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Welcome to the Roundtable

Author: Pamela Lanier
September, 2013 Issue

In April, I gave a presentation at the eighth annual Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Rohnert Park, focusing on general principles and local benefits of ecotourism. The talk sparked discussion among attendees about potential collaboration and communication among local businesses to create an integrated ecotourism community in the North Bay. From this discussion spawned the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable.
 
The group’s first meeting took place in July at Share Exchange in Santa Rosa, a unique center that provides a synergistic workspace and hosts a marketplace for products made by local artisans. Not only did Share Exchange generously supply a meeting room, but Community Outreach Director Rebecca Valentine and cofounder Debbie Ramirez were instrumental in pulling a diverse group of entrepreneurs, eco-enthusiasts, county officials and Sonoma State University representatives together for the meeting.
 
The mission of the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable is to create interest in expanding ecotourism in the area, to encourage collaboration among local tourism-focused enterprises and to address various potential hindrances to ecotourism such as local transportation infrastructure. The efforts of the Roundtable will focus on the needs of local groups and businesses with the ultimate goal to bring employment and money to the region and to create a locale that embodies ecofriendly principles and serves as inspiration to other communities.
 
I was eager to hear from the assembled participants, whose knowledge and expertise in specific areas related to ecotourism was sure to enhance the Roundtable’s overall focus.
 

Valuable input

Rick Coates, a local entrepreneur and executive of Eco Ring, a local nonprofit organization to promote environmentally conscientious tours, infrastructure and other ecotourism enterprises, shared his vision for the North Bay and his current efforts to improve ecofriendly transportation, including extending bicycle and water trails, installing electric charging stations along Highway 101 and improving rails. He described his 2011 exhibition tour of Sonoma County, EcoOdyssey, in which he guided a group of tourists, journalists and government officials on a multiday excursion using only alternative means of transportation such as kayaks and bicycles.
 
Kevin Soleil, adventure programs coordinator at Sonoma State University, is already involving students in the local area through outdoor leadership classes and other activities. He shared his interest in more opportunities for students to be engaged in the local community and environment. Those with opportunities for eco-activities can contact him at Sonoma State.
 
Kevin Kumataka, green business coordinator with Sonoma County, shared his excitement for the unique potential for ecotourism in the North Bay. In his capacity in the Sonoma County Green Business Program (www.sonomagreen.org), he’s worked with hospitality providers to improve their sustainable practices, and he looks forward to consulting with more as the area’s ecotourism industry grows.
 

The bounty of the North Bay

The benefits of ecotourism are numerous. Ecotourism has proved to be a viable way for communities to be both economically and environmentally sustainable. In addition, ecotourism is a unique and creative way for locals and visitors to learn more about sustainability. Clearly, the environment benefits from all of us living and working together including visitors and newcomers to properly use and protect the marvelous beauty and resources of the North Bay.
 
I consider the North Bay—Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties—to currently be the quintessential laboratory and proving ground for ecotourism, including agritourism, close-to-Earth touring and back-to-nature experiential travel, with strong roots in heritage arts, indigenous traditions and cultural travel of all sorts.
 
The North Bay has strong roots in a variety of eco-conscious movements—Go Local, slow food, farm-to-table dining and many more. This heritage inspires events such as the National Heirloom Exposition (which anticipates more than 20,000 attendees this year) and cutting-edge establishments such as Shed in Healdsburg, which hosts educational workshops on food and farming, offers traditional culinary tools and boasts the first fermentation bar in its cafe, and the Barlow in Sebastopol, which provides production and retail space for local food producers, many of which are open to tour by visitors.
 
In addition to this social foundation, the North Bay is close to the earth with its beautiful natural surroundings and agriculture. Golden Gate National Park in San Francisco is one of the largest and most popular urban National Parks. Audubon preserves in Marin and Sonoma promote unparalleled birding in the area. Off the coast is whale watching and a host of other activities. In addition to this natural wealth is agriculture. Both Napa and Sonoma are well-known for terroir and cutting-edge viticulture, with many vineyards showcasing organic and biodynamic production.
 
We came to a consensus on our first meeting that the potential for ecotourism in the North Bay is unparalleled in the United States. We look forward to liaising with local, county and state agencies to see just how far this dynamic concept can be developed here.
 
The next meeting of the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable is scheduled for September 11, concurrent with the Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa. The focus of this second meeting will be creating connections and getting involved with other local organizations and events, including Invest Local Month, a variety of presentations, films and discussions scheduled throughout September, all hosted by the Sonoma County Go Local cooperative with the mission to support and educate local entrepreneurs.
 
 
 
Pamela Lanier founded Friends of Sustainable Tourism International (FOSTI) to promote and provide tools for ecotourism entrepreneurs; she’s spoken at numerous conferences on the subject, including the IUCN World Conservation Congress; and most recently has written a book, Sustainable Tourism: A Small Business Handbook for Success . For more information on how to get involved with the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable, contact Anna-Brit Schlaepfer at anna@ecogo.org.

 

 

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