A survey of 51 representatives from tourism companies, state agencies, nonprofits and others has confirmed what many prairie enthusiasts already know: the Great Plains region is home to some of the country’s best kept ecotourism secrets.
The Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently released the results of their two-phase survey, which identified the region’s Top 10 ecotourism sites. The Center also has plans to publish a map with the top 50 spots later this year. In all, survey participants submitted nearly 100 different locations for consideration.
Sites included in the study had to meet three main criteria: be devoted to biodiversity conservation, offer the chance to experience nature and be open to the public (either for free or a fee). While several of the locations included in top 10 are more well-known, federally-protected sites, such as Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt National Parks and Devils Tower National Monument, other places on the list are privately owned conservation lands, such as Audubon’s Rowe Bird Sanctuary, the Nature Conservancy’s Conata Basin (SD), American Prairie Reserve (MT) and the Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve (NE).
According to the Center, “ecotourism generates revenues critical for funding conservation initiatives, increases public awareness of and support for conservation and helps nearby human communities to thrive economically.” This idea is supported in part by the Outdoor Recreation Economy 2012 report, which found that outdoor recreation directly results in 6.1 million American jobs and $646 billion in direct consumer spending each year (including product sales and travel-related spending).
Top 10 Ecotourism Sites in the Great Plains:
- Badlands National Park (SD)
- Rowe Bird Sanctuary/CraneTrust/Central Platte River (NE)
- Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge (MT)
- American Prairie Reserve (MT)
- The Switzer Ranch and Nature Reserve (NE)
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND)
- Devils Tower National Monument (WY)
- Conata Basin (SD)
- Fort Robinson State Park/Soldier Creek Wilderness/Petersen Wildlife Management Area (NE)
- Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument (MT)
American Prairie Reserve (APR) is assembling a world class wildlife reserve in northern Montana, with the goal of one day creating a seamless 3.5 million acre grassland ecosystem. APR’s President Sean Gerrity is a National Geographic Fellow. Learn more about APR, including public access and how to visit, on the Reserve’s website.