The Impact of Ecotourism & Nature-Based Activities

Volusia County offers a diverse mix of natural areas. From the many miles of beautiful, sandy, ocean-front beaches to the acres of woods teeming with trails, there are plenty of opportunities to explore rivers, swamps, scrub habitat, and beyond. Whether you want to head out in a boat to dive the artificial reefs, take in a dolphin seeking excursion, or rent a kayak to explore, there are lots of options to choose from. Such activities have major economic influence on the state, as well as right here in our county.

Ecotourism vs. Nature-Based

Nature-based activities are those that get people out in nature, enjoying a wide variety of things, including jet skiing, boating, charter fishing tours, and more. Ecotourism, on the other hand, are those activities that come with interpretive education, so participants gain an understanding of our local habitats and conservation issues.

Both ecotourism and nature-based activities exist in the county, and with the many natural opportunities the area has to offer there is a lot of room for growth. Such activities add to the experience of those who visit the area, even if it wasn’t the original purpose of the visit.

Local Planning

Volusia County has made strides in offering ecotourism opportunities. Some of the options for exploration include Cracker Creek, the Great Florida Birding Trail, Lyonia Environmental Center, Marine Discovery Center, and the Environmental Discovery Center. The county also offers a variety of ecotourism options each month, scheduling events such as eco-buggy rides in wooded areas, guided kayak paddles, and hikes through a variety of habitats.

“The County’s Environmental Management Division sponsors numerous Explore Volusia programs to acquaint residents and visitors with the County’s conservation lands and land management practices, including tours of our trails,” explains Timothy Baylie, the recreation and culture director for Volusia County Parks.

The county currently has 38.7 miles of multi-use trails, with an additional 21.2 miles under construction due to be completed this fall. The trails are part of the St. Johns River to Sea Loop and the Coast-to-Coast Trail. These trails bring in tourists for a variety of events. Bike Florida 2018, held in the spring, went from Edgewater to Titusville and had a positive economic impact on the area, bringing in an estimated $887,000 into the local economy, as 600 people participated. In addition, attendees spent an estimated $108,500 more on hotels, bars, restaurants, and attractions over the course of this annual event.

The Coast-to-Coast will span 250 miles from St. Petersburg to Titusville when it is completed. Currently, it’s 80% finished and is expected to be completed within the next five years. There are already plans underway for coast-to-coast bike events and relays. It’s estimated that the $42 million being invested to complete the connector will result in $120 million in annual economic benefit to Central Florida, according to the Florida Greenways & Trails Foundation.

Eco Education

One local company that has had guests travel from every continent to take their popular Dolphin and Manatee eco-tour is Three Brothers Boards, a business whose main focus is making high quality, handcrafted paddleboards. While they ship their product around the globe, many of their customers travel to Daytona Beach to make their purchase and spend time on the water.

“It is very important to us that we use our time on the water to not only educate our guests about the wildlife, but also to inform them of the constant struggles our ecosystem faces and how each of us can help,” explains Justin Murray, of Three Brother Boards. “I believe ecotourism is great for Volusia County’s economy, because we have an amazing ecosystem right here in our backyard.”

Another company offering an ecotourism experience is Airboat & Gator Charters. For the last nine years, they have taken visitors, from as far away as Australia, on wildlife airboat tours. Captain Joshua Mattson adds an educational component to the tours. From talking about water quality to teaching people about manatees, alligators, bears, and panthers, those who take his tour gain a better understanding of our natural areas, as well as the importance of conservation.

“This is just scratching the surface, but teaching people about wildlife is part of the job that makes every trip exciting and new,” he says.

Just for Fun

There is certainly lots to learn about our surroundings and the local wildlife, but some of the options on offer are just for fun. Daytona Beach Zipline Adventure, which re-opened in July 2018, estimates that 12,000 people will participate in a zipline adventure during the first 12 months of operation, with higher numbers in following years as the area continues to grow.

“It is very popular among the tourists,” says Tammy Cook, administrator at the company. “Since the World Famous Daytona Beach is a nature-based place and activity, it is very important to have other nature-based activities in the area to help draw people to the area for a week, rather than a day.”

Volusia County is a nature-lovers paradise. Whether it’s ecotourism or just some fun in the sun, visitors and locals alike have plenty to choose from.