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Friday, March 26, 2010

National Geographic Puts the North Coast on the Map

National Geographic Puts the North Coast on the Map
New “Geotourism” Campaign Rolled Out in Scotia
By Cynthia Elkins

National Geographic launched a new tourism product for the North Coast last week, holding the rollout event in Scotia on March 11 and calling it a landmark project that will boost sustainable tourism in southern Humboldt and throughout the region.

The “geotourism” project covers 6 counties, from Marin to Del Norte, and is one of only 14 similar projects National Geographic has worldwide. But it is also the first of its kind, in that it is focused around an interactive map guide and website instead of being print-based.

Geotourism is described as “tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.”

In an interview in Scotia, Jim Dion, Associate Director of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, said geotourism “takes the concept of ecotourism and applies it to all aspects of ‘place-based’ tourism,” including things like arts and crafts, sightseeing, local cuisine and cultural history.

The website allows people to suggest additions to the map by nominating a place, activity or event – such as a public trail, a boat launch or an annual festival. Each map entry is accompanied by an individual webpage that describes them, and users of the website can add them to their “favorites” to help plan their trip.

People involved with the project said there are already more than 1,000 nominations for the map. Approximately 400 entries are included so far, and though there are a number in southern Humboldt, the map is still fairly sparse in the local area as compared to most places in the region.

There is now just one entry for Garberville – the Trees Foundation – and there are none for Redway. Other current local map entries include Richardson Grove, the King Range and Sinkyone Wilderness Areas, the Benbow Inn and Riverbend Winery.

The effort builds on other new projects and work that have emerged in the area. Explorer Mike Fey and Humboldt County resident Lindsey Holm recently completed a 400-mile transect of the redwood range, which was featured in a cover story of National Geographic in October 2009. A new coalition called Redwood Futures followed, with a workshop in Redway last Saturday that was focused on creating new economic opportunities from conservation and restoration of redwood forestlands.

Supervisor Clif Clendenen and Southern Humboldt Community Park representative Steven Dazey were among the agency, conservation and political leaders from throughout the region who attended the Scotia event. After a tour of the town and a reception, several speakers gave presentations on their work, including Art Harwood of the Redwood Forest Foundation. Explorer Mike Fey was the keynote speaker.

Marcia deChadenedes, Outreach Coordinator with the federal Bureau of Land Mangement, told the audience that the project “... is precedent-setting because it was the first one that recognized the power of the internet and started with an internet map guide.” deChadenedes added, “70 percent of all visitors who travel look online first and do all of their planning online.”

According to deChadenedes, less than 50 percent of all tourists are geotourists, but geotourists spend more than 75 percent of every dollar generated by tourism. “Those are the people that you want here, and we did it with this map ...” she said.

The speakers extolled the virtues of the region, saying the rugged coastline, small towns and unique culture are a natural draw for travelers. But the ancient redwoods of Humboldt and Del Norte counties are what Ruskin Hartley, Executive Director of Save the Redwoods League, said set the region apart from any other.

Hartley said the Redwood Coast has “incredible resources,” listing wine, whales, beautiful towns and organic beer as examples. “But you get all those things in almost every single other place in the world. What you don’t get [anywhere else] is primeval redwood forests,” Hartley said, adding, “That’s what you’ve got going. And that’s what will bring the tourists to this place.”

Dion told the Independent that National Geographic’s other geotourism projects were launched within the last few years, making it too early to have much data or information on how effective they are at increasing tourism. However, he said the success is proven in hard numbers in one project, in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, which is being tracked under a rural enterprise development grant.

He said the region had very little tourism outside of the ski season before the geotourism project was established in 2006, but the off-season has seen a 425 percent increase in tourism since then, generating 128 new jobs in the region in the meantime. He also said that no other tourism promotions began or increased during that time, making it likely that the geotourism project is responsible for the change.

The federal Bureau of Land Management was a primary partner and leader in developing the project, which Dion said is also a first. More than two-dozen entities are also supporting the project, including the Garberville Chamber of Commerce, the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau and North Coast Redwood Interpretive Association.

deChadenedes described the Scotia event as “... just the end of the building to the launch. The most important thing that’s going to happen now,” she said, “is you all are going to continue to make it a better tool by adding to it, changing it, putting on sound files, video, all kinds of exciting things that are going to keep people coming here.”

The map guide and other related information can be found at

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