By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Capitalizing on natural resources was the foundation of the Del Norte County community - until the fishing and logging industries screeched to a halt.

Reviving the idea of using whats available, the Redwood Economic Development Institute or REDI, has several projects working to attract nature tourists.

We are trying to put this whole area on the map. See, we know there is a market out there...For nature tourism and heritage tourism. Were developing these festivals and tours to attract this market, said Sandy Jerabek, a contractor with REDI.

The Aleutian Goose Festival was the first project of REDI, now in its third year.

With 75 tours and activities the Goose festival has grown into a four-day event that attracts an average of 200 bird and nature enthusiasts.

Aleutian geese are an endangered species. In the 1970s the species population sank below 500, but has since grown to about 35,000.

The Aleutians migrate from Californias central valley and stop in lush Del Norte County to fatten up, Jerabek said. After six weeks of eating, the flock takes flight on a 2,000 mile non-stop journey to breed on the Aleutian islands.

A majority of the birds sleep each night on Castle Island. Each morning the flock rises en masse, honking and flapping on their way to feeding grounds around Lake Earl.

Jerabek said there is a unique problem caused by the flocks feeding habits.

They seem to prefer the juicy fertilized grasses of the ranches, instead of the free grass on public land, she said.

It is easy to imagine that several thousand geese munching on livestock pastures would cause ranchers to get upset. Jerabek said she and REDIs president Martha McClure are working with ranchers to come up with a solution. Specifically, Jerabek said they are asking the Coastal Commission for money to compensate impacted ranchers.

But, the sight and sound of morning and evening lift-offs is a reliable and spectacular event REDI members knew they could capitalize on.

This migration stop is one of the countys natural resources Jerabek and her colleagues have used to draw people and their money into the community.

The idea behind REDI and the goose festival has snowballed into an association of small business entrepreneurs cooperating to accommodate the ecotourist.

REDI is just a non-profit vehicle for these businesses, Jerabek said. As an example, the goose festival serves as an anchor for locally based tour guides and teaching artists.

An oceangoing charter boat is available for whale watching and pelagic bird sighting. Other opportunities include: drift boat trips down the Smith River guided by bird experts and naturalists; and kayak tours explaining the ecology of the Lake Earl lagoon. A myriad of similar exploration events are scheduled.

REDI is not just about the goose festival, though. The organization, funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, is currently publishing a book called The Bird Finding Guide to Del Norte County.

REDI contracted ornithologist Alan Barron to write the 160 page guide which describes each separate geologic region of the county and which bird, plant and animal species thrive there.

These activities and businesses foster interest. It offers the people who are already coming here a reason to extend their stay, Jerabek said.