Eco-tourism and our National Parks

The International Ecotourism Society defines eco-tourism as, “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”  They set forth six principles of eco-tourism including minimizing impact, building environmental and cultural awareness, providing positive experiences for everyone involved, providing direct financial benefits for locals, and raising awareness to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.  However, as visitor numbers increase, eco-tourism can become destructive to the environment if measures aren’t taken to prevent it.  This discussion made me think of my experiences with the National Park Service, where with my family I have visited around 100 National Parks and Monuments, camping in many of them.

While all National Parks try to minimize impact, the most vivid example I recall was in Denali National Park where there is only one road into the interior of park (the area of the park where Mt. McKinley is).  While many parks have a shuttle bus system of some kind, in Denali this is basically the only option for exploring the interior of the park.  The 92 mile road, pictured below, is closed after mile 15 to private vehicles, although you can walk or bicycle in and some exceptions are made for campers.  Day visitors can buy shuttle bus tickets to various stops along the road.  The decision to close the road was made in 1972 after a major highway near Denali was completed, making it much easier for visitors to come to the park.  Now, around 400,000 visitors come to the park during its short summer season each year.  I really liked the bus system.  It not only allowed a lot of people to visit the park with minimal pollution and harm to the environment, but the lack of traffic also made for a better, more peaceful environment in which to observe and enjoy nature.  When I go to National Parks, it is to be closer to and appreciate nature, not to be interrupted by the heavy traffic and pollution I could get anywhere and Denali was definitely a great place for this.  Another cool thing, I noticed while on the road was the eco-friendly bathroom design, pictured below.

This has been a very interesting and eye-opening class.  It was slightly depressing to learn about the extent of all of the problems in the world; however, it was refreshing to discuss possible solutions and measures we could take as individuals to help.  As we discussed in class yesterday, the world is currently facing problems such as deforestation of half of its forests, draining of over half of its wetlands, damage to over 1/3 of its corals reefs, the decimation of its fisheries decimated, and suffering of biodiversity.  Human population is quickly approaching 7 billion, which will put even more strain on the already strained resources on the world unless we step in and make some changes that will result in long-term solutions.

The resiliency approach to solving problems that we learned about in class gives us a great start for working on these problems and creating a more sustainable society.  Some facets of the resiliency approach include promoting biodiversity, working with economic variability, and fostering creativity and innovation.   It was helpful to see applications of these principles in action through the case studies we looked at and to look at possible solutions in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, and coral reefs.  I really enjoyed digging deeper into some of the subjects we talking about in class for my blog and finding helpful solutions, such as eating less meat or only specific kinds of fish.  Not only has this class opened my eyes to the many problems of the world today, but it has also prepared me to think critically to help solve these and other problems.

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2 Responses to “Eco-tourism and our National Parks”

  1. Dr. Szulczewski says:

    How jealous am I that you have been to so many parks? Thank you for sharing this with us (I’ve been in some of those same NPS eco-toilets elsewhere!)

  2. desi says:

    It’s interesting that you should bring up Denali and their efforts on this blog. One of my best friends used to live just outside of the park, and he, being the outdoorsy type, would travel in every chance that he could. When I met him later on in life, he would tell me all about the park, how conscious they were about their effects on the environment and the steps they were taking to ensure that they did not harm the beauty that is their park, or if they had to to make it accessible, that they did it in such a way that would harm it all the least. More parks should take a note from Denali, and look more into smart environmental access rather than how many people they can bring in in general.