Commission Agenda Item No. 8
Presenter: Shelly Plante

Nature Tourism Programs
March 23, 2017

I.       Executive Summary: Staff will brief the Commission on Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) nature tourism programs and their economic impact in Texas.  TPWD has three statewide nature tourism programs: the Great Texas Birding Classic; Great Texas Wildlife Trails; and Texas Paddling Trails, all of which were developed with strong community partnership and support. These programs bring nature tourists to rural communities, spending significant dollars that provide revenue to local economies. This positive economic impact serves to further encourage investment in nature tourism and conservation. The programs have continued to grow in both community and user participation and represent a significant opportunity for TPWD to offer value and build relationships with non-traditional users and local communities.

II.     Discussion: The growth and impact of nature tourism in Texas has been considerable in recent years, with 4.4 million wildlife-watchers (including 2.2 million birdwatchers) who spend $1.8 billion annually on their activities and have an overall economic impact of $13.8 billion within the state of Texas. In addition to wildlife-watchers, Texas is also home to more than one million kayakers and canoers. TPWD’s nature tourism programs provide relevant recreational opportunities to wildlife-watchers, birdwatchers, canoers and kayakers, photographers and other user groups.

In 1996, Texas created the Great Texas Wildlife Trail, the first driving trail of its kind in the nation. This trail system connects wildlife viewing sites through a marketing platform that includes use of highway markers and regional trail maps to make it easy for tourists to find the best places to see wildlife. There are now nine regional maps, representing each tourism region in the state, with more than 950 sites.

The Great Texas Birding Classic is a long-standing birdwatching tournament that celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. More than 110 teams from all parts of the state participated in the 2016 event. In addition to providing recreational opportunities for avid and novice birders, the event has raised more than $880,500 for conservation grants that have been provided to communities and parks to support the Texas Conservation Action Plan.

The Texas Paddling Trails launched as a statewide community-partnership program in 2006, expanding from the original seven coastal paddling trails TPWD had created in the 1990s. TPWD staff work closely with community partners to improve, enhance, or create public access sites along our rivers, creeks, bays, bayous, and lakes. With 72 officially certified trails, the Texas Paddling Trails now represents more than 600 miles of trails and 125 water access sites, offering a variety of paddling experiences and angler opportunities throughout the state.