The Catalina Island Conservancy has accomplished the rare feat of encouraging tourism and, at the same time, preserving wildlands on the most visited of the Channel Islands archipelago off the coast of Southern California. The conservancy, endowed 40 years ago, handles a million visitors a year while protecting animals and plants and bringing back from the brink of extinction a unique island fox.
Now it is considering ambitious proposals that would enhance the tourist experience, partly to generate increased revenue for preservation but, more important, to pique people's interest in becoming ongoing members of the conservancy. The hope is that they would return as eco-tourists and volunteers, not just partyers looking for cold beer in Avalon, the seaside town where visitors throng.
A plan called "Imagine Catalina," which the conservancy's president and chief executive, Ann Muscat, emphasizes is only a conceptual blueprint, recommends an upgraded botanic garden and nature center and the construction of a tram that would offer a scenic and educational ride partway across the island to one of the higher outlooks.
Scientists who work on the island have voiced concern that in the effort to build new attractions, the conservancy might get distracted from its core mission of conservation. However, recreation and education are also part of the mission. The question is how to accomplish those goals — and protect the island — while ensuring that the conservancy has the funds to do so.