Tuesday, January 06, 2009


This question posed by Indiana University professor Dr. Scott Russell Sanders isn’t as counter-intuitive as it seems.

Nor is it a new idea for tourism development to serve a stewardship role. Yellowstone, the nation’s first national park is an example.

My birthplace is 12 miles away, and a 4WD road trip into the very southwest corner of the Park. But it was established in 1872, some 136 years ago, and 76 years before I was born, and only 20+ years prior to when my Great-Grandfather homesteaded there.

Tourism interests, even then, are credited with establishing Yellowstone. During a few years when financier Jay Cooke controlled the Northern Pacific Railroad, it began running its line west from Tacoma and east from Minnesota to eventually connect. Cooke saw the commercial opportunities in Yellowstone but wanted to avoid what he saw had happened around the Niagara, Adirondack and Catskill areas when too much scenic beauty fell into private hands.

He pushed for Yellowstone to be protected, helping to fund two expeditions, one including a politician and another a US Geologic Survey team on which he funded famous painter Thomas Moran to participate and capture the beauty of Yellowstone. Moran worked closely with painter and photographer William Henry Jackson to chronicle Yellowstone in images.

Keep in mind, this was twenty years before the frontier was declared closed, and several decades before any real conservation movement formed, and four years prior to Custer’s Last Stand, and five years before Chief Joseph, chased by the U.S. Army, took nearly 800 Nez Perce through the area trying to escape into Canada. So we’re talking vision here.

Native Americans had lived in Yellowstone for 11,000 years but the first white man to see the area was John Colter who stayed behind with Manuel Luis on the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806. But when he described it to the press ,and officials in the East they thought he was crazy.

Cooke lobbied the US Congress using Moran’s preliminary sketches resulting in the creation of Yellowstone Park in 1872, the first national park in the World at the time.

Cooke grasped that scenery in the West could be a tourism attraction. However, he had financial problems in the great recession of 1873, and didn’t see the project through.

For the ten years prior to when the Northern Pacific reached the northern edge of the Park, maybe 1,000 visitors traveled there via train to Corinne, Utah, then several hundred miles by wagon to Virginia City and then to the Park, the first arriving on four wheels in 1878 with auto traffic by 1917.

Even John Muir, one of the founders of the Sierra Club, who had been a sawmill operator and rancher as well as author and explorer saw tourism’s potential as a steward.

Durham is a cultural destination with place based assets including natural, historic and heritage for which tourism can be and should be a steward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was the business leaders in Asheville and Knoxville who were instrumental in the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Without their entrepreneurial vision of preservation to enhance visitation, an incredibly beautiful landscape filled with diverse species, flora and fauna would likely not exist in that form today. Those same leaders were instrumental too in the formation of one America’s most scenic byways – the Blue Ridge Parkway. I personally salute those stewards of the past, who like many of us today, understand that sustainability and business are not at cross purposes.