Madison outdoors charms Canada

Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Katrina Richardson, as part of her administrative duties for the Tourist Development Council (TDC), recently represented North Florida, Jefferson and Madison counties in particular, at The Outdoor Adventure Show, which is billed as “Canada’s ultimate adventure and travel event.”

Richardson was one of two Natural North Florida (NNF) representatives promoting the 12 counties in the organization at the annual outdoor show in Toronto on Feb. 19-21. The other NNF representative was Donna Creamer, of Gilchrest County.

“We were next to booths from Africa, Belize, China and the like,” Richardson said last week.  “The only other Florida booth was Key West.  There were 27,400 people in attendance for the three-day show and yes, it was cold. I was dressed in layers so I was very comfortable. After standing for three days, I sure was glad I chose to wear comfortable shoes.”

Richardson said she was surprised to learn that many Canadians had knowledge of the region.

“My jaw dropped when someone from Toronto knew about the Worm Grunting Festival in Sopchoppy,” Richardson said, adding that she and Creamer handed out countless promotional guides to Florida’s paddling trails, state parks and natural springs, along with other information about the 12-county region.

“I even got to talk about Wacissa Springs,” Richardson said. “Donna and I both were amazed by the politeness of the Canadians and how welcoming they were.  Since this was an Outdoor Adventure Show, most people there weren’t interested in the theme parks and beaches, so they welcomed our information.”

“This Outdoor Adventure Show was huge and hosted three different stages for 30 - minute presentations,” Richardson continued. “We were invited to give the first presentation on the Adventures in Paddling Stage and I think we did a great job, asking people to Discover North Florida’s Paddling Trails (the name of our power point presentation.)”

She credited the show’s organizers with doing a great job, insofar as the advanced advertisement of the presenters.

“One guy came up to us and said that our booth was the only reason he had come to the show,” Richardson said. “We planted several seeds and after a few conversations I could tell that [Canadians] liked the South. I didn’t realize I had that noticeable of an accent. So I started handing them my card and asking them to call me when they got to our area and I would help them with any questions and gladly give them a glass of sweet tea.”

In 2014, Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency, awarded the NNF a $300,000 grant to promote the 12-county region that includes Jefferson and Madison counties. The funding, which is being dispersed in three annual installments of $100,000 each, is earmarked for the NNF to participate in six national and international tourism trade expositions. So far, according to Richardson, NNF representatives have attended, or plan to attend, shows in Atlanta, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto and Berlin or London.

A consortium of 12 counties, Natural North Florida encompasses about 7,900 square miles in the Big Bend coastal region. The NNF area stretches from Sopchoppy on the west to Cedar Key on the south, Gainesville on the east and the Florida-Georgia state line on the north.

The area’s main attraction, according to the NNF, is its richness in natural resources and beauty.

As one NNF member put it, “The area does not offer the glitz of casinos or theme parks, but rather showcases pristine spring-fed rivers and forests; bike, canoe and kayaking trails; fishing and camping opportunities and the quaint beauty of small towns.”

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