The grant period is April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2014, said Dora Ann Hatch, LSU AgCenter agritourism coordinator and principal investigator of the grant.
“This is the second grant that we have received from the Walton Family Foundation,” she said. “In 2011 we received a grant for $115,000.
Hatch has used the grant funds to work with an ecotourism advisory group to create paddling trails on the states waterways in northeast Louisiana. Creating paddling trails is also leading to opportunities for landowners to use their lands for paddlers to lodge or camp.
Hatch will work with the ecotourism advisory group to help generate additional interest in nature-based tourism in northeast Louisiana. She believes that people who come to hunt will also return to paddle, and that will continue to create a revenue stream within the northeast.
“The goals for the two-year grant are to conduct a demand study to determine who is currently using existing amenities and to identify new groups that may be interested in making use of those amenities,” Hatch said.
The funds also will be used to identify and develop tourism assets and to build local capacity to support the growth of nature-based tourism.
Hatch said nature-based tourism will include privately owned agricultural lands, state and federally owned lands, wildlife management areas and state parks.
“To complement the work completed in the first grant, we will continue to build an interest in paddling by working to develop an additional four trails to complement the three already existing in the northeast region,” she said.
Trails have been established at Poverty Point State Park north of Rayville, Tensas Wildlife Refuge near Tallulah and on Bayou Bartholomew near Bastrop.
The next trail development will be within the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge near Tallulah where the LSU AgCenter is working closely with the U.S. Department of Interior.
Brochures distributed at tourism centers around the state help make the public aware of these tourist destinations, Hatch said.
“The brochures have detailed information with GPS locations for access points, along with descriptions of trip difficulty levels, trail length and water levels,” she said.
As part of the project, paddling workshops are planned at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Monroe and at the Poverty Point Reservoir State Park near Delhi. The classes are free.
“These workshops will be designed to help eliminate any fears or safety concerns and build self-esteem among paddlers,” she said. “Our plans are to offer a series of three workshops each year.”
The first two workshops will target beginning canoeing and beginning kayaking and will focus on proper strokes and safety measures. The third workshop will provide information on how to select a canoe, kayak and personal flotation device. A total of six workshops will be held.
A series of educational workshops to encourage agritourism business opportunities began in June and focused on business plans for outdoor enterprises. The next workshop will focus on developing horse related businesses and will be held at the Ag Expo in Monroe on Jan. 18.
Hatch said stakeholders will form a 501c3 organization to accept donations and seek new grant opportunities.
The original ecotourism advisory group was established in 2011, and includes members who share a desire to grow nature-based tourism in northeast Louisiana. This advisory group provides participants with a way to cross-market programming.