BEST STEP Ecotourism

About the Author

CED Program Interns & Students

Matt Dudek is a graduate student in the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning, the School of Government, and a CERC intern working with the Cape Fear Council of Governments.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the BEST STEP cluster in Bolton, East Arcadia, and Sandyfield ( and some of the different efforts the cities are using to attempt to develop the area and create jobs. One of those programs is seeking to promote eco-tourism in the region.

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) ( defines ecotourism as: “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

Ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. This means that those who implement and participate in ecotourism activities should follow the following ecotourism principles:

• Minimize impact.
• Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
• Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
• Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
• Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
• Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

The region has created a 33-acre nature preserve in Sandyfield in 2007 and has been slowly building trails through part of the preserve. The towns believe the region has enough biodiversity and beauty to draw nature lovers to go hiking in the area as well as providing local residents with recreational and exercise possibilities. The cluster is within an easy driving distance of Wilmington and could attract Wilmingtonians looking to hike through the Cypress-Gum Swamp, Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, and coastal plain.

The BEST Cluster believes this investment in the preserve and trails will eventually provide a base for further expansion of trails and other cultural tourism opportunities. The hope is that hikers will bring with them expendable income to be spent in restaurants, local stores, and will other local tourism support businesses.

To support and encourage this future growth the towns will start asking residents to help map the buildings and areas of the town important to the cultural history of the town, and it is also seeking to collect old photographs and stories of the town to be incorporated into future expansion. The town has currently created a 44-page booklet, almost ready for publication, about the plants and animals in the preserve as well as some of the history of the region. It also has old film reels taken by past residents.

In the future these ecotourism and cultural tourism features will hopefully create other jobs as small shops are created to cater to those coming to hike the trails and learn about the areas culture and heritage.

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