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An ambitious study driven by Arizona State University is examining how national monuments and parks in the rocky mountain west can expand economic benefits and highlight and preserve the amenities that attract visitors and businesses to surrounding communities.
The 1,880,000-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah is the focus of the study led by Gyan Nyaupane, an associate professor and graduate program director with the School of Community Resources and Development in the College of Public Programs.
Through a $74,000 grant award from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the study aims to identify the relationships between community development, tourism and public lands using Appreciative Inquiry as a central driver of the research. Nyaupane, an international expert in the technique, describes Appreciative Inquiry as “a cooperative approach that focuses on identifying what is working well within a community or organization, understanding why it is working well and then building upon those strengths to encourage solutions and innovation.”
Ninety-six and 85.5 percent of the lands in Garfield and Kane counties, respectively, are public lands primarily managed by the three federal land management agencies: U.S. Forest Service; National Parks Service; and the Bureau of Land Management. Traditional commodity industries in the area, including agriculture, mining and timber, were becoming a smaller share of the overall economy in the region at the time of the designation.
“From the dozens of interviews we conducted in the 18 surrounding communities of the Grand Staircase-Escalante, we learned that the communities perceive tourism as a potential industry to support livelihoods in a declining rural economy,” Nyaupane said.
The preliminary findings are the result of a series of “mini-Appreciative Inquiry” sessions the ASU researchers have conducted over the last few months with local business owners and stakeholders from across the region.
“These AI sessions aim to evaluate the successes and strengths of the communities, which ultimately can lead to a new, tourism-related vision for the future,” Nyaupane said. “We hope that this project will encourage the exploration of some near-term and long-term actions to accomplish the vision and create a positive environment,” he said.
The team will lead an Appreciative Inquiry Summit on April 19 in Bryce Canyon City, Utah. Session findings will be summarized and provided to the communities involved.
“Millions of people visit national monuments, parks and recreation areas every year, creating opportunities to diversify the economy within surrounding communities in a number of ways,” said Kathleen Andereck, director of the School of Community Resources and Development. “Gyan Nyaupane’s research in the Grand Staircase-Escalante region is vital to helping raise public awareness regarding the important and beneficial role tourism can play in linking national parks and monuments to their surrounding communities and building better and more cooperative relationships among the communities and stakeholders.”
In addition to his research in southern Utah, Nyaupane’s recent study examining the economic impact of the Wings Over Wilcox Birding and Nature Festival (WOW) revealed that the annual event has infused nearly $2 million into the local economy during the last 20 years that the southern Arizona community has hosted the festival.
The 2011 “National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation” indicates that $17.3 billion is spent annually on trip-related expenses to view wildlife nationwide. Bird-watching is estimated to generate 84 percent of all wildlife viewing.
The findings of the ASU study are helping to inform the efforts of festival organizers and Wilcox community leaders as they explore possible investments in birding and wildlife viewing enhancements that could help boost visitation to the area throughout the year.