Thursday, January 31 – OC Gives Support To Proposed County Eco-Park

OCEAN CITY –“Adventure with a coat check,” could become a new slogan for Ocean City tourism as the concept of an eco-park gains strength and eco-tourism moves to the forefront in the resort area.

The Ocean City Mayor and City Council gave unanimous support to the concept of an eco-park this week, shedding light on an under-utilized segment of tourism in the area – eco-tourism.

Jim Rapp, director of Delmarva Low-Impact Tourism Experiences (DLITE), presented the Mayor and Council with the conceptual idea of an eco-park at Lewis Road along the banks of Ayers Creek this week, pointing out a relatively untapped resource in the resort area, nature-based tourism.

“We are trying to bring nature and jobs together,” Rapp said, as he painted a picture of a segment of tourism that would combine the draw of Delmarva’s nature with the comforts of Ocean City’s resort offerings.

Rapp noted a substantial increase in nature-based tourism throughout the country over the past few years.

“We are seeing trends in tourism surveys,” Rapp said.

According to Rapp, in 2006, 87 million Americans pursued outdoor recreation, $120 billion was spent on travel and equipment and 162 million paddling trips were made across the nation in 2005. Locally, nature-based tourism has grown, not only on Delmarva, but within Worcester County as well. The Great Delmarva Bicycling Trail, Seagull Century, Delmarva Birding Trail, Routes of John Smith’s Voyages and Exploration, and Delmarva Birding Weekend, which accounts for an average spending of $246 per person, are just a few eco-tourism events that bring visitors to the area. More recent additions such as the Smith Island Water Trail and the Delmarva Discovery Center, are aiming to build on nature-based tourism as well.

Rapp presented the Mayor and Council with the conceptual stages of a proposal that calls for a water trail and eco-park at Ayers Landing and Lewis Road. The site, which was formally used as a dump, has been undergoing a facelift of sorts for the past few years and, according to Rapp, would be the ideal location for a “living” shoreline and launching point for a water trail.

The 42-acre park is home to a variety of species of waterfowl, birds and raptors and has the potential to draw visitors and to work as an active “soft” landing access for canoes and kayaks.

Mayor Rick Meehan suggested Rapp return to the Mayor and Council with a site plan to allow officials a better look at DLITE’s vision for the property.

“I’m thrilled that we’re moving in this direction,” said Meehan.

The council voted unanimously, with Councilman Jim Hall absent, to approve the concept of the eco-park. Rapp agreed to work on design work and funding as Public Works wraps up their work on the site. 

To read all the week’s news, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.