Sunday, January 03, 2010

Geotourism center to address "social and natural" character of Yellowstone region

This sounds like a promising trend for the region.

Ben Cannon wrote this for Planet Jackson Hole:

The Greater Yellowstone Geotourism Center in Driggs, Idaho, believed to be the first of its kind, will be one part visitor center, one part interpretive facility, said Teton Valley Chamber of Commerce president Reid Rogers, who is heading up the initiative.

So called “geotourism” differs from ecotourism, or travel to pristine natural environs, in that the former incorporates historic and cultural aspects of a destination. Ecotourism also promotes sustaining, or even enhancing, a place’s character – social and natural.

The term was coined by a National Geographic editor, and the organization will lend its insignia, and some prime display items, to the new center in Driggs.“We’re tying to build an institution that represents the entire Yellowstone area,” Rogers said.

The concept evolved about five years ago, when National Geographic identified the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem as one of the world’s important geographical areas, a place where communities grew amongst great natural character. Last March, National Geographic, working with a task force with representatives from Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, began publishing a map guide area. An online version of the map, available at, allows for more comprehensive listings.

Rogers said the geotourism initiative happened to dovetail with plans to build a visitor’s center in Driggs. “I went to National Geographic and asked them if anyone has turned their theory of geotourism in a physical institution, a physical location to experience what it is you’re talking about,” Rogers said. “They said it was almost a perfect extension of what a community could do.”

There are probably some in the Yellowstone region cringing at this idea. National Geographic, of course, is a "Coaster" organization, with sprawling headquarters in Maryland. "Outside the Beltway," but close enough to the heart of federal gubment to be dangerous. It's also an international org, which may raise questions of outside influence by Euro-do-gooders in places like France and Luxembourg. You think the French are bad, wait until you meet up with cheese-eating enviro Luxies.

Wonder how this center will interpret to social and natural characteristics of the area. A tall order. The heart of the area's natural character is in the national park. But social? So many different kids of human habitations in the region. Jackson itself is such a study in contrasts. You got your punk snowboarders, aging Baby Boomer Liberals, Cheneyite Repubs, cyber-communing bankers, Cowboy wannabes, non-Indian Indian spiritualists, federal wildlife biologists, wolf-haters, slacker trust-fund babies, Hispanic resort workers, transient artists, not to mention the million tourists from around the world who troupe through town each year. Jackson fiction writer Tim Sandlin has spent his career writing about these conflicting social elements. But how to do them justice in an interpretive center?

And what about the other communities in the Yellowstone region: Cody, Dubois, Hoback Junction, Red Lodge, Alta, Driggs, Victor, West Yellowstone, etc.? Old-timers conflict with newcomers and -- fast as lightning -- newcomers become old-timers and grouse about the good old days.

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