How North Bay businesses and
visitors are finding
fun and opportunity in local eco-tourism
FILE: SCAN OF THE ARTICLE AS PUBLISHED
- (Click here if you need a PDF
- by Patricia Dines
- July 2011
NorthBay biz magazine
- How North Bay businesses and visitors are
finding fun and opportunity in local
(c) Copyright Patricia Dines, 2011.
All rights reserved.
"This is about planning for the future, to make sure
that we have a vibrant tourist economy 10, 20, even 50 years from
~ Rick Coates
- Amidst the long, bright, sunny days of summer, even the most
ardent workaholics will longingly glance out the window and feel
tugged to go out to play. From this simple urge, we create
everything from day trips to weekend getaways to family vacations,
with themes as broad as human curiosity.
- Standing ready to serve these adventures is the tourism
industry, which today remains one of the mainstays of the Bay
Area's economy. Not surprisingly, folks in this field are
increasingly touting their green features, with North Bay
offerings that range from organic wineries to eco-hotels to river
kayaking to ziplining through redwood forests. Even locals can
enjoy these eco-activities, thus trimming both their travel costs
and eco-impacts. No, you don't have to jet to an exotic isle to be
- Of course, as with any marketing, it's vital to look beneath
green claims to understand their specific benefits to the earth.
(For more about this, see "What Is
Eco-tourism?" [below] and "True
Green," NorthBay biz, Aug. 2010.) Still, those who
provide authentic eco-travel options are doing more than
discovering business opportunities and saving money; they're also
helping preserve our area's natural beauty, create a healthier
world, pioneer green solutions, and even protect local tourism's
future economic well-being.
- The North Bay as
- Rick Coates, executive director of Cazadero's nonprofit
Forest Unlimited (www.forestunlimited.org),
is passionate on this subject. He sees the North Bay as
"really well-positioned to become an eco-tourist mecca," with
attractive features that include "oceans, redwoods, Wine Country,
estuaries, bays and rivers, parks, a great deal of open space,
some key bicycle trails, tremendous historical and cultural
resources, and the SMART train under development that will bring
tourists from the Bay Area."
- "Basically," he declares, "we've got it all."
- This vision led Coates to help create EcoRing
a Guerneville-based nonprofit collaboration between businesses and
environmental, Native American, health, history, trail,
transportation, rail, and farm groups, that seeks to "ignite a
vibrant eco-tourism community" throughout the North Bay. Coates
served as its founding president after its 2006 launch and is now
its executive director. One of the organization's goals is to
promote its member green businesses, which are listed on the
EcoRing website. A paper map and smartphone app are in development
to assist ecotourists in planning and enjoying their visits.
- EcoRing's current president, Toni Tacoma, also helped create
the organization when she was president of the Russian River
Chamber of Commerce (www.russianriver.com).
She says that EcoRing was born from a desire to encourage economic
development in this area "without spoiling things by bringing in
big hotels and big industry." She adds, "We see this area as one
of the most beautiful anywhere, and we wanted people to come here
and enjoy it for what it is." Tacoma remembers coming to Sonoma
County 15 years ago, after having lived in beautiful but
over-developed Caribbean tourist areas, and being "just blown away
by the beauty here and inspired by the fact that environmental
organizations had done so much to save this area."
- Coates emphasizes that fulfilling this region's eco-tourism
potential will require developing additional infrastructure,
especially creating better "low-carbon" transportation options
(including pedestrian, bicycle and equestrian pathways), so that
folks can visit Sonoma County without generating greenhouse gases.
He advises, "With global warming, it's really a case now of all
hands on deck to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Natives and
tourists alike have to get serious about this."
- He supports alternative transportation such as the SMART train
and increased trails for bikes, horses, and hiking. He's also
exploring the creation of a single trail along the North Pacific
Coast Railroad right-of-way, from Sausalito to the Russian River.
He encourages people "to turn 'getting here' into part of the
vacation, putting the focus on the journey, not just the
- To draw attention to these possibilities, EcoRing is now
offering multi-day EcoOdyessey tours in the North Bay. During
these journeys, held several times per year, participants travel
using various transportation modes, including bikes, kayaks,
horseback, ferry, electric cars and bikes, railroad speeder cars,
even a zeppelin. Along the way, they visit eco-operations, hear
talks by local nonprofits and historians, enjoy scenic vistas,
savor local food and wine, relax to local musicians, and rest in
eco-lodging at day's end. Coates hopes these educational
adventures will inspire folks to help strengthen local
eco-tourism. Tacoma muses, "I didn't realize, until Rick took me
on this journey, the absolutely beautiful places here [that
are hidden from our everyday view]."
- Coates believes that improving local low-carbon transportation
infrastructure is vital not just for survival of our tourism
industry, but also for our economy in general. As we go to press,
concern is rising over gas prices above $4 per gallon, but Coates
expects these costs to continue trending upward, as instability in
the Middle East continues, oil becomes increasingly difficult to
extract, and demand in emerging markets rises. He says, "I
wouldn't be surprised to see $10 per gallon in the next four to
five years. If we remain dependent upon fossil fuels for our
tourism, our tourism will disappear. People won't be able to
afford to fly to this area, drive here, or rent a car. So this is
about planning for the future as well, to make sure that we have a
vibrant tourist economy 10, 20, even 50 years from now."
