Birding and Wildlife FestivalPhotos by Tom Dunkerton, DeeAnn Jennings, Joel Reynolds and Ray Scory
People from all over the world will flock together at the annual Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival this month.
Because the Space Coast is home to one of the largest collections of endangered wildlife and plants in the continental United States, it is the ideal place to host the Festival. “We’ve grown to become a premiere event and the largest festival of its kind in the United States,” says Neta Harris, Executive Director of the Brevard Nature Alliance and the Festival’s lead facilitator.
Fourteen years ago Lifelong environmentalist and Brevard county native Laurilee Thompson, managing owner of Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant in Titusville organized the first Festival. “I felt that the business community needed to have an example of the benefit of having so much conservation land, especially in North Brevard,” says Thompson. “It’s hard to quantify the individuals who come here for that, but if you have a huge event you have a noticeable impact.”
“What started out as a small event with about 200 attending has grown into a five day Festival”, says Harris. More than 4,500 people attended the 2010 Festival, nearly 70 percent from out of the area. “Four years ago organizers moved the Festival from November to January. Better weather and better birding translated into increased attendance. Throughout the years organizers have branched out, adding more classes with an environmental theme. Fields trips have expanded to include historical and cultural landmarks and the art show and competition has grown in popularity over the years.”
Harris believes the Festival moved to a new level last year. “Individuals and families not considered “birders” came to expand their knowledge about the environment conservation and archeology. Photographers came to work with experienced and nationally known photographers to learn the latest in digital use as well as work with optics experts to learn digiscoping. This is so much more than just birding and wildlife event.” This year the Southeast Tourism Society selected the Festival as one of the Top 20 events for this winter, a prestigious designation by the Society that has been listing destination hot spots for morethan two decades.
“The reason I knew it would be a success is because of where we are,” says Thompson. “We are blessed to have the natural resources and a group of knowledgeable people who are passionate about what they do. With the pool of tal
ent to pull from for our classes and our resources it became easy to entice the rock stars of the birding world, now they come back every year.”
Harris believes one of the main attractions is the Festival’s low-key atmosphere.
“When you think about it, all you really need is a pair of binoculars to get started “There’s no pressure on anyone, they have plenty of time to visit the vendors, and participate in programs. This event is for all levels-from beginners to people who have been birding for more than forty years. The experienced people embrace the newcomers and share their knowledge, while they newcomers provide a new, fresh perspective. It’s a good mix.”
Birding and Wildlife Translate into Big Business
In an Economic Impact study commissioned by the Brevard Nature Alliance, The 2010 Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival generated more than $954,000 in sales output. 4,538 individuals participated in some aspect of the Festival with 1,238 people registering for one or more events. Festival Exhibit area included 72 exhibitors (event capacity) A report by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (2006) estimates 4.2 million people participated in some form of bird and wildlife viewing
By the numbers
The 2011 Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival will feature
- 42* Field Trips
- 59* Classroom Presentations
- 19 Photography and Digiscoping Workshops and Classes
- 72 Exhibitors
- 10 Water Adventures
- 28 Family Friendly Activities
- 4 Keynote Speakers
*Most field trips and classroom presentations are offered multiple times throughout the Festival