I suppose sometime I should stop by the Wisconsin Dells. Last week we were within an hour’s drive of the Dells, but, just as with so many such trips in the past, we’ve did not go. There’s just something about the promotional brochures that doesn’t make it particularly compelling to me; too much of an amusement park feel to it. Maybe there’s a place where one can view the river away from all that, just as one can view Niagara Falls without having to go to the tourist attractions. Maybe.
Years ago, I was discussing the potential for a new national park with someone who lived in the out-of-the-way area the park would be. This person was concerned that with such a designation the area would be overrun with bumper cars, miniature golf, trinket shops and other developments. That’s what this person thought of when he thought of tourism. A national preserve has opened there operated by the National Park Service and there are no such tourist attractions, but years ago, but I could understand that person’s concerns. Years ago, that was tourism. I recently stopped by a town here in Michigan (again, one of those finally stopped by after being in the area many times) in which the 1960s era tourist attractions are the dominant feature of the landscape. The landscape needed no such embellishment. It was a lovely lake with a small town, but in that era tourists expected such diversions.
Since then, nature-based tourism has come on the scene. Family tourism is no longer mom and dad with a station wagon full of kids needing to be entertained (well, OK, the kids may need to be weaned from their various LCD screens, but that’s another story). There is a group of tourists that want authentic experiences with nature and they have money to spend and they spend it. It’s not the nature crowd of the 70s about which one former Michigan governor said “they bring an extra pair of underwear and a $5 bill and don’t change either one.”
Nature, history, local culture, local foods all make for place-based tourism – tourism built on experiences one can only get in a particular area. Miniature golf, bumper cars, water slides and other amusements are pretty much the same everywhere. The local natural, historical and cultural features are not. A successful tourist economy can be built on those unique features and help conserve them in the process.