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Schooner serves as ‘gateway’ to eco-tourism

By partnering with the private sector, Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is receiving the right kind of pressure to properly develop the country’s parkland and make use of it as a strategic asset, according to its deputy executive director.

Lynn Gape said Schooner Bay could serve as a “gateway” to more than 20,000 acres of forest and provide a model for development elsewhere in The Bahamas.

Costing “well over” $1 million, the BNT director told Guardian Business she is working with the Ministry of Tourism to conduct courses for prospective nature tour guides. In the end, the idea will be to make use of the country’s wilderness to create jobs and add additional attractions to the tourism menu.

“The pay off will be for the people of Abaco,” Gape said.

“One of the key points for the BNT and what we pledged to the government in our proposal, is to develop it so the people of Abaco have a way to benefit economically.”

BNT is also working with Wilderness Graphics, a company out of Florida, to further develop and hone the concept. Up until recently, Gape told Guardian Business that the recent partnership “puts the pressure on us to get the infrastructure in place so we can support this”.

That infrastructure includes a visitor’s center, putting up signage and interpretation, and carving out a network of trails and roads through the park for guests.

“The concept we are looking at is you can drive through, and tour operators can get out and investigate,” Gape explained. “Otherwise you will have to walk long distances and there is limited changes in terrain. While that might work for some people, for the average person it’s a bit monotonous. That’s why the driving concept is really exciting.”

Also, fundamental to the proposed changes to the parks are a network of mobile cabins. Orjan Lindroth, the developer of Schooner Bay in Abaco, told Guardian Business in an earlier interview that his company is working with the BNT to come up with a workable business model for the parks. The 10-person committee, which includes participation from the Bahamas Hotel Association, is considering the merits of introduction of cabins that can be easily moved. A series of prototypes would be constructed near Schooner Bay as a “testing ground”.

“The cabin is a real plus side, especially because they can be moved and do not create a real ecological imprint,” Gape said. “It’s all a pretty big investment. On the while, the entire plan I imagine would cost well over $1 million.”

The parkland project will likely be rolled out in phases, according to the BNT director, and the organization is actively seeking other sources of fundraising or investment. With the right assets in place, she imagined it could be done in about a year, similar to the Leon Levy Reserve in Eleuthera.

“We are having a major fundraiser at the end of January. The concepts are ready to unveil and then we’ll need to franchise it. That initial capital is what this will all hinge on,” she said.

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