Workshop planned to discuss nature-based business ideas

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is promotinga nationwide program in Lincoln County designed to teach landownershow to turn their acreage and resources into a nature-basedbusiness.

During a private meeting Wednesday involving extensionofficials, city and county leaders and local landowners, a workshopdetailing the Natural Resource Enterprises Program -whichencourages landowners to develop their land into agro-tourism andrecreational attractions – was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 30. Theevent will begin at 8 a.m. at the home of Homer Richardson onFriendship Lane.

Registration is $25, and the extension service is invitinganyone who owns significant acreage from anywhere in SouthwestMississippi to attend the workshop. Further information can beobtained by calling the NRE Program at (662) 325-3174.

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At the workshop, extension officials will provide landownerswith information on how they can earn extra income by opening theirland to such activities as fee fishing, bird watching, hunting,camping and hiking and even heritage tourism like the developmentof bed and breakfasts.

“Natural Resource Enterprises is really just a fancy word forrecreational access,” said MSU Extension Service NRE Associate AdamRohnke. “We’re trying to provide access to private lands bybenefiting the landowners and the visitors.”

Rohnke said tourists and outdoor enthusiasts – especially thosewho live in metro areas like Jackson and are without access tostate lands – would pay money for access to private lands. He saideither extensive or limited investment by landowners, depending onthe characteristics of their property, could develop outdoorattractions.

“If you’re a people person and you want to get involved andmaybe turn a portion of your home into a bed and breakfast, thatwould require a big investment,” Rohnke said. “But if you’resomeone like an absentee landowner and you only want to deal withsomeone twice a year for a hunting lease, you’re alreadythere.”

Being “there” could mean big bucks for landowners whosuccessfully engage in the NRE Program, and even bigger bucks forthe state’s economy.

“There’s a lot of potential,” Rohnke said. “A lot of theseindustries are already bringing hundreds of millions of dollars indirect expenditures into the state each year.”

Rohnke provided those at Wednesday’s meeting through statisticsgathered by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2001. They showedthat more than $1 billion was generated in Mississippi’s economy bywildlife-associated recreation.

Other data, collected by MSU over the last three years, showedthat the state’s 357,000 deer hunters have deposited approximately$361 million in direct expenditures on necessary and related itemslike firearms, ammunition, food and lodging and gasoline.

Likewise, the state’s 586,000 anglers spent an average of $211million on their fishing habits.

The data also reported that recreational leases caused the valueof land to increase as much as $415 per acre in 2005.

Of course, in land-based enterprises, the land is the mostimportant part. While the September workshop will teach landownershow to develop the enterprises on their land, it will also teachconservation practices to maintain the land.

“If you abuse the resources, the business fails,” Rohnke said.”At the workshop, we’ll try to show what each individual propertycan sustain for a business and how to maintain and enhance thatproperty and its natural resources. It’s all dependent onresources.”

Rohnke said the NRE Program and its moneymaking ability was alsodesigned to preserve personal ownership of land.

“Around the metro areas, there’s huge pressure on landowners tosell,” he said. “It’s hard for landowners to turn downmulti-million dollar deals to companies that are gobbling upland.”

After the September workshop concludes, Rohnke said the nextstep for interested landowners would be to contact the MSUExtension Service to arrange an on-site inspection of the propertyto determine what NRE programs would be feasible.

Rohnke said Mississippi has several diverse habitats – likefoothills, plains and the coast – that make it attractive to NREprograms. The state also has positive qualities that have nothingto do with geography, he said.

“We have under-utilized resources in this state,” he said. “Wantto know one of the biggest resources here? It’s 70 degrees inDecember… Hello, New York! There’s a year-round opportunity downhere for people to get relief from the cold and snow.”

Lincoln County Extension Service Director Rebecca Bates said thecounty had several features of its own, including location, thatshould make it a good place for NRE programs.

“For one thing, we have beautiful property,” she said. “Thetopography of the county is beautiful. And we’re close to Jackson,Baton Rogue (La.), Hattiesburg – we have a lot of populationcenters we’re close to from which we could draw people to theenterprises.”

Bates said there are several landowners in the county who arealready moving toward similar enterprises and may not know it.Those who are already leasing their land for hunting, fishing ortrail riding have the potential to expand their services intolarger enterprises, she said.

Bates said the idea to start an NRE program in the county hasbeen in the workings since February, when she and several officersfrom the Lincoln County Forestry Association sat in on a SenateAgriculture Committee meeting at the Capitol.

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, D-Brookhaven, who chairs thecommittee, had attended an NRE Program workshop in another countyand recommended it for Lincoln County.

Now, the program will come to life in Lincoln County onRichardson’s 168 acres, which extension officials believe willprovide a good cross section of the different types of land thatcan be used in the NRE Program.

“We have considerable wildlife – lots of deer, turkey anddoves,” Richardson said. “The extension service thought this wouldbe an appropriate place because we have a lot of the things theywant to show – creeks, ponds, hills, trees and open areas.”

Richardson said he has worked with the Lincoln County ForestryAssociation over the years on forestry and wildlife preservationplanning, and often opens his property to organizations like theBoy Scouts.

While he does not plan to attempt to form a natural resourceenterprise of his own, Richardson said his property wouldaccommodate riding trails, bird watching and fee hunting, andalready has infrastructure laid that could support a bed andbreakfast.

His acreage will serve as a model of NRE Program potential.