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Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable Meets in Petaluma

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On Monday November 18th, the second meeting of the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable convened at Aqus Cafe in downtown Petaluma. The intent of this meeting was to further solidify the scope of ecotourism in the Northbay Area- primarily, Sonoma, Marin, and Napa, but also Solano and Mendocino counties- with a focus on agritourism and the farm-to-table movement in these areas.

Pamela Lanier director of EcoGo.org convened the meeting. Attendees included Rick Coates of EcoRing, John Crowley owner of Aqus Cafe and aquscommunity.net, and Tasha Beauchamp, Clare Najarian, and Debbie Morris from CittaSlow Sebastopol.

CittaSlow (slow city) is an international organization started in Italy over a decade ago. The organization is inspired by the Slow Food Movement and applies slow principles to local community life and development. Over two hundred towns worldwide are affiliated with CittaSlow, including three in the Northbay Area: Sebastopol, Sonoma, and Fairfax.

Promoting ecotourism has become a popular topic at Sebastopol community meetings and has evolved into a feasible growth sector for the town. The team from CittaSlow Sebastopol shared their vision for ecotourism in their city. They re-imagined the principles of ecotourism- environmental stewardship, sustainable business practices, and community development- applied to the specific needs of their community- with special emphasis on personal engagement between the host community and its visitors. Their goal for Sebastopol as an ecotourist destination is to be not just another wine county town, but to emphasize its locality by celebrating local cultural heritage, arts, organic agriculture, and natural beauty. Other niche markets besides wine aficionados and foodies that CittaSlow Sebastopol has identified include bicyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Tasha Beauchamp, co-chair of CittaSlow Sebastopol, presented the results of the ecotourism poll that she and her colleagues had devised that culminated in an open house in Sebastopol, October 29th. The goal of the poll and open house was to identify concerns and solutions regarding ecotourism from the community. Interestingly, many ideas of general concern corresponded with topics brought up by members at the Northbay Ecotourism Roundtable meeting: alternative green transportation and interest in farm stays.

Rick Coates brought up the intersection of the two. The difficulty many farm stays in Sonoma County face is the lack of trails and other supporting infrastructure. Other issues of alternative transportation discussed included hiking trails, bike trails, and water trails, all of which could be extended and improved. Of particular note was the general interest in a train running from San Francisco to Sonoma county. According to Rick Coates, "How do I take the wine train to Sonoma?" is a common question posed to hotel concierges in San Francisco.

Despite the challenges and possible improvements facing the Northbay Area, it along with upstate New York and parts of France and Italy is at the forefront of agritourism and ecotourism. We have such an opportunity to be a case study of best practices.

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