A Publication of WTVP

On January 26, Mayor Dave Ransburg discussed implementing Vision 2020, which is a comprehensive map of Peoria's future. It included two initiatives that have received significant discussion and support for true economic development for the Peoria region. These two key initiatives are logistics and biotechnology/biomedical. The logistics initiative is being started through creation of the Port Authority District in Mapleton by the State of Illinois. The biotechnology/biomedical initiative is being developed through Peoria NEXT with the enhancement and vision by the Peoria Medical/Technical District Commission, making Main Street the definitive place to identify our emergence in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Another idea that could develop into a third initiative would be the continued development of tourism. Tourism has played a significant role in the economic fortunes of Peoria and the region for many years. The Civic Center, as well as the continued success in marketing the Illinois River Valley by the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau, have been major reasons significant dollars come to the local economy. The strategic plan for the Civic Center includes a significant expansion, whereby even more dollars will flow into the Peoria region. Is there more tourism potential?

In the past several months, a new concept has begun to emerge as a component of developing tourism or further enhancing the tourism business within the greater Peoria region. It's called nature-based tourism, which includes fishing, boating, bird watching, canoeing, photography, hiking, hunting, and all other outdoor activities.

The Illinois River Valley has been recognized as a nationally significant river ecosystem. The Illinois Nature Conservancy is a critical organization in restoring the natural beauty of the Illinois River. It certainly makes sense that as we're expending effort to restore the Illinois River Valley, we look at how those efforts can enhance recreation, education, and economic development in our region.

Nature-based tourism will, indeed, be a "natural" economic opportunity, given the history of central Illinois. One of four leisure trips in the U.S. includes some form of outdoor recreation. Our area is known for hunting and fishing. I'd be surprised if at least one of four people in our region doesn't hunt, fish, or enjoy other outdoor recreational activities on a regular basis. As an example of how this can work, one only needs to look at the Nature Conservancy's Emiquon Project as illustration of how tourism, economic development, and conservation efforts can work together.

As we proceed with implementing the other key initiatives, we might consider how nature-based tourism could be part of our future. With all of the talk about the beauty of the Illinois River Valley, downtown development along the riverfront, and the quality of life to recruit creative young professionals to live on the riverfront, it certainly makes sense that we would use the Illinois River Valley to enhance the quality of life and growth potential of the Peoria region. IBI