Residents give suggestions for tourist map planned by National Geographic Society

Sweet Home and Linn County may soon be on the map, a National Geographic map, specifically.

A group of public and private organizations are developing information to be included on the National Geographic magazine’s seventh and latest “geotourism” MapGuide, which will focus on the Central Cascades area, from Mount Rainier National Park to Crater Lake National Park between Interstate Five and Highway 97.

Geotourism encompasses a variety of types of tourism, said Laurel MacMillan at a community meeting Monday night. Working for the nonprofit Rural Development Initiative of Eugene, MacMillan and Sara Worl are visiting cities within the region to help identify sites that should be included on the map.

“It’s this term that National Geographic came up with,” MacMillan said. “In history, there’s been a lot of different kinds of €“isms.”

In tourism, relatively new terms, such as “ecotourism,” “agritourism” and “culinary tourism,”

have arisen, she said. Geotourism encompasses all of these ideas under a sort of umbrella that includes cultural and natural resource attractions and points of interest.

Geotourism incorporates the concept of sustainable tourism €“ that destinations should remain unspoiled for future generations €“ while allowing for enhancement that protects the character of the locale, according to a National Geographic explanation. The tourism revenue can promote conservation and extend that principal well beyond nature travel to encompass culture and history as well, all distinctive assets of a place.

Right now, the program is taking nominations for places to include on the map with multiple goals in mind, she said. “It’s benefiting the local residents, and that’s a very important part of geotourism. Tourism used to be a luxury. It used to be only the rich would travel.”

With modern people working harder and over-stimulated, “tourism is no longer a luxury item. Tourism is a necessity,” she said. “The trend is that people are taking shorter vacations. People will drive two or three hours for a short vacation.”

Geotourism “is about taking advantage of what you have already,” she said. “It’s about marketing and taking advantage of it. One of the goals of the map is to get tourism where tourism isn’t.”

Highlighting places people want to visit will not only benefit local communities economically, Worl said, but it also will help preserve areas of interest for generations to come.

National Geographic provides the brand recognition as it targets “geotourists,” a market of 55.1 million travelers, MacMillan said. Their average age is 43 to 55, with half on an income of $75,000 per year and higher; and they take an average of four or more leisure trips per year as they seek “authentic” experiences, care about protection and preservation of the places they visit and are willing to spend money to achieve these goals.

The map, which will be a high-quality National Geographic production, will include approximately 150 sites, MacMillan said, noting that the last time she looked at the project’s Web site, there were already 300 nominations for sites.

The Stewardship Council, which selects the sites and oversees the project, has no set formula, she said. The final list of sites could be weighted more heavily toward Oregon or Washington, and it may include primarily cultural or natural sites depending on its choices.

“This is an art,” she said. “There is no exact science.”

The idea is for the map to be around for four or five years, MacMillan said. It may include anything from an artist co-op to museums, a longtime family-owned restaurant, carnivals or natural rock formations.

Worl, for example, nominated Opal Creek in the North Santiam Canyon, gathering factual information about the location and then describing how the mossy old growth struck her as emblematic of the Cascades.

“The Stewardship Council will be going through and narrowing down the site nominations” after a March 29 deadline, MacMillan said. National Geographic will narrow it down more in June, and tentatively will have a printed map in the fall.

During the narrowing process, the Stewardship Council will further explore nominated sites, MacMillan said. For example, a man in Oakridge nominated a site that has giant salamanders that only appear there and in China. Someone will have to make sure these giant salamanders actually exist before including them on the map.

Many nominated sites won’t be selected, but they’ll be among a large amount of information gathered during the project, MacMillan said. That information will be available to communities for other projects.

A separate Web site will include approximately 300 sites, she said, but the site isn’t funded yet. The idea is to keep the web map updated as things change.

“Really what we’re looking for is quality over quantity,” she said. That means a site should be unique in some way, and good writing on a nomination will help get it noticed.

The two most important questions on the nomination forms ask “why you love this place” and how the “site or experience enhances or preserves the local environment or culture,” MacMillan said.

Twenty-eight area residents, mostly from Sweet Home, with some representatives from Brownsville and Lebanon, attended the meeting Monday night. They were able to brainstorm a variety of local attractions and nominate them for the map.

Nominations also may be made at the project Web site, or at another community meeting. Additional meetings in the Willamette National Forest area will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Detroit City Hall on Wednesday and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at City Hall in Mill City on Thursday.

Major sponsors for the project are Travel Oregon, the U.S. Forest Service, Washington State Tourism and Oregon Cultural trust. Other sponsors include RDI, Sustainable Travel International and Sustainable Northwest.

Some 25 to 30 organizations are represented on the Stewardship Council. Among them are agencies and businesses such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Crater Lake National Park, Klamath Tribes, Timberline Lodge, Oregon State Parks and Recreation, Chemeketa Community College and the Oregon Bed and Breakfast Guild.

Other MapGuides include the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Baja Peninsula, Appalachia, Greater Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent in British Columbia and Montana.