BARTON COUNTY — Transcending politics, Gov. Sam Brownback hosted an ecotourism summit at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center on Saturday.
“Thanks for being out on a Saturday afternoon,” said Gov. Brownback. “Cheyenne Bottoms is a wetlands of international importance. Kansas has some of the best kept secrets of the world.
Gov. Brownback went on to say that people in Kansas are modest, but need to speak up. Giving an example, he said, “Hey people we’ve got something here in Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira.
“What else can we do to protect it and grow it?” he said. “We can’t make it hard for people. Quivira and CB have excellent potential for expansion without despoiling it.”
An expert in ecotourism, founder and president of Fermata, Ted Eubanks, also spoke. “If you don’t tell stories, nobody knows,” Eubanks said. Pelican Pete, a recluse who lived at Quivira, is a story that makes an emotional connection to the wetlands.
That includes history and food. He suggested selling sand hill plum jelly as one idea to develop and developing the Santa Fe Trail history.
“90 percent of people living in the city do not see the Milky Way,” Eubanks said. “You have darkness and silence in abundance.”
But the focus was on the wetlands. “There is reticence in Great Plains for the people to promote themselves,” he said. “If you don’t tell the stories, nobody knows. Focus on what is different.”
He gave an example of event that now attracts thousands of visitors. The town of Canadian, Texas hosts the Canadian Fall Foliage Festival, which celebrates the changes in color of the poison ivy, attracting thousands of visitors. He said visitors could be attracted through nature with activities such as birding, hiking, mountain biking and kayaking to help the economy.
Eubanks also said nature tourism allows communities to compete for traditional industry, such as a kayak company for the boating.
Other speakers were Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, Becky Blake, director of KDWPT, Clayton Grimmett, Stafford County, Richard Boeckman and Rob Penner.
After listening to the professionals, Gov. Brownback opened the conversation to comments. Suggestions were made such as paving roads, better signage around the state and in the Bottoms, and observation towers with telescopes.
Gov. Brownback has some ideas of his own. He suggested adding cabins or teepees, for people to rent, and adding signs on I-70.
Other suggestions included herpetology and paleontology events, restoring grant funding for marketing, interactive signage and apps, and tourism packages.
Brownback recently travelled to Nebraska to see the sandhill crane migration, which attracts a huge number of tourists. He was an ecotourist.
Ecotourism is defined as nature based tourism where tourists travel to relatively undisturbed areas. It is responsible travel to natural areas, and it improves the lives of local people.