|Thursday, Jun 21, 2012|
Zuni dancers filed through the plaza, Sutherland Farms served fresh green chile enchiladas to hungry volunteers, and Ballet Folklorico clicked heels in the parking lot. All three groups are assets on National Geographic’s new Four Corners Region geotourism destination map, launched from Aztec Ruins National Monument on Saturday, June 2nd.
A diverse council of parks, tribes, and businesses worked with NatGeo to create a map and website highlighting the unique culture and history of the Southwest. They chose Aztec Ruins to host the map launch and introduce the public to geotourism opportunities in the area. The event coincided with National Trails Day and Fiesta Days, an annual City of Aztec celebration.
In January, 2012, President Obama released the nation’s first Travel and Tourism Strategy in recognition of the crucial role tourism plays in our economy. In that strategy, he identifies the importance of local efforts. In many ways, local involvement is at the heart of geotourism, which seeks to sustain or enhance the unique geographic character of a place, such as its culture, heritage, or environment. The geotourism map and website gives Four Corners destinations of all sizes an innovative vehicle for appealing to audiences across the globe.
The City of Aztec worked in close partnership with the park to plan and sponsor the event. Superintendent Larry Turk and Mayor Sally Burbridge greeted the public at a multi-agency presentation held in the Great Kiva to kick off the day’s festivities. Cliff Spencer, superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, spoke as well. Other presenters represented Acoma Pueblo, Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments, the BLM, Zuni Pueblo, Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway, and National Geographic.
In anticipation of large crowds, Aztec Ruins closed on-site parking and, instead, offered free rides on public transportation into the Monument. Red Apple Transit, a division of the City of Farmington, generously provided four buses and drivers. Rangers were stationed on each bus to give roving interpretation. They were a big hit and turned the commute into a “geotouristic” experience that highlighted local history.
The event spotlighted numerous tourism opportunities in the region with a geotourism fair. Thirty vendors set up pavilions to share their location or craft with the public. Sitting comfortably in the shade of native cottonwoods, Navajo poet Tina Deschanie read children’s stories to families as they took a break from touring in the hot sun. Across the picnic area, Mesa Verde’s Chief of Interpretation helped guests plan future visits to the park, and Salmon Ruins volunteers signed up travelers for an excursion to their site later that afternoon.
Tourism is a crucial piece of the Four Corners economy for states and tribes alike. We hope events like this encourage growth in a way that honors the fantastic resources we protect and ensures their preservation for generations to come.