Ecotourism Will Be the New Economy

FROM THE EARLY DAYS the idea of responsible tourism has been the Hilton Head Island ethos. The visionary community developments provided the first opportunities for people to experience nature, history and recreation.

Now you can enjoy a wide variety of experiences form one end of the Island to the other, and in the wide waters beyond. Ecotourism—defined as “responsible travel to natural or cultural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”—is growing by leaps and bounds and paddle strokes on Hilton Head Island.

Remember the community link

Here is a sample of enriching ecotourism opportunities:

  • Gullah culture tours explore the native communities that formed on Hilton Head Island after the Civil War.

    kayak ecotour

    Kayak trip on the May River led by Naturalist Todd Ballantine with Outside Hilton Head. Photo: Liam Cronin

    Kayaking expeditions are the best way to quietly explore the wildlife-rich salt marshes and meandering creeks bordering Hilton Head and Bluffton.

  • Trail hikes await in the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve , an Island treasure trove of wildlife, wildflowers, scenic lakes and vast wetland habitat.
  • The beach is an ecosystem. Join the Coastal Discovery Museum guides to learn more about the beach environment, featuring the exciting nesting cycles of threatened loggerhead sea turtles. Or explore on your own: Fish Haul Creek Park offers easy access to the Island’s most undeveloped shore.
  • Boating tours provide hours of dolphin viewing, bird watching and sunset serenity. Try sailing—much quieter.
  • Horseback trail rides from Lawton Stable in Sea Pines explore the Sea Pines Forest Preserve from a higher vantage point.
  • Eat and learn. Attend the farmers market at historic Honey Horn (Coastal Discovery Museum). Sample local in-season produce and on occasion, see unique Lowcountry “marsh tacky” horses, descended from 16th Century Spanish explorers’ Arabian stock.

How does ecotourism benefit Hilton Head Island?

Ecotourism, properly and ethically managed, can be sustainable. Ecotourists respect native landscapes. They invest in the local community through purposeful spending. And they value the indigenous culture—in our case, the Gullah way. On Hilton Head Island and beyond, the future of ecotourism looks bright, like sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean.

To lean more: Attend the International Ecotourism Society Conference on Sustainable Tourism , to be held at The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, September 19-21, 2011.