Nature Tourism

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

Nature tourism benefits entire communities because visitors pay for fuel, meals, lodging, shopping, film and other goods and services. These kinds of expenditures result in more jobs for residents.

Clarksville Cashes In On Conservation

by Lisa DeBruyckere

For 17 years, Clarksville, a town on the Mississippi River south of Hannibal, with less than 1,000 people, has profited from the return of bald eagles to Missouri.

As increasing numbers of the once endangered national symbol return to this northeast Missouri river town to feed on fish in the river, Clarksville citizens partner with Conservation Department and Army Corps of Engineers to host an "Eagle Days" event.

This small town booms during the popular January weekend, with visitation reaching 7,000. Business increases during the eagle extravaganza, but more than individual shopkeepers benefit from this kind of nature tourism.

Watching wildlife benefits entire communities because visitors pay for fuel, meals, lodging, shopping, film and other goods and services. These kinds of expenditures result in more jobs for small-community citizens.

Just watching a bald eagle on a cold winter day in northeast Missouri can have far-reaching implications for entire ecosystems. When people learn more about the habitat requirements of wildlife, they support and vote soundly on environmental issues. For example, people who visit Clarksville, on Eagle Day events leave understanding breeding and wintering needs of bald eagles.

This understanding translates into a desire by visitors to protect river systems, use pesticides and herbicides with care, and provide nesting and other habitat requirements, not only for eagles but for many other wildlife species.

And eagles aren't the only lure to bustling Clarksville. The town's Big River Days festivals and Fall Foliage Tours, both in the Fall, draw visitors from far away to appreciate nature's beauty and Clarksville's river town ambience.

Puxico - Just 'Naturally' Growing

by Steve Kappler

Modest, well-kept homes, neatly trimmed lawns, a nostalgic hometown feeling - that's the idyllic setting travelers encounter in Puxico.

The town is typical of many rural communities, except that Puxico is growing, and an upbeat attitude is evident in Puxico's 819 residents.

It's especially evident when talking to Doyle Mitchell, Puxico's mayor. "Visitors are helping Puxico grow," Mitchell says. He cites the prosperity of local businesses that provide food or supplies to travelers.

And what brings visitors to a little town in southeast Missouri? For Mitchell, the answer is obvious: It's outdoor recreation on the 239,000 acres of public land near Puxico. In fact, it might be difficult to find another Missouri town of Puxico's size that has more public land at its doorstep.

Travelers heading to the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, for example, drive right through Puxico on Highway 51, the main access to Mingo and to the Duck Creek Conservation Area just to the north.

Large chunks of public land nearby include a 156,554-acre section of the Mark Twain National Forest and the 44,351 acres (land and water) of Lake Wappapello. Add in smaller public areas in the neighborhood (such as the Dark Cypress Swamp and Crowley's Ridge conservation areas) and it's no surprise that outdoors-loving travelers are coming to the area in significant numbers.

The mayor, a busy man who owns the town's roller rink, serves as a minister in nearby Poplar Bluff and heads up a family gospel singing group, thinks outdoor recreation is a key to his town's economy. "People who come here for fishing, hunting or sightseeing bring new money into Puxico. Areas like Mingo and Wappapello mean a lot to us."

A few miles north, at the rustic but modern visitor center for the Mingo refuge, Gerry Clawson agrees. After 25 years as refuge manager at Mingo, Clawson qualifies as a local.

Looking out a large window at the edge of the 22,000-acre hardwood swamp, Clawson talks of the 150,000 travelers who visit Mingo yearly. "A lot of them come to fish," he notes, "but just watching the wildlife is big, too. Either way, I figure we do some good for the town. And Lake Wappapello also has an impact."

The Corps of Engineers lake is another plus for the area economy. Keith Kelley, a young park ranger who has lived in the area all his life, says that many area businesses make their profit during the warm-weather travel season. The lake's estimated 2 million annual visitors are vital to nearby communities, he says.

Of course, visitors aren't the area's only source of income. Farming, wood processing, a clothing factory and other businesses put money in the bank for local residents.

Still, sitting in a booth at the Puxico Restaurant, concepts like "ecotourism" and "outdoor recreation" are easily translated into more practical terms. "We get a lot of business from fishers and sightseers," says Mary Morefield, who has owned the restaurant since 1981. "Puxico always seems 'busy' for a town its size. People who come here to enjoy the water and the scenery and the wildlife make a big difference."

Eminence - A Town with Outdoor Allure

by Laurie Stout

My husband and I were drifting down the Jacks Fork River, just above its confluence with the Current, and I hoped to see a flying blue jewel, an indigo bunting. Finally, around a bend in the river, I glimpsed one flitting near the bank.

There was plenty of other wildlife to see, too. A great blue heron stared intently into the water; kingfishers dove at the jump of a fish; a blue skink displayed its impossible-to-miss neon blue tail and thousands of turtles, from dime- to dinner-plate-sized, lounged on logs.

