River outfitter touts ecotourism

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Hatch, Dora Ann

News Release Distributed 02/28/11

WINNSBORO, La. – Nature tourism is a fast-growing activity worldwide, according to a Mississippi river guide and canoe builder.

John Ruskey, of Clarksdale, Miss., talked about his 13-year-old business, Quapaw Canoe Co., that provides guided expeditions by kayak, canoe and stand-up paddle boards on the Lower Mississippi River and some of its tributaries.

His presentation at the LSU AgCenter’s Scott Research and Extension Center Feb. 23 was funded through a grant the AgCenter received from the Walton Family Foundation to help the northeast Louisiana Mississippi River parishes become a nature tourism destination based on un-exploited natural resources, said LSU AgCenter agritourism coordinator Dora Ann Hatch.

“I’ve had 12 to 36 percent growth the last five years, even with the economic downturn,” Ruskey said. “I’ve stayed afloat. Americans are wanting to stay closer to home, but I’ve also had clients from all inhabited continents.”

Ruskey said customers enjoy camping, birding, stargazing and beachcombing. He has also hosted film crews, full-moon floats, bachelor parties, weddings, yoga and artist retreats, and cleanups. He does not discount winter fees because there are “no mosquitoes or snakes.”

The outfitter said people entering the business need to purchase life jackets, rescue ropes, dry bags and first aid kits. A business could be started for $5,000.

“Nature-based tourism on agricultural lands is good for the economy,” he said. Adding canoeing and kayaking will create businesses and jobs, and visitors will need places to stay, eat, purchase equipment and buy souvenirs.

Ruskey said collaborations and partnerships are important and cited the American Land Conservancy. “We need to protect our environment and become active in the Mississippi River Network,” he said of the organization of citizens who protect and care for the river.

The audience of 30 people from all parts of Louisiana included novice and avid paddlers interested in becoming outfitters, watershed coordinators, economic development representatives and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries personnel along with representatives of the D’Arbonne Kayak Club, Ozark Society and the Tour Du Teche race.

Louisiana farmers are stewards of the land and the environment, said Dwight Landreneau, LSU AgCenter associate vice chancellor. “It is only natural to include the farm industry in agritourism and ecotourism initiatives. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Department of Tourism are perfect partners for this project.”

A natural resource enterprise workshop is planned for June 9-10 at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center, Hatch said. Speakers will discuss wildlife, birding and canoeing as alternatives for land use.

Harvey Kennedy, a representative of the Bayou Chapter of the Ozark Society, said Ruskey was educational and informative. “I was very surprised so many other groups around were interested,” Kennedy said. “It’s good news.”

Mary Ann Van Osdell
3/1/2011 1:30:42 AM
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