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State seeking growth of outdoor recreation industry

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Greenville leaders are working to expand the city's kayaking and canoeing opportunities, such as those found at River Park North on Mumford Drive north of the Tar River.


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

This summer, North Carolina’s outdoor recreation lovers are heading to their favorite locales for fishing, hunting, boating, camping and other favorite activities, where those in the recreation industry eagerly await them... and their cash.

It is a growing industry that the State Commerce Department wants to promote more fully.

To that end, N.C. Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland in January appointed attorney David Knight as director of the state’s new Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, serving as the eyes and ears of the public-private partnership system. Since the office was created through the 2017 legislative budget, Knight has been touring the state’s eight economic prosperity regions to gather input from county and municipal government leaders on how best to promote North Carolina’s outdoor recreation economy and recruit new outdoor industry businesses to the state.

“This industry is an incredibly important economic driver for North Carolina and the nation, in ways that a lot of people don’t realize,” Knight said. “It’s starting to flex its muscle and raise its voice now, so we need to focus on sustaining and growing the industry by supporting, understanding and promotion of outdoor recreation opportunities and the attributes of the state that allow industries to thrive here and attract new businesses.”

Every year, Americans spend about $887 billion on outdoor recreation, which employs 7.6 million people. In North Carolina, outdoor recreation is a $28-billion industry, Knight said.

The commerce representative was at River Park North in Greenville on Friday as guest of Andrew Schmidt, executive director of the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Brad Hufford, associate director of the Pitt County Development Commission. He was there to share his plans, learn the barriers that particular communities face and and hear suggestions from economic development leaders, recreation officials and outdoor recreation business representatives. 

Among the participants were Gary Fenton, Greenville Recreation and Parks director, and economic development representatives of Beaufort, Bertie and Martin counties. Also attending were Shyla Boskey of the Greenville Economic Development Office, Cameron Bolter of Grady-White Boats, Lee Padrick of N.C. Rural Commerce Development and Joe Albea, host of the WUNC/PBS TV show, Carolina Outdoor Journal and the Carolina Outdoor Expo. 

Fenton identified BMX (bicycle motocross) as a once-thriving recreation business in Greenville that no longer offers state-of-the-art facilities and has lost much of its lustre and attraction.

“We are meeting with (interested parties) about the development of a new facility and some fundraising associated with that,” Fenton said.”It’s going to happen, but will take a while.”

Fenton said the city also is looking at the possibility of acquiring lake lands in proximity to the Tar River, using grant funds and corporate partnerships.

“One of the properties would contain state park land and a new BMX facility and some other recreational opportunities,” he said. “I can see us creating interest in kayaking and canoeing by offering beginning and intermediate classes to create demand among the many people that have never done it.”

Barney Conway of the Martin County Tourism Development Authority, talked about efforts and challenges to increase and upgrade kayaking facilities in proximity to the county’s waterways.

“We have an outdated kayak launch pad that doesn’t accommodate today’s larger kayaks,”  Conway said. “We have three areas where we can bring in more useful ramps, at about $19,900 each. The county told me that’s a lot of money and town leaders suggest we just modify the outdated existing ramps, saying, ‘That’s the way we used to do it.’ Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up and go into another field.”

Martyn Johnson, director of Beaufort County Economic Development, said quality of access is an issue for his community.

“We have a number of access ramps and docks, but some of it is in disrepair and not the right size for today’s equipment,” he said. “Keeping up with repairs against the natural weathering process is expensive.”

Steve Biggs of the Berties County Economic Development Commission said public access is an issue in itself.

“We have 18 miles of waterfront in Bertie County and not a single place for people on the private side to go swimming,” Biggs said.

Fenton said Greenville plans to add paddle boats at points along the Tar River, in close proximity to the city’s greenways system entry points.

“That likely will be done through a public-private relationship for boats, kayaks and canoes to be used along the river,” he said.

Knight said the Roanoke is a good example of common problem facing many recreation enthusiasts.

“There is a lot of access, but people have to bring everything themselves,” he said. “There are no outfitters and guides to assist with the experience. Other states succeed where they have these public-private partnerships creating clusters of outfitters that grow to include restaurants and diners as a starting point for economic growth.”

Knight will prepare individual reports about the outdoor recreational opportunities and needs of each region and compile them into a larger report that will be reviewed by an advisory council that will be formed to help direct the goals and objectives of the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.