- Supporting today's
- A key way that we can encourage local eco-travel is by
enjoying and supporting today's green offerings. For instance,
even mainstream hotels are often giving guests the option to skip
daily linen changes, thus saving water and energy (and trimming
- However, some hotels go far beyond that. Take, for instance,
Novato's family-owned Inn Marin (www.innmarin.com),
which in 2009 was the first property certified at the leadership
level under California's new Green Hotel Certification program.
This 68-room inn offers amenities such as 250-thread count sheets,
a five-acre garden, cable TV, Wi-Fi, and more. The staff also
cleans rooms with eco-friendly, botanically based products; avoids
bleach and trims energy and water use by laundering with botanical
extracts; conserves water with low-flow faucets, toilets, and
showers; saves energy with CFL bulbs; reduces waste with
wall-mounted shampoo dispensers; uses 100 percent recycled paper
towels and toilet paper; recycles glass bottles, paper, and more;
offers recycling bins in rooms and elsewhere onsite; pours
organic, shade-grown coffee; and offers water at meetings in
ceramic multi-gallon containers rather than individual plastic
bottles. It's just opened a charging station to serve guests who
drive electric vehicles (EVs) to lower their eco-footprints and
- Inn proprietor Robert Marshall reflects, "Being a green
company isn't just about recycling, it's
always looking for
what you can do to be a greener operation and decrease your impact
on the environment. It's a conscientious way of thinking and doing
business for both the short- and long-term."
- Another local, eco-committed hotel is the DoubleTree Napa
Valley Hotel & Spa (www.napavalleyamericancanyon.doubletree.com).
Originally called the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel & Spa, it opened
in 2006 as the world's first LEED Gold certified hotel because of
developer Wen Chang's desire to build in "harmony with nature"
(See "The Butterfly Effect," March 2007, www.northbaybiz.com/General_Articles/General_Articles/The_Butterfly_Effect.php
. Its buildings were constructed using FSC-certified wood,
low-VOC paints and sealants to improve air quality, carpets from
post-consumer recycled content, low-flow toilets and showers,
Solatube skylights to bring in sunlight and reduce energy use, and
a reflective cool roof to trim cooling costs.
- This "comfortable contemporary lodging" also provides bulk
soap and shower dispensers to avoid packaging waste; uses only
recycled paper products and eco-friendly cleaning materials;
offers recycling bins in rooms and elsewhere; landscapes without
toxic chemicals; and educates guests about the resulting savings
in water, electricity, CO2 emissions, and more. The hotel recently
joined the DoubleTree chain, where it'll serve as a model for the
greening being done across that organization.
- Also leading in local green lodging is Yountville's
Bardessono Hotel (www.bardessono.com),
which in 2010 became LEED Platinum certified, one of only three
such hotels in the world. (See "Hometown Luxury," March 2009,
At this site, more than 93 percent of construction waste was
recycled, all visible wood was milled from salvaged trees,
low-flow fixtures and LEDs reduce resource use, solar and
geothermal sources help provide power, and all kitchen and garden
waste is composted.
- Developer Phil Sherburne says, "I believe it's critical for
the development community to be a leader in the effort to preserve
a healthy planet. We can't just continue to talk about
environmental problems; we have to act."
- Another prime example is the h2hotel (www.h2hotel.com)
in Healdsburg, which was recently voted Best Hotel for Business
Guests in the NorthBay biz Best Of the North Bay 2011 readers poll
- Even small hotels can join in reducing tourism's eco-impacts.
Forestville's family-owned Case Ranch Inn B&B
offers guests "a peaceful respite to relax" in a historic 1894
landmark Victorian farmhouse that features a wraparound sitting
porch, registered National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife
Habitat, lush gardens, and Wi-Fi.
- It's also the first and only B&B certified by Sonoma
County's Green Business Program. According to the Business
Environmental Alliance's November 2010 newsletter, this greening
process reduced water, waste, and energy costs for owners Diana
Van Ry and Allan Tilton, while adding value to their marketing and
operations. The site's solar system generates 40 percent of energy
needs, guests savor meals featuring organic vegetables and fruits
grown onsite, all food waste is composted for the gardens,
cleaning supplies and laundry soaps are eco-friendly, water is
served in reusable glasses instead of disposable bottles, rooms
feature recycling bins with signs encouraging participation, and
there's even an onsite EV charging station.
- Eco-hotels such as these are showing both the industry and
customers what greener travel can mean. (Also see "Local
Eco-play Ideas" below.)
