Written by Juraj Švajda, MatejBel University, Slovakia
Nearly 20 participants from around the world attended an intensive 2.5 week mobile seminar on Planning and Managing Tourism in Protected Areas organized by Colorado State University´s Center for Protected Area Management and Training. During the seminar we visited in 4 western US states and 13 national parks and protected areas. The main goal was to review how tourism in PAs can help create public support for conservation, contribute to public health, fund PA management and provide economic benefits to local communities and national economies. The US as a country, which gave first National Park to the world, has an important historical perspective when addressing tourism in PAs. One interesting number from 2011 year – the NP system hosted 279 million recreational visits, injected an estimated $30 billion into local economies across the country and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide.
The seminar started with introductory presentations and interesting speakers on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins near Denver (Colorado´s capital city). During the trip to the Poudre River and Lee Martinez Park we saw how local protected areas, recreation and tourism can be important components of urban sustainability. Due to unexpected weather conditions (flooding in Colorado) organizers had to adapt previous plans to visit Rocky Mountain NP, however we were all impressed with their wonderful ability to practice adaptive management and organize an alternative program for us. The rest of seminar continued in parks and reserves with variety of habitat types and cultural resources which are managed as well very differently (by federal, state and local governments, NGOs and private landowners). We saw e.g. Fort Laramie National Historic Site and we became Junior Rangers, learning in the process about this important education program that draws in the next generation. Probably one of the most personal experiences was meeting with one of the Lakota Indian tribe representatives and his attempt to create and manage the first US NP (Bad Lands) under the governance of indigenous people. In Wind Cave NP we experienced not only the beauty of underground spaces but saw as well our first bison (or buffalo as they are commonly referred to around the western US). Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore National Memorials were for most of us interesting, filled with both controversy as well with opportunity to discuss different sources of financing. In the Black Hills area we had meetings with US Forest Service personnel and discussed the task of tourism management in national forest.We experienced a dinner served in an agro-tourism facility (Chuckwagon) in Custer State Park. In Devil´s Tower National Monument we understood that management of climbing activities can have not only natural reasons concerns but spiritual ones as well, leading to a very complex management situation. Very interesting and sensitive was the comparison of interpretation of historical sites – Battle of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument- by both NPS and local Crow tribe interpreters. In Yellowstone NP we were able to see not only water falls and geysers, but also had ample opportunities to discuss what kind and level of infrastructure is appropriate and necessary in the park. We had interesting meetings with staff about concessions and winter use issues but also, thanks to unique guides from Nature Association,we were able to see wildlife (grizzly bear and couple of wolves). In Grand Teton NP we discussed with park staff issues related to search and rescue operations and planning as a part of visitor management. We visited among others sites, the Teton Science School, The Moose Visitor Center, we rafted the Snake river, and experienced the first snow in the season (some participants first timein their lives J). Finally in the Murie Center we received our certificate of participation, while also being inspired by the history of the Murie family and all they did to envision and help ensure that our world will remain a bit more wild, but advocating for Congressionally designated Wilderness areas.
As you can see, the program was really very diverse and 160 hours of training covered many interesting topic and themes including visitor management, communication and education, public-private partnerships and concessions, infrastructure, engaging the public, financial aspects, human resources and capacity building as well as some cross-cutting themes (climate change and leadership). However the organizers made it very interesting and not boring thanks to their proficiency in capacity building and pedagogy. They used a combination of different modules and diverse activities that involved an active and engaging participation by all. Together we spent considerable timesharing our own diverse expertise and examples from around the world, which not only increased the academic value of the seminar but also helped us build a network of long-term professional friendships. It is wonderful that programs like this exists to provide a platform for questions our mental models, sharing our successes and challenges, learning from each other, and in general being inspired again about what we are all trying to achieve in conservation and protected area tourism in our different corners of the world.
Great thanks to the organizers, lecturers and logistical coordinators who supported our sessions (Jim Barborak, Ryan Finchum and Kat Sever from CSU, Steve McCool from University of Montana, Toby Bloom from USDA Forest Service). I would strongly recommend to anyone to send an application for the already announced 2nd annual seminar which will take place September 10-25 2014. Finally and personally, for financial support, I’d like to send a big thanks to the Slovak – American Foundation which allowed me to participate in this valuable and interesting event.