Perspectives Online, The Magazine of The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Summer 2009 Issue

Birding trail aims to boost ecotourism in North Carolina’s rural communities

A Philadelphia vireo lights while migrating through the N.C. mountains.
Photo by Chris Moorman

Thanks in part to North Carolina Cooperative Extension, birders now have a statewide trail and official guidebooks to the best spots for viewing birds that live in and migrate through the state. The trail and guidebooks are also designed to boost tourism by linking birders with local communities, businesses and historical and educational attractions.

The North Carolina Birding Trail consists of three trails and accompanying guides, one for each of the state’s major geographical areas: the coastal plain (east of I-95), the piedmont (between I-77 and I-95) and the mountains (west of I-77). Each trail contains more than 100 top regional birding sites.

The three spiral-bound trail guides feature maps, detailed site descriptions and color photo images from local wildlife photographers throughout. Each site description includes directions, access information, a list of birds seen at the site and a description of on-site visitor amenities. “While You’re In The Area” listings outline other nearby visitor opportunities.

A celebration to usher in the mountain trail in June marked the culmination of a six-year effort to create the virtual trail. The project is a partnership of Cooperative Extension, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, N.C. Sea Grant, Audubon North Carolina, N.C. State Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Drs. Stacy Tomas and Chris Moorman, both of N.C. State University’s College of Natural Resources, represent Cooperative Extension on the steering committee.

North Carolina is known as a great state for birding, said Tomas, a tourism specialist. The mountains and coast are particularly popular among birders, but “there are plenty of wonderful places in between where you can see a variety of birds.”

Birders enjoy the attractions of a North Carolina birding trail.
Photo courtesy Stacy Tomas
Mapping both the popular and lesser-known birding sites along with other local points of interest should help attract visitors and promote tourism, she said. And that will bring visitor spending on food, lodging and retail to rural economies that need the income.

In Texas, where Tomas lived before moving to North Carolina, visitors spend an average of $78 per day while on that state’s birding trail. Nationally, it’s estimated that more than 71 million Americans spend nearly $45 billion in retail sales on observing, feeding or watching wildlife. Tomas hopes the North Carolina trail will help the state capitalize on the economic benefits of nature-based tourism.

To help businesses and communities cater to that large and relatively affluent community, Tomas worked with Audubon North Carolina to develop the Birder Friendly Business and Birder Friendly Community Training Program.

The training complements the N.C. Birding Trail by helping “to connect businesses and communities to the niche market of birders,” Tomas said. “The program concluded in November 2008 and trained over 300 businesses and communities across the state.”

The one-day program covered birding basics, hospitality, etiquette and conservation practices designed to help them attract birders.

To learn more about the North Carolina Birding Trail or to find out how to order the guidebooks, visit the trail’s Web site at

—Dee Shore