The Washington County Tourist Development Council is hoping a Blueway Community designation will help increase ecotourism to the area. Katie Hertzog of the Florida Paddling Trails Association (FPTA) presented council members with the idea.
"Many tourists seek natural areas and outdoor activities for their vacations," said Hertzog. "The state has over 40 designated paddling trails on various rivers and streams as well as the 1,515 mile Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. (FPTA) can help you market your resources to outdoor recreation enthusiasts as a nature-based tourism destination, resulting in local economic stimulus and increased public awareness of natural Florida."
Hertzog said another advantage of the designation is that it's looked favorably upon by agencies from which the TDC may seek grant money for ecotourism and that she hopes all eight counties that make up the RiverWay South Apalachicola Choctawhatchee (RWSAC) organization will join. Counties in the RWSAC region are Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington.
Washington County meets all the requirements for a community to apply for the Florida Blueway Community designation, including those stating it must have proximity to a Florida paddling trail or Blueway and availability of accommodations and restaurants, as well as to other outdoor recreation opportunities such as hiking and biking trails, birding, boating, fishing, beaches or traditional visitor draws such as historic districts, museums, shopping and major attractions.
The next step in the process is for the TDC to work with the county to declare a proclamation of their desire for the designation, establish a memorandum of understanding with the FPTA, provide facts and photos about the community for the FPTA website, and purchase Blueway Community signage at a cost of $150 each.
Council members voted to present the plan to county commissioners and get started on the memorandum of understanding.
The TDC will meet again in regular session at 5 p.m. Monday, June 23.