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The primary purpose of the US Forest Service International Programs Office technical assistance was to assist government agency employees to refine and implement their vision for sustainable ecotourism development and related management issues linked to various protected areas in Cross River State, Nigeria (CRS). The request came in May 2006 when Governor Donald Duke of Cross River State met and requested an eco-tourism assessment for specific eco-tourism and forest conservation areas in Cross River State Nigeria. His dynamic and visionary administration is converting the state from cash-crop production to an African hotspot for eco-tourism and renowned shopping malls (TINAPA). Amidst all the development, however, Cross River State is a critical state for forest conservation. It contains the last remaining in-tact rainforest in Nigeria. With diverse wildlife, most endangered, careful planning for eco-tourism is inevitable. Therefore, the USFS technical assistance to Cross River State had the following as it objectives: (1) conduct a participatory preliminary assessment of the needs of ecotourism developers and protected area managers and (2) provide a written report of observations, findings, recommendations, and implementation plans.
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Ecotourism for National and International Visitors
There is potential for successful ecotourism development in CRS. However, depending on the forces that drive ecotourism, it can have both positive and negative effects on society, economic stability, and ecology in CRS.
The concept of ecotourism in a Nigerian context may diverge, to some extent, from internationally recognized standards. Current levels of development at some sites in CRS are primarily business-driven tourism ventures that do not meet internationally recognized principles of ecotourism. Caution is suggested because business-driven approaches to ecotourism planning often alienate, rather than benefit, local communities. There is a need in CRS to balance the business model of tourism with a community-driven model of ecotourism which begins with the needs, values, and well being of host communities.
Ecotourism site planners in CRS need better guidelines. Developing comprehensive plans for ecotourism will allow managers to more completely identify and address the specific social and economic needs of forest communities and the ecological requirements of habitats. Future ecotourism planning in CRS could become substantially more efficient in the long-term if guided by government regulated impact assessments, policies, and laws that reflect international conventions but are flexible enough to incorporate the unique social, economic, and ecological needs of CRS and her people. Blanket policies for ecotourism solely designed to meet international conventions may fail in Nigeria.
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Cross River State Tourism Bureau
The CRSTB is a relatively new agency, established in 2003 by the CRSG, with substantial organizational needs. Building institutional capacity, strengthening human resources, and streamlining management of the CRSTB are top priorities. It is recommended that the CRSTB collaborate with outside and internal partners to conduct an assessment of its management structure and operating systems. Another short-term need is to improve the standards and quality of ecotourism sites, products, interpretive services, facilities, experiences, and community participation on a sustainable basis to meet current and future needs.
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Key Findings and Recommendation for US Forest Service Short-term Technical Assistance in Two Ecotourism Sites
Visitors and tourists are discovering the new canopy walkway and nearby Drill Ranch facilities at Afi Nature Reserve, but they are confused about how to use the area. An overall visitor experience package does not exist for the entirety of Afi Nature Reserve and the surrounding communities. Based on findings and recommendations, the USFS could provide short-term technical assistance to CRSTB and its partners on site planning, interpretive themes and training of tour-guides at Afi Nature Reserve and Obudu Plateau. The objectives could be (1) design simple primitive trails to integrate the tropical moist rainforest experience with visitor facilities, (2) link the trails and canopy walkway with the preliminary design for a visitor reception center and parking area, (3) develop interpretive themes and messages for visitor center displays, brochures, and other materials, and (4) hire and train people from neighboring communities as tour guides, rangers, and interpreters.
At Obudu Plateau, the new Cultural and Natural History Center is under construction without a site plan to integrate the Center with the Becheve Nature Reserve or aspects of the neighboring communities such as their roles in tourism or their cultural heritage and ancestral history in the Obudu Plateau area. Better access is needed to the nearby Okwangwo Division of CRNP to provide opportunities for visitors to experience local culture, art, and traditions in addition to the ecological assets of the place. It is recommended that the CRSTB work with its partners to complete a site plan for the new Cultural and Natural History Center at Obudu Plateau. The objectives could be to (1) link opportunities to visit Becheve Nature Reserve and experience the culture of local communities with visitor center displays and interpretive materials and (2) in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Government, plan to locate and construct a trail, or improve the existing trail, leading into CRNP Okwangwo Division.
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The 2006 assessment was the result of international collaboration and provided insights for moving forward in CRS to develop ecotourism potentials that depend on forest communities and conservation of the State’s remaining natural assets. General recommendations for addressing a number of complex challenges facing partners in CRS were identified. Specific findings and short-term recommendations were for implementing site planning and developing interpretive training programs at Afi Nature Reserve and Obudu Plateau. Other findings from the assessment were described that represent longer-term issues at other protected areas in CRS.
Please see USFS trip reports on FRAME: http://www.frameweb.org/ev_en.php?ID=7709_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC
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