West Nile Not Slowing Outdoor Tourism

Those in the outdoor tourism industry say the mosquito has always been a bother. Now that the insect is as much health risk as pest, outdoor tourists are arming themselves with bug repellent, but not staying away.

Stephen Schlautman, an employee at Black Creek Canoe Rental in Brooklyn, said West Nile is on the minds of his customers.

"People are definitely using more repellent,'' Schlautman said. "But I haven't seen a downturn in the number of people recreating... They're just taking more precautions.''

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on Friday asked for $7.8 million in federal funding to help communities with mosquito control programs. Musgrove declared a state of emergency last week that allows the federal funding request.

Two deaths in Mississippi, eight in Louisiana and one in Illinois have been linked to West Nile. Mississippi has 51 cases of the virus, according to the governor's office.

In Louisiana, bug repellent is available at all the state's visitor centers and parks, and the tourism department's Web page has a link to information about West Nile. Phillip Jones, the secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said it's all part of an effort to protect Louisiana's $8.5 billion tourism industry.

"We want to be sure we do everything we can to protect and nurture (tourism),'' Jones said. "We want our visitors to feel as safe and comfortable as those of us who live in Louisiana do.''

Officials at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau have not seen a West Nile-related drop-off in tourism, spokeswoman Jolie Spiers said. In Louisiana, bug repellant manufacturer Cutter donated 6,000 cans of spray to the state, which has since had to buy more.

"Some folks who may have expressed an initial concern were very pleased to see that we were taking a proactive approach,'' Jones said. "Most if not all indicated that the West Nile issue was not going to keep them from visiting Louisiana.''

At Black Creek Canoe Rental, Schlautman said customers are still booking overnight trips, the kind that put canoeists in close proximity to forested shorelines at both dawn and dusk, the active times for mosquitoes that carry West Nile. This year, Schlautman said, he sees more citronella candles making the overnight trips.

"I think that with the response to Sept. 11, people feel like they're going to live their lives,'' Schlautman said. "They'll take precautions, but they can't stop living.''