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Virginia CZM Program: 2011 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA CZM logo



Rappahannock Community College

Project Title:

An Integrated Approach for Coastal EcoTourism Training and Certification in Virginia

Project Description as Proposed:

Much of Virginia’s coastal zone exists in rural parts of the state. The natural beauty and rural character of these less urban areas presents tremendous tourism opportunities. Tourism represents significant economic development potential for Virginia’s coastal regions, particularly the more rural areas where few large industries exist.

According to the Virginia Travel Corporation, domestic travel tourism in Virginia generated $34.1 Billion in 2011 (including direct, indirect, and induced output) and is on the increase. Even though tourism is big business in the state, there are few ecotourism businesses along the coastline taking advantage of this growing market.

Developing ecotourism along the coastline is especially important given the relative lack of public access along Virginia’s shores. Only about 1% of the coastal zone in Virginia is publicly owned. First-hand experiences provide a greater basis for caring about resources. Ecotourism would not only increase access to our coastal resources and spur economic development within rural communities; it would also generate an increased sense of “ownership” and stewardship of Virginia’s coastal zone.

Virginia’s Community College system is leading workforce development efforts throughout our state, particularly in rural areas. Developing an ecotourism training program through their infrastructure builds on their strengths and allows easily accessible training for a wider audience.

This project proposes to integrate two recent ecotourism training programs in Virginia to develop a coordinated coastal ecotourism training and certification program. In addition to developing curricula that include materials on ecotourism, business development, and natural resources, the program would also feature a community engagement component to connect other local tourism activities (e.g., Chesapeake Wine Trail, oyster aquaculture, the Eastern Shore’s Artisan Trail, Chamber of Commerce campaigns, and Virginia Tourism Corporation assistance) and help ensure long-term success.

The Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) previously coordinated an ecotourism training and certification program in 2009. That program, open to the public, focused primarily on kayak tours along the Eastern Shore of Virginia and successful participants were awarded a three-year ecotourism certification. Participants were trained to provide interpretive tours of the Eastern Shore ecosystem. The certification program provided program graduates a consistent logo to use that was easily recognizable by the public. The initial three-year certification window has now ended and participating eco-guides should now be recertified.

Rappahannock Community College (RCC), the Northern Neck Planning District Commission (NNPDC), and Chesapeake Environmental Communications (CEC) initiated the Chesapeake Heritage Training (CHT) Program in 2012. The first round of CHT classes was held in the Northern Neck in February 2013. A second round of classes will be held in late 2013. The CHT program trains watermen to lead tours that provide insight into the heritage of Virginia’s working watermen. This training curriculum also includes community engagement. Watermen participants were provided with information on the John Smith Water Trail, Virginia Indian history, and regional tourism initiatives such as the Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail. The CHT classes provided materials on business development (e.g., web development and marketing), customer service, and liability/insurance issues.

The proposed new program would integrate and expand upon these two programs to develop a consistent model for Virginia coastal-wide tourism and certification program. Drawing components from each of the previous programs, the resulting training classes would be available to anyone interested in obtaining certification or re-certification; include regionally specific modules on ecosystem function and natural resources, coastal access, business development, and community engagement. An experienced ecotourism guide would be contracted as the course instructor. The project team would also draw upon the earlier ecotourism training and certification class curriculum, including utilizing its instructor to consult on the curriculum development as his time allows.

The program would also include the development of an easily customizable logo so that certified ecotour guides would be able to use consistent branding artwork. The logo would prevent consumer confusion by presenting a unified umbrella program that tourists can trust. The inclusion of a professional photographer allows us to document the training program and create high quality photography for use in various program outreach and marketing efforts. The model developed could be replicated in other coastal areas around Virginia, under the leadership of RCC and ESCC. 

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Jason Perry, 804.758.6751; 

Project Status:

9/1/2013 - 6/30/2014; Project Completed 

Final Product Received:

An Integrated Approach for Coastal EcoTourism Training and Certification (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Rappahannock Community College’s Workforce and Community Development (RCC) developed a new curriculum to train and certify Coastal Ecotour guides. This program was based on one previously developed through Virginia’s CZM Program that focused primarily on Eastern Shore guides and habitats. RCC worked closely with Chesapeake Environmental Communications (CEC), Bay Country Kayaking (BCK), and Eastern Shore Community College (ESCC) to market, develop, and run the 2014 Ecotourism Certification class.

Although our original intention was to hold classes at both RCC and ESCC, our students expressed a strong interest in taking the classes online. Virtual classes allowed many students to participate that otherwise would not have been able to because of long commutes or scheduling conflicts. RCC offered the class through the virtual system BlackBoard. The entire curriculum, including quizzes, tests, and videos of speakers is available through BlackBoard and can easily be replicated in future years.

The online course began April 3rd and ran for 8 consecutive weeks through May 22nd.  The class included several external professional speakers, weekly assignments, quizzes, and a final exam for a total of 150 possible points. Final class grades were awarded by May 31st. In 2014, the program trained nine and certified eight ecotour guides. These numbers include one student who was being re-certified from the last Ecotour Guide Certification course.

In the fall of 2014, RCC was able to use a small amount of remaining funds to develop a video about the program. The video was created by Bruce Nelson and is available online:

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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