I was in Shannon County to discover the secrets of its allure, a magic that draws more than 1.5 million visitors every year.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day every year, many local canoe outfitters are booked solid on weekends. What's so special about these rivers?

According to Julie Hawkins of Jacks Fork Canoe Rental, it's the water. "Our water is spring-fed, so it's clean and clear. Even during droughts we have plenty of water. If you've ever been on a slow-moving, dingy river, you'd know the difference!"

But it's more than that. The National Scenic Rivers designation provides a buffer between the rivers and human development. Floating down these particular Ozark waterways, you see pristine wilderness, not homes and businesses. Every gravel bar is a potential campsite; every jewel-green deep pool, a swimming hole made in heaven. Trout - and anglers - take to the Current River's cold flowing water.

With nearly 150,000 acres of public land, the area is a haven for hikers and horseback riders. Trails and fire roads wind through a forest of mixed hardwoods and pine. The Ozark Trail meanders through eastern Shannon County.

"We're kinda like the outback here," says Conservation District Forester Charles Santhuff. "You can drive anywhere there's a two track road, hike anywhere or primitive camp ... that appeals to people."

The wilderness supports a cornucopia of Missouri wildlife like turkey, deer and even the occasional black bear. "We've had a few reports of bear sightings," confirms Santhuff. Sit quietly at Alley Spring, an oasis of overhanging fern and columbine, and a mink or muskrat may appear.

The town of Eminence offers a relaxed ambience to visitors.

"It's lovely enough that if you don't want to do anything at all but sit on the porch, you can. It's as relaxing or as physical as you want it to be," says Paul Faulkenberry, who returned to Eminence after many years away to transform his family home into a beautifully appointed bed and breakfast.

A thriving arts council has sprung up in town, supporting the many artisans inspired by the natural beauty. A yearly bluegrass festival, and several rodeos draw enthusiasts. But in the end, whether by wheel or water, horseback or on foot, it's the outdoors that brings people back again and again.

Cassville - History Happens Here

by Sandy LaRouche

On the surface Cassville looks like any other pleasantly sleepy, small Missouri town, but if Cassville had a town slogan, it might well be: "History Happens Here."

Tourists stopping to grab cold sodas, fast food or a new fishing lure on their way to the most popular park in the state, Roaring River State Park, seven miles south of town, could pass through without ever knowing the fascinating past and bright future this little town possesses.

They might guess that things are prosperous when they see the new wing and Main Street entrance to the Barry County Hospital, officially opened in the fall of 1996. But unless the 800,000 visitors, intent on "catching the big one," have need of a hospital, they'll probably not even notice.

The town's courthouse was built in 1913 on the same site where renegade Confederate delegates to the Missouri General Assembly seceded from the Union as Northern soldiers, chasing them from Jefferson City, swooped down on the town.

Those interested in hot food, cold drinks and entertainment after a "hard day" fishing, hiking or horseback riding will have no trouble finding what they're looking for in hospitable Cassville. The town loves serving visitors. About 1,500 people in Barry County work in jobs created by tourism. What's right for visitors is revenue for Cassville.

The little town of 2,400 is currently basking in the glow of the largest construction project in the history of Missouri's parks. Over $4 million is being spent from the state park earnings fund to create a magnificent new lodge at Roaring River State Park.

The 47,000 square foot facility, scheduled to be completed in 1997, will contain a retail store, 26 guest rooms, a restaurant and administrative offices.

Barry County is home to a marvelous population of wild creatures, including hundreds of bird species, bobcats, rare salamanders, bald eagles, black bears, lots and lots of fish and a few lively ghosts.

Bushwhackers and Confederates once hid out in the magnificent gorges, hills and valleys here. Generations of Native American tribes hunted the forests and fished the streams. Here, where country kids in cut-offs and city hikers in their designer jeans, find recreation and common ground in tying flies and catching fish, it is said that singing, dancing and laughing ghosts of the Prohibition era still haunt the lodge.

The old stone building, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps stationed at nearby Shell Knob, mounts the steep hillside near the Roaring River spring outlet.

General Manager Richard Persons, staff member Shari Douglas and others working there late at night say they have often heard the sounds of a party in the lower level. When they check the big hall where dances were held weekly, the sound stops. The doors are always locked; no one is ever there.

The "ghosts" in the stone building will dance on into eternity undisturbed. The new lodge will replace an outdated three story motel nearby, just a stone's throw from the swimming pool and all the natural wonders that Roaring River State Park has to offer.

Conservation will take care of the trout; ghosts take care of themselves, but the residents of Cassville will look after the needs of their visitors, knowing that when tourists come they bring prosperity with them.

Mound City - It's for the Birds

by Jim Murphy

Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to northwest Missouri's Holt County every fall. They come to frolic in the marsh, gabble with their friends, and dine on the local bounty. Though they arrive penniless, they help leave Mound City a richer place.

