The terms “going green” and “ecotourism” have shown up more and more across the globe in design fields such as urban planning, landscape architecture, and environmental non-profits. Although this idea of environmentalism has been around since John Muir, in mid-1800s, these terms today provide updated ideas about conservation and preservation. Ecotourism falls within this green category as a form of tourism, using long-term solutions to protect natural and cultural heritage of our planet, country, and community.
However, ecotourism and going green are not the first terms to mind when people think of New Orleans, Louisiana. Luckily, the Big Easy is slowly beginning to take notice of these green trends and the distance they must travel to meet standards of other environmentally conscious cities. Despite the many wonderful cultural activities in Nola the real issues lay just outside the city limits.
Thirty to forty miles North and South of Nola are some of the most interesting and unique landscapes in the world, including swamps, marshes, bottomland hardwoods, and coastal prairie. Among these landscapes are the equally as fascinating cultures of fishing and shrimping communities. Unfortunately the easiest way to access tours through these pristine areas are by scheduling a tour on Bourbon St. These tours take about ten people in a gasoline powered, noisy, and smelly flat bottom boat squeezing through small channels and feeding alligators marshmallows for show.
This type of tourism is not environmentally conscious. Locals want to share their society with tourists without destroying history or traditions. However, it’s tough not to exploit vulnerable ecosystems when it’s the sole source of a community’s livelihood. So the question becomes, how do you educate locals and tourists about sustainable practices, stay true to tradition, while providing industry for the community without depleting its resources?
Although there is no singular answer, a great step in the right direction is Louisiana’s version of ecotourism. A new way to experience the landscape is by kayak. New small local companies, such as Wild Louisiana Tours, are now taking several people at a time by individual boat. Arrive by bus from the city or on your own and personalize your experience. Guests can choose from several locations, the duration of the tour, number of people, and a camping option is available. The guides help set up photo opportunities and give detailed environmental information.
The benefits are obvious; the tour is completely personalized making the experience richer and more beneficial to both host and guest. More information can be obtained providing a broader understanding of environmental, cultural, and historical needs. A one on one experience with the landscape including close proximity to alligators, and excluding marshmallows, is serene, educational, beautiful, and easily accessible. Surrounding communities and local businesses are once again at the forefront of this venture.
Louisianans will always tell visitors slow stories of the past and show them great measures of hospitality, preferably from a kayak than a gas motored boat. If the market begins demanding a sustainable way to see Louisiana, old ways can change into new ways.
What ways are other cities transitioning from unsustainable practices to ecotourism, providing for local communities and educating tourists?
Credits: Images by Allyson McAbee. Data linked to sources.