Agritourism event set for Tuesday

Published 5:00 am Monday, September 29, 2008

Public officials and landowners from across Lincoln County areset to begin their first organized probe into the business ofagritourism Tuesday at a Mississippi State University ExtensionService meeting that will teach landowners how to play a part ingrassroots economic development.

The extension service’s Natural Resource Enterprises Programworkshop at the Richardson residence on Friendship Lane, off ZetusRoad, will feature presentations and a property tour designed tofamiliarize landowners on tactics to market and profit from openingprivate land to paying visitors for activities like bird watching,fee hunting and trail riding.

Seventy people – including 35 landowners – have registered forthe $25 event and spots remain open. The event begins at 8 a.m. andconcludes around 2:30 p.m.

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Lincoln County Extension Director Rebecca Bates said LincolnCounty has limited experience in agritourism, but the practice ispotentially a moneymaker waiting to happen.

“We have a lot of unrealized potential,” she said. “Fee huntingis all I’ve seen in the county. This is an opportunity to givepeople ideas as to how to make these activities work.”

Bates said fee hunting is a proven local agritourism activity,but the county’s geography and climate will support a variety ofother attractions like bike and horse trails, farm tours, birdwatching, camping and hiking and the development of heritage

tourism like beds and breakfast.

Lincoln County’s location – a short drive away from severalmetro areas – is also a catalyst for developing agritourism, shesaid.

“We have beautiful property here, with hills, woods,streams…,” Bates said. “And we’re close to Jackson, Baton Rogue(La.), Hattiesburg – we have a lot of population centers we’reclose to from which we could draw people to the enterprises.”

Bates pointed out sprawling acreage is not a prerequisite forthe development of agritourism. Adjacent landowners who own smallerparcels may pair up and run joint ventures, she said.

Bates said the potential for agritourism revenue is limited onlyby the amount of time a landowner wishes to put into the project.Activities like fee hunting and fee fishing are seasonal andrequire little more than the issuance of a permission and theexchange

of fees.

Other activities, like the development of riding trails or farmtours, require upkeep and/or supervision.

The make the finer points of agritourism, Tuesday’s workshopwill feature a presentation by the owners of Collins’ MitchellFarms, where several attractions are featured each year.

“The Mitchells do a corn maze and a pumpkin patch – how manypeople can you draw into that, only for a two-week period?” Batessaid. “On the other hand, you’ve got people that want to offer bedsand breakfast and trail rides – basically a 12-monthpossibility.”

Even the location of the workshop – at the home of HomerRichardson – demonstrates the wide variety of agritourismattractions available to Lincoln County landowners.

Richardson’s early 1900s, two-story dogtrot house is perfect forrenting rooms out for a bed and breakfast, his tree farm andadjoining woods contain abundant wildlife inhabits his 167acres.

Tuesday’s NRE Program attendees will visit all the differentlandscapes on Richardson’s property during the afternoon tour todemonstrate the variety of potential agritourism ventures.

“The main thing is the diversity of the landscape, as well asthe stuff that comes in to use the landscape,” Richardson said.