Today marks the opening of the ninth annual Aleutian Goose Festival, an event that has steadily grown over the years. Originally only about the once endangered goose that stops in Crescent City, the festival has expanded to other environmental and historical topics, such as boat rides along the Klamath and regional wines. At one time, just a few dozen naturalists getting together; the event now is recognized across the West as one of the top ecological festivals around.

and festivals that center on the environment have their detractors. Never mind that in many communities the alternative would be empty hotel rooms, fewer restaurant and gas station customers and less sales tax coming from outside into local government coffers. But we suspect that most opposition to ecotourism and similar events is simply opposition to the environmental movement.

Awareness and understanding of how human beings influence the world's climate and ecosystems - and vice-versa - is steadily rising, however, and not likely to go away. For a place like Del Norte County, which borders the world's largest ocean and boasts the world's tallest trees, that means opportunity. We ought to capitalize on ecotourism.

After all, ecotourists are well-to-do (their average salary exceeds $80,000 a year) and are young (median age is in low 40s), according to the U.S. Travel Data Center. That means when they visit, they'll have money to spend, and if they have a good experience likely will return for some years to come. And ecotourists do spend money, whether they're traveling to rain forests in Costa Rica or hiking nature trails at Yosemite. In fact, they usually spend $3,000 or more on a trip. And there are plenty of ecotourists - more than 10 million and growing.

Ecotourism also is low impact. When ecotourists come to town, don't expect Crescent City to suddenly look like Disneyland with garish signage and bumper-to-bumper traffic. But it will increase the number of people coming to Del Norte County by a large enough number to make many establishments more profitable, to create jobs and to offer new business opportunities.

And those benefits are nothing to honk at.