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24 July 2006

Ecotourism Could Benefit Area

With natural attractions including Cheaha State Park, the Talladega National Forest and the Chief Ladiga Trail, Northeast Alabama is hoping to claim a place as one of the country's great ecotourism destinations. Local officials, environmentalists and business owners say Calhoun and Cleburne counties have natural attractions to draw from all over the country people whose idea of the perfect vacation is hiking or mountain biking, followed by a campfire dinner and a night in a sleeping bag.

Pete Conroy, director of the Environmental Policy Information Center at Jacksonville State University, said Calhoun County has the highest concentration of nationally protected natural areas anywhere in the country.

“They obviously make fantastic places as destination attractions for people who care about the outdoors, and the number of people who care about the outdoors is growing every single day,” Conroy said. “The numbers associated with ecotourism are astounding.” A study several years ago showed ecotourism contributed $75 billion a year to the national economy, Conroy said. “Those numbers are so spectacular that governors' offices and senate offices have begun to take ecotourism very, very seriously,” he said. What's missing, according to Conroy, is the infrastructure that could support large numbers of tourists.

See story at The Anniston Star's website:

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