I had the chance to meet this morning with John Francis, vice president for research, conservation and exploration at the National Geographic Society.
The South Seattle native is in town to help celebrate the debut of the society’s new Central Cascades geotourism map. The big event is tonight in Seattle.
The map identifies about 200 locations from Mount Rainier to Crater Lake. There were about 1,000 places nominated to appear on the map. Some are expected, such as Paradise Inn, while others are a little off beat. Francis said he had never heard of Joe’s Donuts in Sandy, Ore., but was able to enjoy some doughnuts while staying at Timberline Lodge earlier this week.
Francis said he feels the map will fit well with the Northwest appreciation and sensibility toward the outdoors.
“This is a remarkable region. This map is a first effort to direct tourism with that sensibility, that respect for the land,” Francis said.
It has taken 2 1/2 years to create the map, the eighth in a series by National Geographic.
But the project goes beyond the map. There also is a Web site, that contains far more places.
Not only will the map attract visitors from across the U.S. and the world, I think it will help Northwest residents rediscover the wonders that are at their doorstep.
“How oftend do people think ‘What am I going to do this weekend?’,” Francis said. “This is exactly what people are looking for. They’re looking for a unique experience. Looking at the map, you may find yourself saying, ‘I never thought of that.’ ”
Here is the column I wrote in January about the project:
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved looking at maps.
When in a cartographic mood as a youth, my dream job was to work for National Geographic’s map department.
That’s why I was eager to hear about National Geographic’s plans to develop a geotourism map guide for the Central Cascades. The idea is to map 150 places to visit and sights to see in the region – bounded by Mount Rainier to the north, Crater Lake to the south, Interstate 5 to the west and U.S. 97 to the east.
“We want to celebrate what makes your place special, what makes it stand out,” said Jim Dion, associate director for the magazine’s Center for Sustainable Destinations.
And National Geographic wants our help picking those 150 places.
Now through March 29, the public can nominate – online – people, places and things to do in the Central Cascades. From those nominations, Dion and others will cull the list to the best representations of nature, culture and social elements of the region.
“It’s an opportunity for the public to nominate places that are special to them and help us tell the story of the Central Cascades,” said Michelle Campbell of Washington State Tourism, one of the project partners.
Even as I talked with Dion and Campbell, I was thinking of places that should be on the map. When I saw the National Geographic’s Crown of the Continent map guide, which covers parts of British Columbia, Alberta and my old stamping grounds in Montana, the ideas began to flow even faster.
My list starts with Paradise Inn and the Wonderland Trail at Mount Rainier National Park, the Copper Creek Inn or Scale Burgers, Johnston Ridge Visitor Center at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, trout and steelhead fishing on Oregon’s Deschutes River, the Cascades Lakes Loop drive and the breweries in Bend, Ore.
The ideas spill forth like the water pouring over Mount Rainier’s Christine Falls in the spring. Hmmm, another candidate?
Just as important as place nominations will be personal interviews. Dion said they want to talk to people who will describe the flavor of the region.
“We’re looking for people like a real good fishing guide, an art gallery owner or interpretive ranger,” he said. “It’s how we can communicate a sense of place through people’s own eyes.”
Dion admitted picking the finalists for the 150 or so is not easy. For the upcoming guide in the Greater Yellowstone area, there were 800 distinct nominations.
“It’s an art, not a science,” he said of the process. “The idea is to tell the story as completely as possible. It’s not a competition. It’s supposed to tell a story.”
To help with the selections, a Central Cascades Stewardship Council was created. Members represents geotourism perspectives, Dion said, including community leadership, historic preservation, natural resources, public lands management, indigenous peoples, traditional and local arts, agriculture, tourism and local businesses.
Campbell and Dion are excited about what the guide will do for geotourism in the area. National Geographic has completed or is working on guides for the Yellowstone area, the Crown of the Continent, Guatemala, the Sonoran Desert (Arizona, Sonora), Honduras, Peru (Machu Pichu-Cuzco), Baja California, Vermont and Appalachia.
As Washington and Oregon seek to boost their tourism and recreation industries, this guide will only help. From my perspective as a map geek, the chance to help put a place on a National Geographic map is irresistible.