The visitors in question are snow geese, migratory waterfowl that congregate in vast numbers on the marshes of Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge during their southward journeys. The presence of so many snow geese attracts 200 to 300 bald eagles hoping for a meal, and together they create a natural spectacle that draws as many as 40,000 people over a two-month period beginning in mid-October, according to refuge manager Ron Bell. The first weekend in December alone brings 10,000 guests to Squaw Creek for the Conservation's Department's annual Eagle Days event.

Many of these spectators will take a break from their wildlife viewing to contribute to nearby Mound City's expanding economy in return for meals and snacks, gasoline, lodging and other traveler expenses. This small farming community along Interstate 29 in the loess hills above the Missouri River is poised perfectly to take advantage of the growing interest in ecotourism activities such as bird-watching and auto-touring to see wildlife.

Waterfowl have been important to the Mound City economy for decades, though in the past duck hunting was the acknowledged main attraction. But that may be changing.

"I think there are more people coming here now to watch wildlife than to hunt," says Charlie Pecora, manager of Audrey's Motel. While duck populations have rebounded in the past few years, "hunting doesn't seem to bring in the people it once did. November used to be our best month and we'd stay full with hunters. But now we do well from late October on through mid or late December - when the snow geese and eagles are here."

A few wingbeats down Interstate 29 at Squaw Creek (Truck) Plaza, business manager Phyllis Martinez is equally enthusiastic. "We get a lot of tour buses that stop off to visit the refuge in the spring and fall, and especially in December and January to see the eagles - that's a time that might otherwise be slow for us."

A major economic benefit of wildlife watching is its ability to attract visitors, and revenue, to an area throughout the year, particularly before and after the traditional summer-vacation months. Indeed, summer is the slowest time for auto-tours of the refuge, after a busy spring filled with shorebird migrations and 20,000 human admirers. But just as Squaw Creek "cools off," summer travel is heating up on the interstate and to nearby Big Lake State Park, assuring a continued steady stream of customers for many local businesses.

And soon there will be even more traveler-serving enterprises, as Mound City welcomes its second major truck plaza and national fast-food restaurant, first bed-and-breakfast, and a restored hunting lodge near the refuge that features birding and nature trails. Obviously these new business owners feel Mound City is the place to be. Quite a few snow geese and bald eagles would agree.

Natural Beauty, Naturally Profitable

A study by the Missouri Division of Tourism revealed that "natural beauty" is one of the top five reasons people cited for visiting Missouri.

Communities that recognize their natural resources locally can profit substantially by promoting outdoor opportunities. Cashing in on wildlife tourism is a profitable adventure.

The Tourism Team

by Kathy Love

The Missouri Division of Tourism and the Conservation Department have teamed up to encourage communities to cash in on nature tourism. An interagency task force is exploring ways to encourage visitation to public recreation lands for the benefit of local economies.

"It's a win-win-win idea," says task force chairman Shannon Cave. "Local communities reap increased tourism expenditures, visitors get a unique natural experience, and natural resources benefit from the greater understanding and support of tourists and community members."

Fish, Wildlife and Forests Pay Dividends

Outdoor recreation means more than a billion dollars to the Missouri economy.

by Edd Brown

There are many benefits to Missourians from the 1/8th of 1 percent sales tax that is dedicated to conservation. The tax provides about two-thirds of the annual budget for the Conservation Department. It is these dollars that have helped provide nature centers in four major urban areas and 400,000 acres of public land. This land is used for outdoor recreation, but also sustains many types of ecosystems, such as wetlands, prairies and forests.

An important point to the success of the sales tax is that, if properly applied to fish and wildlife conservation, the conservation sales tax is a self-sustaining revenue source. Fish and wildlife recreationists pay for the conservation and management of the very resources they use.

One measure of participation is the dollars spent in pursuit of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreationists are a dedicated and generous lot. Anglers require special rods and reels, boats, motors, lures and line, while hunters usually need several guns, a four-wheel-drive or all-terrain vehicle, ammunition, camouflage clothing, knives and other equipment.

And even the non-angler/hunter has to have outdoor clothes, binoculars and other equipment. These dollars add up: in 1991 fish and wildlife recreationists spent about $1.23 billion on equipment and travel in Missouri. These dollars circulate through the Missouri economy, generating more business. The $1.23 billion spent generated another $1.9 billion in the "spin-off" industries supporting all this recreation and support nearly 39,000 jobs in Missouri.

In 1991, the state sales taxes of 4.225 percent generated nearly $52 million in revenue from the sale of goods and services related directly to fish and wildlife recreation. In that same year, the Conservation Department received nearly $55 million in revenue from the conservation sales tax.

Sales taxes of $52 million from recreation spending nearly equaled $55 million in the form of conservation sales taxes. Fish and wildlife do pay their way!

In addition, Missourians with jobs in recreation-related industries paid nearly $28 million in state income taxes to support state programs. Many counties also collect a one-half cent sales tax that amounted to over $6 million in local government funds from fish and wildlife recreation.

Conservation works, and conservationists' dollars work for conservation.

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