The term "river city" brings to mind images of a certain charm and appeal that only a calming, picturesque waterway can create. Our river city has already seen some of the wonderful opportunities the presence of our Illinois River makes possible. Our beautifully renovated riverfront and its many offerings-marinas, concert and festival venues, walking paths, and more-create a special retreat for local families and residents and give our visitors yet another reason to spend more time in Illinois River Country.
Our river is a key economic driver, and more than ever, the full range of opportunities this single element offers our local tourism industry is clear. Nature-based tourism, one of the fastest-growing segments of tourism, focuses on an individual's one-on-one interaction with nature. Our eight-county region-Bureau, Fulton, Marshall, Mason, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell, and Woodford-hosts a wealth of nature-based tourism products including hiking, biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, watchable wildlife, birding, boating, and agri-tourism. The potential to grow nature-based tourism in the Peoria area is infinite. Currently, a number of projects to spur this development are underway.
In 2001, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (PACVB) initiated a cooperative marketing effort for 29 municipal, public, and private sector partners to build awareness of our region as an ideal place to visit. Targeting the residents of large metro areas such as Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, and a number of Midwestern states, the three-year-old "Illinois River Country" campaign has used more than $750,000 in marketing resources to drive visitors to our area. After building a solid foundation of awareness, the effort was able to move forward.
In 2003, the PACVB was introduced to Ted Eubanks by The Nature Conservancy and Brad McMillan of Congressmen Ray LaHood's office. Eubanks, renowned nature-based tourism expert and president of Fermata, Inc., has been recognized for creating nature trails and economic development opportunities throughout the country. Eubanks, associate Mary Jeanne Packer, and their staff provided consultation and assessment of the region, illustrating the immense value in our nature tourism potential. With assistance from a grant through the Illinois Bureau of Tourism and a number of other resources, the project was launched.
The communities of Peoria, Pekin, Havana, Canton, and Princeton will serve as gateway communities, spearheading the nature-based tourism initiative in our region. Each will contribute as a "hub" for local tourism, providing visitors with major attractions, dining, and accommodations. Ottawa, in LaSalle County, also joined as a gateway community partner recently.
Currently, the focal point of nature-based efforts in our area is twofold. First is the creation of seven nature trails, which will be components of the overall Illinois River Country Nature Trail, connecting to all gateway communities. An inventory and assessment of more than 100 nominated sites has been accomplished. Marketing pieces are being finalized, and this project is slated for completion in early spring 2005. Second is the pursuit of National Scenic Byway designation for the Illinois River and its communities. Having Scenic Byway designation not only enables the eligibility of federal Scenic Byway grants, but it creates a status that opens a multitude of funding opportunities.
It's an exciting time for tourism development in the Peoria area, and we look forward to following the path the Illinois River Country Nature Trail sets for us. IBI