Pete Conroy Promotes Welcome Center for Little River Canyon Field School
JACKSONVILLE -- June 3, 2002 --
Reprinted from The Decatur Daily
Plans for developing a facility to promote tourism and ecological education in DeKalb County are moving forward, according to Pete Conroy, director of the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Field School.
"We want to develop a welcome center to help draw more tourists to Little River Canyon," Conroy said. "The canyon is a great draw, but nobody knows where to get their visit started. This center will be a great boost to eco-tourism and economic development."
Conroy cited some statistical data regarding the interest of tourists in visiting such an area.
"The economic impact of Weiss Lake is estimated to be $200 million," he said. "Bird watchers spend between $7-8 billion annually, and over $65 billion is spent by people looking for outdoor activities. There are eight million people living within 120 miles of the canyon. We want to develop this center to encourage them to come to this area."
Conroy made his remarks Tuesday to a gathering of local, state and national leaders in government, education, industry and entertainment at the home of Randy and Kelly Owen. Randy Owen is a member of the JSU Board of Trustees.
"It is important to have my school involved in promoting a place where my family has always lived and worked," Owen said. "It's very important to understand we are so blessed where we live. We just need to toot our own horn, and we just need a little support from the people here today."
Congressmen Robert Aderholt and Bud Cramer were in attendance, as were Fort Payne mayor Bill Jordan, DeKalb County Commission President Sid Holcomb, Cherokee County State Rep. Richard Lindsey, and a representative from Congressman Bob Riley's office.
"This project is long overdue," Aderholt said, "and sometimes it's difficult to find funding for this kind of project. It is impressive to have a project that combines the support of communities and the state, schools and businesses that have come together as a team. That is the key to getting it accomplished."
Rep. Cramer said, "Robert and I are ready to help. This area is a 'too well-kept' secret, and we're going to work to find a way to fund this project. We've done a lot already with little resources."
Aderholt and Cramer were involved in obtaining a $412,000 grant to help fund the curriculum of the Field School.
"In addition to developing tourism," Conroy said, "this project--which has been in development for 15 years--is greatly about environmental education, as well as economic development and tourism. All three areas are in need of advancement by assembling this team represented here today."
Also on hand at the meeting, which Conroy termed "a pep rally to coordinate our support," were representatives of Alfa Insurance, education leaders from the Fort Payne City and DeKalb County school systems, as well as from Alabama Power Company, which has already donated land on Highway 35 where the welcome center would be located.
The Little River Field School has already been in operation since 1991 through the direction of JSU and Conroy. The school offers a large variety of environmentally educational courses, with the goal of creating an appreciation for the area's cultural history, geology, ecology and biological diversity. Using Little River Canyon as an outdoor classroom, and in partnership with the National Park Service, DeSoto State Park, and others, many one-day and weekend studies are offered.
A sampling of some of the programs includes beginning and advanced canoeing, studies of frogs, snakes, fish, birds and plants native to the canyon. Hikes and camping trips are offered, as well as short courses on photography and native American history and cultures.
Conroy said he is encouraged by the progress of the project, and with the results of Tuesday's meeting.
"I am very pleased with this show of support today," he said, "and I'm impressed by the degree to which different funding avenues have been researched and pursued."
The following editorial was also published in The Decatur Daily:
The development of a welcome center as the focal point to begin exploring Little River Canyon is an idea whose time has come.
The leaders of Fort Payne and DeKalb County would be wise to join an impressive list of other supporters to make this project a reality.
Congressmen Robert Aderholt and Bud Cramer are already on board, seeking financial resources to fund the project. Such big hitters as Alabama Power Co. and Alfa Insurance have made significant contributions as well. When--and if--developed, this facility will provide a tremendous benefit in enticing hundreds of thousands of visitors to this area. Tourism dollars will multiply many times as people discover all the treasures Little River Canyon has to offer.
The development of this welcome center isn't just about dollars, however. It would serve as an instructional facility, as well, for the Little River Canyon Field School, and that is equally important.
Already in operation since 1991, the field school has a tremendous array of programs offered on weekends and during the summer. The programs offered--ranging from canoeing and bird study to day hikes and overnight camping--are building an impressive reputation for teaching people of all ages the magnitude of our natural resources and the importance of preserving them. So, in addition to possible financial dividends for the support of this project, there are significant educational rewards, as well.
Pete Conroy, who serves as director of the Little River Field School and Environmental Policy and Information Center, is an articulate spokesman and knowledgeable leader for JSU.
His dedication to the project is obvious, and his enthusiasm is contagious. Still, Conroy cannot make this dream a reality alone. He, and JSU, need commitments from local leaders for their full support.
Everyone stands to profit in many ways by seeing Conroy's dream become a reality.
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