- A call to
- Travelers seeking eco-adventure can find that here also, for
instance, by spending a day ziplining high in Occidental's redwood
forests with Alliance Redwoods' Sonoma Canopy Tours (SCT,
This activity was launched in 2010, after business manager Bruce
Wohlert and his wife visited Puerto Vallarta and couldn't get a
spot on its tropical rainforest canopy tours. Seeing their
popularity, Wohlert thought, "Wouldn't it be awesome to bring
canopy tours to the coastal redwood forest?" By taking advantage
of decades of experience teaching environmental education and
operating zip lines at Alliance Redwoods, he says, SCT's tours
offer both an adrenaline rush and time to rest and enjoy nature
amidst panoramic views. Along the way, guides educate guests about
the uniqueness of the coastal redwood ecosystem.
- This region is also becoming a destination for bicycling
events. One of special eco-interest is the annual Tour
d'Organics in August (www.seb.org/event/250477-2011-tour-d-organics),
an organized bike ride winding through west Sonoma County's
countryside with rest stops at local organic farms and a post-ride
vegan meal. Unlike other such rides, all the food is fresh, local,
and vegan, to show that these choices support a healthy athletic
- Folks can also connect with Santa Rosa's Getaway
which offers bike and kayak trips to Napa and Sonoma County
wineries, farms, and natural areas. Owner Randy Johnson started
the business 20 years ago after a visiting uncle wanted a winery
tour and suggested that they go by bike, Johnson's preferred
recreation. As other folks heard about their day and asked to do
something similar, this unexpected business emerged.
- Johnson sees Getaway Adventures as beneficial to the earth
because it "gets people into an alternative form of transportation
besides the car, interacting with nature and wildlife, and
treading lightly" on the planet. He feels that more and more
businesspeople are seeking to be "enlightened capitalists," moving
beyond the standard model where "everybody's just out to get for
themselves" to one where everybody gets something out of the
- He feels that the question we face is, "How do we actually
become better citizens of the planet, both on the environmental
and the social side? Because ultimately that's what true
sustainability is, to have a long-term vision and positive
relationships with people and the earth."
SIDEBAR: WHAT IS
- While people's definitions vary, eco-tourism or green travel
usually offers travelers the opportunity to:
- Connect with nature (and support
organizations that protect it);
- Minimize the eco-impact of their travel
activities (and support companies doing the same); and/or
- Learn about and serve larger eco-visions and
goals (and support the groups promoting them).
- Folks wanting to enjoy local tourism with a green twist have a
variety of options. For instance, you can:
- Tour organic and biodynamic wineries, to have a fun
adventure, discover wines you like, and support local eco-farmers.
Some local options are Glen Ellen's Benziger Family Winery
and Coturri Winery (www.coturriwinery.com);
Healdsburg's Quivira Vineyards & Winery (www.quivirawine.com);
Rutherford's Grgich Hills Estate (www.grgich.com)
and Frog's Leap Winery (www.frogsleap.com),
which is also solar-powered; St. Helena's Ehlers Estate
and Napa's Robert Sinskey Vineyards (www.robertsinskey.com),
which is 75 percent solar-powered. Travelers can find more winery
options by typing "organic wines Napa Sonoma" into a search
- Savor local organic foods, to avoid harmful toxics and
reduce the eco-impacts of food transportation. You can choose
restaurants with a strong organic commitment, pick up snacks at
natural foods stores, explore farmers' markets, and visit organic
- Enjoy eco-educational tours. Take an organic farm tour,
for instance, with Marin Organic, which works to preserve local
earth-friendly farming (see www.marinorganic.org/p_tours.php).
Also, Petaluma's Daily Acts
(www.dailyacts.org) offers a wide range of
educational tours and workshops.
- Visit local parks and natural areas, to get exercise,
drink in nature's beauty and wisdom, and nurture that passion in
your children. You can find local park information online. Also
support parks through groups such as Stewards of the Coast and
- Explore specialty eco-activities to match your interests.
For instance, children can play at Sausalito's Bay Area
Discovery Museum (www.baykidsmuseum.org).
Or retreat to the Green Gulch Zen Buddhist Center
near Muir Beach, with its certified organic farm, public
trails, meditation sessions, and guest lodging for overnight
stays. You can even save money on eco-friendly products and
services with the Green Zebra Marin coupon book (www.thegreenzebra.org/marin).
- Wherever you go, choose less-polluting transportation.
Look for opportunities to walk, ride a bike, take a ferry, or
let the bus drive you and your clan to the city or the beach. You
can rent bikes from various vendors, including Napa's Change of
Greenery Electric Bicycle Rentals (www.changeofgreenery.com).*
If you're renting a car, consider a hybrid or electric option,
which lets you to save gas, impress friends, and explore future
purchase options. You can rent a Toyota Prius from dealers
and some car rental agencies offer eco-car options, usually from
major airports such as San Francisco and with advance reservations
- [Update: As of May 2012, it seems that Change of Greenery
Electric Bicycle Rentals is no longer offering this
Patricia Dines is the author of a wide variety of helpful
books, newsletters and articles on environmental and community
topics, including her Ask EcoGirl column. For more information,
- Thanks for the article you wrote for NorthBay biz. It's
a very well-written article and comprehensive.
Rick Coates, Executive Director, Forest Unlimited and
The original article (without graphics) is also on the
publication's website at
This entire website is (c)
Patricia Dines, 1998-2012. All rights reserved.
Page last updated 05/30/12