Ecotourism: Another opportunity for locals
Could ecotourism be the next big draw for visitors to Gillespie County?
The Texas Wildlife Association thinks it could well be. This is another tool that landowners, if they desire, can use to leverage their land and bring some outdoors pleasure to city dweller friends.
An article for the TWA notes Texas’ diverse ecosystems from the swamps of the east to the deserts of the west, the coastal plains to the Panhandle plains. Ecotourism is when people encourage “responsible travel to natural areas that conserve the environment, sustains locals and involves interpretation and education.
Some B&B owners outside of town invite their guests to experience the great outdoors and the beauty of the Hill Country. Many have guests who hunt on their lands, which is an important part of responsible land management. Others invite guests onto their land to enjoy and document the flora and fauna.
Still others enjoy our night skies and appreciate locals’ efforts to stave off the light creep from nearby metropolitan areas. People are already planning trips here for the April 8, 2024, solar eclipse and the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau is facilitating those trips by assisting curious visitors with information.
Ecotourism, though, provides more than a glimpse at native salvia plants or nighttime stars. Worldwide, ecotourism generates $77 billion in revenue. In Texas, tourism itself is a $69 billion industry. Fishing, hunting and wildlife watching add more than $6 billion a year to that total. Texas also has diverse recreational opportunities and activities that include camping, bird watching and hiking. Private ranches and other organizations have added kayaking, canoeing, geocaching, fossil digging, nature and wildlife photography, horseback riding or tubing to attract tourists.
As Texas grows, more residents located in the crowded cities will look to the hills to get out of town. As 95 percent of Texas land is privately owned, this creates more opportunities for landowners to help offset the rising costs of land ownership. As family land is handed down from the previous generation, these opportunities can provide supplemental income as well as boost the local economy. Those who are hunting or doing wildlife photography will also eat in local restaurants and shop in stores.
Liability concerns have lessened also, thanks to some additional protections passed by the state.
Each ranch has its own unique attractions that may attract someone, from a running creek to a fossil bed. Personnel at Texas Parks & Wildlife’s Nature Tourism division can help ranch owners identify their opportunities. Chances are whatever the landowner takes pride in about their piece of Texas, others will also want to experience.
It’s an idea for locals here in Gillespie County that are fortunate enough to own a piece of God’s country. — K.E.C.