EDITORIAL: Springing into outdoor tourism     

by Mar 11, 2016OPINIONS0 comments





By the time this edition hits the newsstands, we will be days away from the March 21 kick off to springtime. After a lackluster winter with very few snow events and moderate temperatures, we are ready for the “spring flowers and April showers”. There is no better place to be during the spring than the beautiful land of our ancestral home. We are, by nature, lovers of the outdoors.

There is no lack of things to do and see on the Qualla Boundary: naturally-occurring waterfalls, the historic Oconaluftee River, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, Graham and Cherokee County with virtually untouched forests and streams.

Cherokee has six locations that are designated as birding trails as part of the North Carolina Birding Trail system. Birding is a pastime that all ages enjoy, and bird watchers range from the casual enthusiast that watches as different types fly to their backyard feeder to the professional who hikes miles and captures images for magazines and scientific research. In North Carolina, 2.6 million bird watchers spend $916 million in retail sales for observing and feeding the objects of their desire. On a national level, 71 million Americans enjoy and participate in nature watching and contribute $46 billion dollars to the economy in pursuit of their passion, according to a 2006 study reported by www.ncbirdingtrail.org. Of course, we have to assume that a percentage of those people and dollars are watching other animals in our forest lands; for example, elk.

Hiking and biking are prominent pastimes for many people, young and old. Like birding, you can spend a little or a lot, depending on your level of interest in this leisure activity. The website, www.americanhiking.org, outlines the impact of outdoor tourism on the economy. “According to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, outdoor recreation is responsible for 6.5 million jobs and contributes $730 billion to the national economy. That means that 1 in 20 employed Americans works in some form with the outdoor recreation industry. Additionally, it is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans use trails every year. While some of these trails might be local, millions of Americans are driving long distances to get to a trailhead. Nearly 14 million visits to National Parks were multi-day trips, while almost half of the visits to National Forests were more than just day hikes. All of these trips require expenditures on gas, food, lodging, and sometimes souvenirs that also boost the local economy.”

Cherokee has a reputation as one of the best trout fishing destinations in the world. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation’s Fisheries and Wildlife program maintains the Tribe’s hatchery and stocks and polices the 30 miles of river and streams that make up our trout habitat. Fishermen (and fisherwomen) flock to Cherokee every year and year-round to experience the unique thrill of walking a pole and line up and down our waters, sometimes in our waters, and locking horns with a Rainbow. The Tribe states on its www.fishcherokee.com website, “In Cherokee, NC, the fish are so plentiful, you won’t need luck”. The Tribe holds tournaments throughout the season and has its own “trophy waters” for fly fishing. Tribal permits must be purchased by those who are not a member of the Tribe, but it is a very nominal fee. The N.C. Wildlife Commission estimates that mountain trout fishing is responsible for 1,977 jobs and provides approximately $56 million in income in North Carolina. Nearly 93,000 trout anglers went trout fishing in North Carolina in 2008, putting an estimated $143 million into the economy.

These are but three of the tribal treasures that are to be enjoyed on the Boundary. I encourage you to experience all of them. Put down your smartphone or tablet, or, better yet, leave those at home so you won’t be interrupted. Some quality time in our beautiful mountains will put a spring in your step.