Marianna- Since it's existence, Riverway South Apalachicola Choctawhatchee's (RWSAC) mission has been to boost local tourism in the communities of the 8 counties that are situated along the two rivers.
RWSAC President, Homer Hirt, stated the goal quite clearly:
"To get people passing by on Highway 231 and Interstate 10 and show them what we have out here with our parks- our rivers-our lakes- our culture- our history. We have so much. We have things people in South Florida would kill for."
But tourism leaders understood they were battling against the coastline's beach resorts.
"You really need to get off the beach and come and see what we have," RWSAC's Project Manager, Pam Portwood said. "Just some really interesting places- natural. Of course, our natural resources are incredible. Beaches are beautiful, but get on one of these rivers and take a paddling trip. You're going to see some wildlife and some things you'll never get to see at the beach. And, you also don't end up with all the sand and the sunburn at the same time!"
Group officials have been focused on delivering that message to the masses. To help do so, they received a $94,000 grant along with matching funds for 2013.
"We're about 5 years old now," Hirt said. The first milestone, of course, was getting organized and that took a while. The second was getting some money to operate on and reach some of our goals.
Portwood explained the importance of tourism in rural areas by noting, "tourism is economic development. It does bring jobs. And especially in rural tourism it's not always the traditional kind of lower paying jobs that people think about tourism creating because it's mostly small businesses. It's outfitters, green guides, people like that.
Hirt told us the group was bringing-in an agriculture tourism expert in to speak in February, and was holding a rural tourism summit in April.