As the prosperity of a new year emerges, the PACVB endeavors to expand our local nature tourism initiative. A project, now several years in the making, is marketing the natural assets of our region—the Illinois River, its waters, surrounding lands, wildlife, and the outdoor experiences related to each. We’re making a name for the Peoria area in the minds of nature enthusiasts nationwide.
In our eight-county region—including the counties of Bureau, Fulton, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell, and Woodford—lie many amazing natural resources and recreational opportunities. Illinois River Country offers a wealth of options from hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, watchable wildlife, birding, boating, and agritourism, to much more. There’s great potential to develop these experiences into ones we can offer our visitors. Research shows nature tourists, who are likely to spend at higher levels than the average visitor, would not only enjoy these natural assets, but also the culture and history surrounding them.
In 2003, the PACVB met with Brad McMillan of Congressman Ray LaHood’s Office and Michael Reuter from the Nature Conservancy to discuss the nature tourism possibilities in our region. The PACVB hired nature tourism experts Ted Eubanks and Mary Jeanne Packer of Fermata, Inc. to assess the potential of such tourism in the Peoria area region. With promising findings presented, PACVB Senior Vice President Vickie Clark developed a steering committee to work with Fermata staff and pursued state grant funds and local municipal support to launch the project. The communities of Peoria, Pekin, Havana, Canton, and Princeton, in addition to Ottawa in LaSalle County, were established as gateway communities, providing financial and volunteer support to identify, assess, and market nature sites in their area. This regional initiative produced the Illinois River Country Nature Trails.
This trail connects and unifies more than 78 nature-based destinations in the Illinois River Valley. These nature sites can be experienced through seven different activity guides—one for each of the seven gateway communities. As a component of the PACVB’s marketing plan for 2006, they’re being promoted via the Illinois River Country regional marketing campaign and Illinois Tourist Information Centers. The nature site guides are available by visiting the PACVB web site at www.peoria.org, and clicking on the “Illinois River Country Nature Trail” button.
A second focus last year was the pursuit of the National Scenic Byway designation for the Illinois River Road, which starts in Ottawa and winds to Havana, reaching both sides of the Illinois River. In September 2005, it was announced that the Illinois River Road received the distinguished National Scenic Byway status, enabling eligibility for federal Scenic Byway grants and creating a status that paves the way for a multitude of future funding opportunities for tourism and economic development.
As these outdoor experiences gain status through expanded marketing efforts and funding opportunities, nature tourism in the Peoria area will continue to grow, creating a robust economic engine for Illinois River Country. IBI