The Geotourism Approach – Inspiring Sustainable Travel

GeoFeature_NGCSD_resize.gifAssociate Director Ann Nygard learned of the geotourism concept, defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place–its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents; when working in partnership with National Geographic in her native Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on a Geotourism MapGuide. Now part of the Center for Sustainable Destinations at NG headquarters in Washington, D.C., she works with destinations to help tell the story of their place.

Northeast Kingdom, Vermont –The seasons shape how folks experience this tri-county region of Vermont.  Winding dirt roads pocked by potholes from the winter freeze were filled with spring mud when the local Geotourism Stewardship Council began community forums. Maneuvering around these craters was a welcome change from avoiding snowdrifts blown across the roads; potholes don’t move.  Hopes were high that mild weather would encourage Kingdom residents to nominate sites for the Geotourism MapGuide at town hall style meetings, through emailed nomination forms, and in special kiosks set up in individual rural communities.

All winter, the Geotourism Stewardship Council workgroup got together every other Tuesday at the Hardwick Village Restaurant to plan the three-month outreach sessions. We had added incentive to brave the wintry conditions: arrive early and French toast from homemade bread was still available on the slate chalkboard menu. Maple syrup from a local sugarhouse, however, was always available. Unlike in the rest of the country, syrup goes beyond breakfast: Maple-glazed salmon, Maple cream pie, Maple smoked ham, Maple buttered baby carrots, Maple pumpkin bread. You get the idea.

Our scheduled meetings around the Kingdom yielded good results. Lots of
nominations were gathered at Northeast Kingdom Cultural Heritage Day in
June. That Saturday, the relaxed atmosphere on the dock of the Lyndon
Freight House Restaurant, an authentic 1870 railroad freight house now
repurposed as a diner and local craft shop, was the loading point for
200 passengers on the antique Green Mountain Express train fired up for
the festival. With a traditional “All aboard!” from a uniformed
conductor, passengers were handed individual nomination forms from
piles lugged around in old apple bushel baskets by volunteers. The
steam engine then took passengers on a lazy ride to and from St.
Johnsbury, about 12 miles away, giving this captive audience time to
read about geotourism and brainstorm nominations for the map.

Each nomination told a story in support of the Northeast Kingdom’s
character of place and reflected tourism that is respectful of our
environment, of our towns and landscapes, and of the people who live
here. There was only room for forty map notes to be included on the
final MapGuide. The array of picks selected were diverse, from the
Bayley-Hazen Military Road used by Benedict Arnold in his attempt to
capture Canada in 1775, to the Wooley Buggah Farm where their sheep’s
wool is hand dyed for yarn.

If you were to tell the story of your place to visitors, what would you
say? Would you describe a small family-style restaurant serving the
local specialty for generations, an annual festival honoring cultural
heritage, notable wildlife?  Give us an example of what makes your
place like no other.

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