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NCGrowth's Blueway Guide Launch

On March 31 NCGrowth launched the new Field Guide to Blueways, a resource for communities on how to leverage waterways for economic development. NCGrowth created this guide based on need demonstrated in past projects and work with community partners. The webinar launch walked through the guide and how it can be used, and featured conversation with industry experts and community members actively implementing blueway projects. The guide focuses on building and marketing paddle trails and strategically connecting these recreational resources to local businesses to diversify local economies.

Outdoor recreation has a significatn impact on the US economy. Hilary Sherham, NC’s US EDA representative, highlighted this during the webinar stating ” outdoor recreation accounted for 2.1% or $459.8 billion of GDP for the nation in 2019. As a result of the outdoor recreation focus ushered in by COVID-19, these impacts are only increasing.” Sherman emphasized that fostering outdoor recreation economies through leveraging assets like bludeways is an important part of recovery from covid-19 and economic diversification.

This message was futher amplified by Amy Allison of EDPNC’s Outdoor Industry Office: “In North Carolina the outdoor industry is a $28 billion industry…to give a little comparison, that’s the same size of the outdoor recreation industry in Colorado.” Allison emphasized the importance of maintaining and planning for the long-term, sustainable usage of these natural resources as the “infrastructure for this strong economy.”

Rachel Taylor, Senior Analyst with NCGrowth and lead author of the guide, presented an overview of the Blueway Guide, highlighting the technical considerations for building a paddle trail and providing strategies to leverage it for economic development. The blueway guide is intended for a broad audience in North Carolina and beyond, and walks stakeholders through the steps to build and market paddle trails. The guide outlines the process and considerations for building a blueway, such as creating a long-term plan, building access sites, and connecting paddle trail users with local businesses. The guide includes case studies, data, and resources for funding and planning.

Participants then heard from two North Carolina communities that are already engaged in this work – the Town of Navassa in Brunswick County and the Coharie Tribe in Sampson County. Barnes Sutton introduced the work the Town of Navassa has been doing around preserving cultural and ecological heritage saying, “The cultural significance and heritage of Navassa has been at the forefront of almost all of our projects, and that carries through into our recreational projects as well.” Sutton and the Town have identified cultural and environmental assets at risk in the face of increased development, spurred by the growth of nearby Wilmington. They have combined cultural and ecological assets into a greenway and blueway project to showcase the area’s rich Gullah Geechee Heritage an draw tourists into the area.

Greg Jacobs and Phillip Bell spoke about the Coharie Tribe’s work to clear the Coharie River of woody debris to revitalize the ecosystem, preserve the river for their grandchildren, and leverage it for economic development for their community. Jacobs said that the word “Coharie” means driftwood in the Tuscarora language. Historically the Coharie River provided a place of refuge and a haven for the Coharie Tribe, but the accumulation of woody debris due to excessive flooding caused by climate change had made access nearly impossible. Through the work of the Great Coharie River Initiative over 70 miles of waterways in Sampson County have been cleared, reopening access for the community and providing an opportunity for ecotourism. The tribe is further leveraging the ecological restoration skills they have developed through the work to compete for FEMA storm cleanup contracts.

Visit go.unc.edu/bluewayguide to access the full event recording, the complete guide and more blueway development resources.

Does your community have whitewater rapids, coastal waterways, or winding rivers? If so, you may wonder how you can leverage these unique assets for economic development and increased quality of life. Blueways, or paddle trails, are marked routes on rivers, lakes, canals, or coastlines for recreational use. NCGrowth’s new Blueway Guide provides tools to help your community plan and build these paddle trails, and strategies to connect visitors to local businesses. The Blueway Guide includes an introduction to blueways, water trail designations, key elements to building a blueway, strategies to leverage blueways for economic development, and resources to generate community buy-in.

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