potentially interested agencies/parties (divide the list among all volunteers) -Create the electronic e-invitation in a more reliable format -Track where the press releases are being published for evaluation reporting Pre-Conference -Define the conference objectives on a fact sheet -Host pre-conference tele-meetings with presenters to make sure all talks are compatible, accomplish the objectives, and gain buy-in on the agenda -Enlist more active volunteer support from the Steering Committee Other -The Business of Birding Institute partners need to work with agency personnel to develop a nature & agri-tourism certification system for Arkansas and other states in the region that may be interested. Participants could be certified in their area of expertise, whether it is lodging, cooking, guiding, etc. -Export the training to other states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee. The Mississippi River Field Institute, a project of Audubon Mississippi will be a good vehicle for this endeavor.