The Heritage Tourist looks for Nature Conservation and Preservation

The Heritage Tourist
a monthly column by Dr. Bill Smith


As a heritage tourist we generally find it easy to focus our attention on the historical as well as the cultural aspects of our destination and visit. The third element of heritage tourism, the nature element, however has, and had, a lot to do with the creation of the first two. I'd like to discuss this with you a bit here in this article.

As many of our ancestors followed their migration patterns from the east coast of the USA across the mountains, through the heartlands and toward the mountains of the west, many stopped along the way and many others decided to stay in one spot or another. Those decisions were often defined and determined by the natural environment they encountered as they moved west. Soil, weather, water… rivers, ponds, and lakes… wetlands, dry land, and elevations (high or low)… each had an impact on the decision to move on or to stay in a particular area. They even spoke of "good air" and bad air" in their speech of the time about particular locations. Have you given this much thought? It is a fascinating aspect of the early settlement of the USA and the manifest destiny movements later on.

Grey Heron in Marshland; source: Wikimedia Commons:

Today, as we plan our heritage tourism experiences, taking time to do some research on the natural environment of our destination, now and in the past of the time period of interest to us, will be time well spent. I grew up on an Iowa farm where my Dad was constantly considering where tile needed to be put in to drain wet areas to put into agricultural production. That was the priority of the time. These days, the question may be: should we be preserving and conserving wetlands to assure the proper natural balance of this land? When we lived in Tucson, Arizona, one the most interesting exhibits at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum was about overgrazing in years past and what could be done to recover the land to useful purposes in the present and future. In the Kansas Flint Hills, I became involved in how the natural environment of Tallgrass Prairie was being restored as the most productive use of this particular land. I recently wrote about the natural preservation and conservation efforts taking place near my Iowa hometown at the Whiterock Conservancy. I mention each of these simply as examples of the efforts and concerns that relate directly to our history and culture… in my personal experience. There are many others. What are yours?

I will use the work going on at the Whiterock Conservancy in Iowa as a mini-case study of the natural preservation, conservation, and recreational efforts currently underway (there are many others, of course, throughout the country). I hope you will identify one or more near you to become involved in. Whiterock Conservancy was founded in 2004 as a non-profit land trust with the following mission statement:

"Whiterock Conservancy fosters a resilient and self-renewing Iowa landscape by integrating economics, social & ecological land management strategies & engaging the public via outdoor recreation & education."

Currently their programs are incorporated in these five programs: Land Management, Environmental Conservation, Outdoor Recreation, Stewardship, and Sustainability. The link provides brief details on each program. The private-public partnership has been enhanced by both government and private funding coupled with local and regional use of facilities for education and recreational opportunities. It can be a great place to visit and become involved for interested visitors - heritage tourists included! A historical/cultural side note: this is also the site of the Roswell & Elizabeth Garst Farmstead Historic District that was visited by Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, in September of 1959.


source: Wikimedia Commons

So, as you plan your next heritage tourism adventure, I hope you will now remember to consider nature as well as history and culture in your research and implementation processes. I have found it to enrich my experiences. May it enrich your experiences as well.


See you down the road.


© Dr. Bill Smith 2012

This article originally appeared in the September 2012 issue of The In-Depth Genealogist. Receive The In-Depth Genealogist  by subscribing HERE.