Ecotourism on the Prairie is a newsletter about nature-tourism on the Great Plains from the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition and the Nebraska Tourism Commission.

Ecotourism on Another Grassland
By Katie Nieland, Assistant Director, Center for Great Plains Studies

As part of our ongoing ecotourism work, the Center recently sent me and two of our Great Plains Graduate Fellows to Africa to see how they do ecotourism on another grassland.

We spent two weeks in Namibia to explore their varying models of ecotourism, talk to major players in conservation, and gain inspiration for our Great Plains work. We’ll post more stories on our blog, but here are some of the major ways ecotourism is impacting Namibia.


Conservationists are everywhere. Tourism is one of Namibia’s largest and still-growing industries. The people there don’t see conservation as a liberal-conservative issue; they see it as a dollars-and-cents issue. If the animals are around, people come to see them. People will travel long distances for beautiful countryside. So while there are traditional conservationists, almost everyone we talked to understands the importance of a healthy environment. It’s the country’s future.

Guide showing tok tokkie beetleGuides are key. A guide can paint the big picture. Many in Namibia have been to a guiding school or have been guiding around the country for years. They can spot tracks and follow them to find a lizard (and tell you exactly how it digs its hole) and they can also tell you great stories about the family who was petrified of lions. It’s this mix of know how and personality that creates the most memorable experiences.

(left: Tok Tokkie Trails Guide Sebastian shows off a tok tokkie beetle)

Teamwork has removed fences. Landowners and communal conservancies (conservation areas on group-held land) have removed hundreds of miles of fencing between their lands. This means that animals can roam free to follow normal migration patterns or to search for food. Conservation areas have been established next to government land and national parks, allowing protected areas to bleed seamlessly from one to the other.

Tourism builds community. Communal conservancies are run by group (or tribe) members. They decide how to take care of the land and how the benefits of the land will be distributed to the community. The World Wildlife Fund’s Chris Weaver has been in Namibia since 1993 working to build the communal conservancy program. “The most important thing to me is that [this program is] giving communities the resources and voice that they’ve never had before,” Weaver said. Communities have really taken ownership of their lands and the enterprises they start on them, he said.

Namibian land is mostly privately held either by single landowners or community groups, in that way, it’s very much like the Great Plains. It’s easy to draw visual parallels, too. You could easily watch herds of kudu and oryx nibbling away on grassy Namibian dunes just as you could watch pronghorn forage on the prairie. In other ways, they’re ahead of us on the conservation side. Animal numbers are improving, more land is being set aside for conservation, and tourism is growing and becoming more profitable every day. It’s a very interesting model that the Center will continue to study.

Got Prunus?
By Sarah Sortum, Ecotourism Manager, Calamus OutfittersSeeing the plum blossoms and smelling their wonderful aroma puts me in mind of mouthwatering temptations soon to come.
American plum is of the Prunus genus, which is of the family Rosacea (of the group Angiosperms). This category is vast including shrubs and trees that are both beautiful and extremely useful. Mouthwatering fruits (such as cherry and peach), broad medicinal properties, plus landscaping and conservation value enable Prunus plants to earn their keep while enhancing our diet and environment. (Check out the USDA plant guide to learn more about these plants, including Native American uses)Two of my favorite Prunus varieties are readily found and enjoyed in the Great Plains. American plum and Chokecherry can usually be found along roadsides and fence lines (thanks to seed spread by birds). Both are often used in conservation plantings as well. Their drought tolerance, erosion control, and wildlife habitat (providing both food and cover) are great attributes. Oh, and they’re pretty to look at too!

My friends and neighbors here in the Sandhills still covet the fruits for jams, jellies and sauces. Below are a couple of family recipes to get you started on your own prunus journey. My advice is to get out there and find some of these wild fruits for yourself…you’ll have a great time harvesting your own food and have a sweet reward when you’re finished.

Great Grandmother Phillipps’ Plum Jam (from the 1940s)
Wash and pit plums. Coarsely chop plums.
Use 3 ½ cups sugar for 4 cups fruit.
Let stand 1 hour. Cook until thick. Seal in hot, sterilized glasses.
Note from my mother: Boil plums for 5 minutes. Cool, then pit. Pits will slide out easier.Grandma’s Chokecherry Wine
Take 1 ½ gallons berries and mash in a 6 gallon (or larger) jar then add 1 cake fresh yeast, dissolved in a little lukewarm water. Then add 10 lbs. sugar and stir well. Add 4 ½ gallons lukewarm water. Let stand 10 days. Strain and add 6 lbs. sugar. Cork, but not tightly until it quits working. Makes 5 gallons.
Three Outdoor Eco-Friendly Activities for Your Summer
By Alex Duryea, Ecotourism Consultant, Nebraska Tourism Commission

  1. Identify Wildlife: Grab a book on local wildlife and go out with your buddies to see if you can spot species from the book. You might be surprised at what you find in your own backyard if you just look!
  2. Hunt for Mushrooms: This can be great fun, and if you’re lucky you can end up with a tasty treat. If you don’t know what time or where to look, either go out with an experienced hunter or search online at a mushroom hunting forum for your area. They’re likely to name a few places to hunt.
  3. Find a Geocache: What is Geocaching? It’s like a modern treasure hunt! You’ll have a blast especially if you like puzzles.
Send Us Your Ecotourism Photos!

Going on an adventure this summer? Send your photos tovisittheprairie@gmail.com or tweet them at us (@GreatPlains) and we’ll feature them in the next newsletter issue!

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