DELMARVA ALMANAC

Nature Toursim

by Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson brings us his conversation with Lisa Challenger about the importance of nature tourism on Delmarva.

Dave Wilson:
My guest today is Lisa Challenger. Lisa is the Tourism Director for Worcester County where she has worked for 26 years. Most of us know her for her remarkable work promoting nature trails, birding, cycling, paddling or almost anything outdoors.

Lisa currently serves on the boards of the Lower Eastern Shore Heritage Council, Delmarva Discovery Center, and was recently appointed by Governor Hogan to the Maryland Heritage Area Authority. Like myself, Lisa is a Penn State University graduate and lives in Berlin, Maryland.

Today we’ll talk about nature tourism on the shore and how important it is to the local economy. A lot of conservation organizations are turning to nature tourism to show how important unspoiled natural resources are for consumer spending and, in fact, the US economy as a whole. We’ll talk about the local impact today. Everybody knows Ocean City, and when they think about Worcester County that might be the first thing that comes to mind but the natural assets here are truly spectacular and you’ve been able to capitalize on that.

Lisa Challenger:
That's very true. There is such a contrast between Ocean City and the rest of the county being much, much more rural, and our challenge is to get folks that are visiting Ocean City to come out and explore Worcester County and everything that we have to offer. As you mentioned we love promoting the outdoor adventure and nature activities including paddling and hiking and cycling. We think that Worcester County has all of that. I always say we're so lucky because we have a national seashore. We have two state parks, have a beautiful scenic river, and the beaches. No other county in Maryland can say that.

Dave Wilson:
Let's talk a second about Assateague. I know Assateague is getting more and more popular and I think they have several million visitors a year. Does the county advertise Assateague?

Lisa Challenger:
Of course we do. It's those ponies that everybody loves to come and see. Assateague just did a study that they do, I guess every year or every other year, where 2 million plus visitors go to Assateague each year spending more than $90 million supporting about 1,241 jobs in the local area so it's a huge asset to Worcester County. And we do use the ponies as part of our images and advertising campaigns. People don't realize when they come to Ocean City that Assateague is really that close.

Dave Wilson:
How about the Pocomoke River State Park? I was reading the other day that the state park is surrounded by about 50 to 55 thousand acres of protected land. I assume the county is really up on promoting the park and the surrounding area of the park.

Lisa Challenger:
Correct. It's a beautiful state park and again it's such a contrast to Assateague State Park. They’re right on the banks of both sides of the Pocomoke River. And we work really well with the DNR folks who are busy, busy making new trails. They just did this fabulous 13-mile Algonquin Cross County Trail which is great for horseback riding, or if you've got a fat tire bike, or hiking, put in sites for canoers, and paddlers and the park itself is just a great place. They continue to just add on more amenities and cabins. It's one of only two state parks in the state that has a swimming pool. It's just really a fabulous gem and we really do work hand-in-hand with our DNR partners.

Dave Wilson:
How about paddling and cycling in general. You've been there for 26 years. Do you feel like over the past decade or so you have more inquiries about cycling and paddling and do you have certain places where you send these people?

Lisa Challenger:
We've always had a lot of folks that come here to cycle because it's so flat here. And I say what we don't have in hills we make up for in wind. I also think that there's this get outdoors and get healthy mentality. We have become such a health-conscious nation that it has really helped, and people are out looking for more things to do. We have the Viewtrail 100 which is very popular and continues to be popular and as I said we're working on some cycling trails with DNR in the Pocomoke River State Park. But it is extremely popular, and we are a really popular cycling destination.

Dave Wilson:
I think it's important to know that these things don't exist in a vacuum. In other words Assateague Island or the Pocomoke would lose their value if water quality declined. Or cycling and paddling and horseback riding would certainly be compromised if we had shopping malls and housing developments strewn about the Worcester County countryside. Do you feel like there are mechanisms in place that support you to protect these assets?

Lisa Challenger:
I really do. Worcester’s history of appropriate zoning modeled on Smart Growth principles has maintained the integrity of the county’s ag and natural resources. And I think that we are way ahead of many, many counties in the state. The Pocomoke River is a globally important forest habitat for over 172 bird species. And, I was just looking at some statistics: 158,000 acres forest in Worcester County; 40 miles of beaches; 407 miles of shoreline; 7,000 acres in the Rural Legacy Program; 40,000 acres of state land. I mean we do have some incredible open space.

Dave Wilson:
And I think for your job and for Worcester County’s economy we’d like to see that continue.

Lisa Challenger:
We absolutely do. Absolutely.

Dave Wilson:
How about the Delmarva Paddling Weekend?

Lisa Challenger:
Yeah we're excited. This is a new event that you are certainly very familiar and aware of. It's just going to incorporate lots of different watersheds in Delaware and Maryland--the Nanticoke River, Pocomoke River, the ponds in Delaware, doing instruction, doing fishing, doing paddling, viewing wildlife, and we’re excited.

Dave Wilson:
I think the dates are September 28th to October 1st and I think folks will have a lot of options for beginner paddlers, paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Should be a lot of fun.

Lisa Challenger:
Yes it should be a lot of fun. We'll see you out there.

Find out more:
Delmarva Paddling Weekends

Delmarva Birding Weekends

Worcester County Trails

Worcester County Wildlife

Worcester County On the Water