West Palm Beach pushes to bring eco-tourism to South Florida

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- City officials in West Palm Beach have a message for the more than five million people in the United States who travel to far away places for eco-getaways: "We want your business."

On Monday, Mayor Jeri Muoio said Grassy Waters Preserve, west of Florida's Turnpike, would be the centerpiece of a push to make the 23 square mile wetlands the first eco-tourism destination in South Florida.

"Eco-tourism is a win-win for everybody," Muoio said. "People will know that they can come here and have an amazing experience."

The preserve, a mosaic of wetlands, tree islands and forested hammocks, provides fresh drinking water to more than 130,000 people.

It is home to native wildlife, including the snail kite, wood stork, white ibis, great blue heron, white tailed deer, otter, bobcat and alligator.

"It's like an oyster shell," Patrick Painter, a manager at the City of West Palm Beach Environmental Resources Department said. "You have to open it up slowly because you could diminish the experience level of people here if it got too crowded."

Across the world, the popularity of eco-tourism has reached new highs.

Recently, the United Nations Tourism Organization predicted that as many as 1.6 billion eco-inspired trips would be taken over the next seven years.

Eco-tourism at Grassy Waters Preserve will be showcased when the City of West Palm Beach opens its first visitors center later this month.

On Monday, the City Commission was expected to approve a petition to the federal government to place Grassy Waters Preserve on the National Register of Historic Places.

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