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Aligning Watershed and Habitat Goals in the Raccoon Creek Watershed, 2013 Fall

For several months, the Southeast Watershed Forum and the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership (SARP) have been working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and other county and state agencies in the Raccoon Creek Watershed in Georgia. Located within the species rich Etowah River Watershed, Raccoon Creek has been the scene of a multi-year restoration effort.

Workshop Attendees

L to R: Scott Robinson, Pam Sutherland,
Robin Goodloe, Diane Minick, and Katie Owens

TNC has been working with Georgia Power, Georgia DNR, Paulding County and the Fish and Wildlife Service to restore a stretch of Raccoon Creek near Dallas, Georgia, northwest of Atlanta. TNC's work has resulted in an impressive degree of stream improvement and recent sampling found Etowah darters (federally listed) within the man-made riffles, as well as healthy populations of Cherokee and Bronze darters. They also found a live gravid female Villosa Vibex (freshwater mussel). Although not a listed species, it's the first live mussel that has been found in the Raccoon Creek Watershed in a very long time.

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency provided a grant for the Southeast Watershed Forum and SARP to work with TNC and its many partners to explore best practices for ensuring the long term sustainability of their stream restoration efforts by better aligning watershed and habitat protection efforts within the watershed.

At a July 10 conference in Dallas, 29 representatives from various stakeholder groups gathered together, including Paulding County, state and federal agencies, Georgia Power, Rolling Hills RC&D Council, Georgia Mountain Conservancy, watershed groups, educators and forest landowners.

The Workshop had three major objectives; 1) to better coordinate the many activities going on in the watershed, 2) identify critical areas to conserve for maximum watershed and habitat protection, and 3) identify specific strategies for implementing those conservation efforts.

Workshop Attendees

L to R: Jud Alden, Chris Robinson, Eric Prowell,
Brent Womack, and John Loughridge

The Southeast Watershed Forum focused on demonstrating the value of using green infrastructure to protect water quality, minimize stormwater costs, enhance habitat and maintain regulatory compliance. It developed an animated housing-density build-out for Paulding County showing land use impacts from 1970 projected to 2030. The build-out is helpful in visualizing the accumulated impact of land use decisions over time.

SARP provided GIS maps of the watershed's land use, prime habitat, impaired streams, and currently protected lands for the important hands-on mapping exercises. Using a clear overlay, participants drew their own "conservation" plan, based on the objectives of maintaining biodiversity and water quality in the Raccoon Creek watershed, and then determined what strategies they would use to implement their conservation plan.

All the project partners are working on the commitments they made at the July 10 workshop. TNC is the lead on the Jackson Creek bridge project right now in Bartow County. The Georgia DNR contact is working on montane longleaf restoration. Paulding County staff are working on integrating best practices and policies into their updated Comprehensive Plan. Kennesaw State University is pursuing funding for development of a hands-on, environmental education program in collaboration with the local school district. The Fish and Wildlife Service is exploring the development of a Conservation Bank.

The project demonstrates the importance of aligning multiple resource objectives in watershed planning, like blending water quality protection, habitat diversity and healthy forests. And it demonstrates the need to implement such objectives through wiser land use planning, practices and policies.

Conference Highlights Region as a
Potential Leader in Geotourism
November 2013

One hundred people from throughout the East Tennessee River Valley, North Georgia, Kentucky, Alabama and South Carolina attended the conference: "Geotourism: A Promising Strategy for Sustainable Economic Development" held at the Chattanooga Marriott Downtown on August 15.

Conference Speakers
L to R: John Campbell, National Brand Manager, National Geographic Travel Group; Susan Whitaker, Commissioner Tennessee Dept. of Tourist Development; Jane Fowler, Geotourism Program Manager, SE Watershed Forum; and Christine Olsenius, Executive Director, SE Watershed Forum

Hosted by the East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism Council and the Southeast Watershed Forum, the program attracted a broad spectrum of planners, tourism venues, tourism organizations, agencies, businesses, hotels, outfitters and historical and cultural associations.

Enthusiasm was high as John Campbell from National Geographic kicked off the event explaining why the region was well-tailored to use "geotourism" as a tool for long term sustainable economic development. Trends are shifting to encompass a new kind of traveler that desires a more "authentic and distinctive" travel experience that fits the historical, cultural and outdoor adventure venues of the East Tennessee River Valley. Geotourism enhances preservation of cultural, historical and natural resources that draw people to a region and promotes a business ethic that places a high value on protecting the world's distinctive places through wisely-managed tourism and destination stewardship.

Commissioner Susan Whitaker was pleased to see so many people making commitments to sustainable tourism, an effort that she has been a leader in for many years. She updated attendees on some of the State’s newest initiatives and a link to her "Sustainable Tourism Update" is provided below.
Chris Seek
Chris Seek, President,
Solimar International

Panelists and resource speakers representing convention and visitor bureaus, tourism venues, regional planning commissions, agencies, historical and cultural associations and non-profit organizations discussed how preserving open spaces has provided opportunities for developing hiking, biking and boating trails that have fostered economic local development. Other businesses touted their extensive savings in energy costs through more sustainable practices, and several speakers highlighted the economic benefit of green hotels, which consistently garner a higher market share of savvy travelers. Social marketing ideas were presented and well-received by attendees and everyone enjoyed the small-group planning sessions which created several "geotours" for the region.

Seventy-seven (77) percent of attendees said the program provided new ideas for promoting their business, community or tourism venue and 72 percent said the program provided ideas for bringing geotourists to the region. Another 60 percent said the program gave them new ideas for implementing sustainable practices. Nearly half the attendees made personal commitments to implement sustainable practices or enhance geotourism assets. Those commitments were written on evaluations and on self-addressed stamped postcards that conference planners mailed to participants one month after the conference.

Regional planners committed to building conservation into future plans, while others committed to maximizing locally-grown food and locally-made crafts. Businesses committed to reducing energy use and increasing recycling. Others committed to exploring their natural and cultural assets as a tourism product and many began to connect economic value to their "natural" assets. Several hotel groups committed to participating in the Chattanooga Green Lodging program. The feedback was specific and implementable, filling four and a half pages of bulleted feedback. Over 90 percent feel the Geotourism partnership with National Geographic should be continued.

We owe a major thanks to our conference sponsors for making the program a reality: Lyndhurst Foundation, Benwood Foundation and PlanEast Tennessee.

Dan Austin
Geotourism speaker Dan Austin, Director of Austin Adventures "noodling" catfish in SE Tennessee

At the request of conference attendees, we are attaching a sampling of speaker presentations for your review.

Conference PDF's available:


    

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