The Future of Eco-Tourism

Published | October 14th, 2016, 9:53 am

Holmes, Walton, and Washington counties are eyeing a plan that will utilize some of the area's natural resources as a source to attract tourism.

Cliff Knauer, who serves as County Engineer for all three counties, says the proposal is to launch a paddling trail along the Choctawhatchee River, which will begin at Pittman Boat Landing near State Road 2 in Holmes County and span to Cowford Landing in Ebro.

The trail would feature lodging stops that offer screened in camping facilities, fire pits, grills, bathrooms equipped with showers, and kayak and canoe racks. The site is considered ideal, with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection having already recognized the Choctawhatchee River as a paddling trail.

“The concept is to bring tourism dollars that we would not otherwise have in Washington, Walton and Holmes counties," said Knauer.

In addition to an infusion of tourism dollars, the trail is expected to also teach conservation. Most stopping points will feature wildlife viewing platforms and educational kiosks to teach about the area's history and different wildlife found along the river.

The project itself is estimated to cost of half a million dollars with Dewberry Preble-Rish Engineering already having plans underway. The project is slated to be funded through the BP Oil-based Restore Act funds received by Walton County, as well as grants from Northwest Florida Water Management District funding and recreational trails funding from the Office of Greenways and Trails.

"The Choctawhatchee River is a beautiful, wonderful natural resource that until now has not been considered for a lot ecotourism opportunities," said Washington County Tourism Development Council Executive Director Heather Lopez. "But since it was designated as a state paddling trail in 2015, it opened up avenues for more tourism development."