I recently heard a story of two young children walking along a trail spotting a small group of people ahead. One yells out, “They’re bird watchers! Run!” I am not sure what they feared but the birding stereotype of ” ‘Miss’ Jane Hathaway” on the Beverly Hillbillies has changed. If you haven’t check out the movie “The Big Year,” with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black, you should sometime.
A study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that birdwatchers contributed about $32 billion to the U.S. economy. “About 85 million Americans enjoy observing, photographing or feeding wild birds. Birding ranks 15th on a list of the most popular outdoor activities, just below bicycling and beach bumming … . About 18 million are serious enough to take trips exclusively to commune with other birders or count birds by sight or sound, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” (Terry Byrne, USA Today, Jan. 4, 2014.)
Really? Birding? Our north coast environment is rich with birds; it is one of our untapped ecotourism opportunities that is literally flying past us. I became somewhat interested in birding five years ago and have since become a “lister” and “chaser.” I started keeping a list of birds seen each day throughout the year, attend out-of-town birding festivals and meeting the local “birding community.” I started to attend Godwit Days, a seven-day birding festival held each April in Arcata with more than 300 people participating in some of the 100 offered trips to view birds. This is Arcata’s third largest event but is the only countywide ecotourism event of this size in our area.
While this event has been attended in the past mostly by locals, the number of out of town visitors is increasing. Comparing Godwit Days with other birding events in the region (Klamath Falls, Chico, Stockton, Monterey, etc.) our local festival has the potential to bring in 300 out-of-town guests each staying an average of 2-3 nights and eating 10 meals during a time of year (April) when occupancy rates are low and restaurants are not full. Now that’s not chicken scratch.
Our local tourist-related businesses are encouraged to take advantage of Godwit Days and similar tourist-drawing events throughout the year. Godwit Days is holding their “Fall Preview” birding trips Oct. 4-5 this year (http://godwitdays.org/). Those of you in the tourism industry should sign up; see what birding is all about. No experience necessary; just bring/borrow a pair of binoculars and check out why this area is “going to the birds.” Godwit Days will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in April 2015. If you are interested in being a Godwit Days sponsor or advertiser give a hoot.
Bob Brown is on the Godwit Days board, and is owner of Streamline Planning Consultants, a local permitting firm emphasizing business advocacy and has obtained permits for many local business expansions and relocations.