Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walk Softly

An understanding of the impact of human society on our planet is becoming more and more critical as our demands grow on the earth's resources. The footprint of our resource demands in urban areas is currently being measured and defined in many countries. When it comes to more natural and third world areas that have not yet been developed and are turning into tourist destinations as a result, it's important to educate people about their impact as well as provide an appreciation for these natural and social systems, known as geotourism. This is a new term for what used to be known as "adventure travel" and ecotourism; it represents a step further into a true sustainable system for human habitation.For example, the Nature Conservancy adopts the ecotourism definition articulated by the World Conservation Union (IUCN):

"Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples."

Most tourism in natural areas today is not ecotourism and is not therefore, sustainable. Ecotourism can be distinguished from nature tourism by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation. Specifically, ecotourism possesses the following characteristics:

* Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
* Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
* Support for local conservation efforts
* Sustainable benefits to local communities
* Local participation in decision-making
* Educational components for both the traveler and local communities

However, geotourism goes beyond ecotourism in that it sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents. It embraces local social structure as well as ecology and appropriate use of resources.

A current local Geotourism Project seeks to celebrate the Sierra Nevada as a world-class destination, while contributing to the economic health of the region by promoting sustainable tourism. History buffs and adventurers, backpackers and foodies, birders and sightseers can discover unique destinations based on recommendations from those who know best - residents of the Sierra Nevada. This week, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, in partnership with the National Geographic Society and the Sierra Business Council, kicks off its nomination process for its Geotourism Mapquide of the Southern Sierra Nevada, which is here.

The Project is approaching the Sierra Nevada in four phases. Two phases have been completed:Yosemite Gateway and the Tahoe Emigrant Corridor.During the third phase, Southern Sierra nominations, which includes the Sierra Nevada portion of Madera (excluding Yosemite and its gateway area), Fresno, Tulare, and Kern Counties, are being promoted during January through April, 2011. The third phase is being kicked off during the week of January 16th, with one of the launch events occurring in Kernville on January 20th.