“Unfortunately all of the people who come here to float or hike drive straight through the towns,” said Andrew Sheeley, who grew up in the Ozarks. “They don’t stop at local businesses or get to know the local people.”
To boost both tourism and the local economy, Sheeley has launched Ozarks OnTop, a program that will offer tours of area rivers, hiking trails and parks; introduce visitors to local restaurants and music; and provide volunteering opportunities. Sheeley says “voluntourism” is the fastest growing segment of the travel market and he says the Ozarks are an appealing service trip destination.
“There is a lot to discover — the folk music, the oral tradition and the catfish, which are huge,” said Sheeley, who is earning a master of social work from the Brown School. “Our goal is to take folks who want to enjoy nature and give them that experience, while also giving them a chance to pay it forward.”