Did You Get An Email From Kansas? (the state, not the band)

From the Wichita Eagle:

Millions of birds flock to Kansas during spring migration. Now, tourism officials are hoping a growing number of birders will follow.

Earlier this month, the state Travel and Tourism division sent an e-mail to 7,000 people who have an interest in bird watching. "Now is the perfect time to start making your travel plans for a spring birding adventure in Kansas," it read.

Tourism officials hope money from birders will supplement the millions hunting and fishing bring to the state annually. The division has no specific data on birders, but a state study done in 2001 estimated animal watchers, including birders, brought in $129 million to the Kansas economy, said Richard Smalley, marketing manager for the Travel and Tourism division.

Because of the Central Flyway migratory route, Kansas can boast sightings of 470 species of birds within its borders, more than surrounding states.

During spring migration from March through May, native Kansas birds mingle with millions of migratory birds on their journey north.

That's the breeding season, when each tree offers a concerto of life from songbirds and open fields teem with turkey, pheasant and quail.

The birds draw people, who spend money in rural areas buying gas, food and lodging.

"Until now, we haven't really gone for the birding market," said Cris Collier, director of the Great Bend Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Now, she is touting nearby Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, coupled with the new National Kansas Wetland & Wildlife Scenic Byway, a 76-mile road that links the wetlands and takes motorists nearer to wildlife.

In its e-mail, the state tourism department cited the wetlands, along with the Cimarron National Grasslands outside Elkhart, the birding festival in Wakefield, near the Milford Lake area, and the Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge as key birding destinations.

Now that Cheyenne Bottoms has an education center under construction, Collier said her area is ready to market nature-based tourism.

"We've seen the hunting and fishing numbers declining to a growth in people wanting to experience nature," she said.

At the top of the list are birders.

"The more the birders, the merrier," said Cheryl Miller, a longtime Wichita birder.

She contends birders often know the hotspots in tiny out-of the-way areas, like Busters, a bar and restaurant in Sun City.

"The more birders that come into rural areas, the more money for the community," she said. "When we are birding in the Red Hills, we know to go to Margaret's to shop for antiques. It stimulates the economy."

Attracting birders

Some Kansans say it may take more than an e-mail to attract bird-watching tourists.

"If Kansas wants to attract birders, the focus should include all aspects of our state's nature-based tourism potential," said Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas. "Opportunities include taking pride in our unique prairie landscapes, highlighting native prairie grasses and wildflowers along our highways... and making our state parks more readily available with the most affordable admission possible."

He also suggests that the state advertise its wildlife resources on license plates, like other states.

"If Kansas is to be successful in developing this opportunity, we need to promote birding and wildlife watching opportunities on a landscape scale," Klataske said.