Devils Tower National Monument, Badlands National Park, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park all have made it into the Center for Great Plains Studies' list of top "ecotourism" destinations in the Great Plains.
Richard Edwards, director of the center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said 51 field naturalists in nine states were surveyed to select the top 10.
“In the first round, these individuals were asked to identify 20 Great Plains sites which they considered to offer the best, most powerful environmental experience and/or the ones that are ecologically the most important," said Mr. Edwards.
After the center shared with all the naturalists the combined 97 sites they submitted, it asked them to choose the 10 best, which also include forests, ranch lands, prairie reserves and wildlife refuges.
The center recognized Devils Tower’s iconic geologic value and history as an ancient intrusion of magma that became exposed once surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. It also cited the tower’s connection to Plains Indian tribes, who consider it sacred.
The center defines ecotourism sites as publicly accessible places “primarily devoted to environmental or biodiversity conservation (and providing) an opportunity to experience nature . . . Ecotourism generates revenues critical for funding conservation initiatives, increases public awareness of and support for conservation and helps nearby human communities to thrive economically. All three are crucial to sustained and healthy conservation in the Great Plains.”
“Obviously, we are very pleased. Devils Tower is one of those hidden jewels of the National Park Service,” said Nancy Stimson, the monument’s chief of interpretation, education and visitor services. “There are so many things about it – the diversity of wildlife, the geology, the culture associated with the 24 different native tribal groups we work with here.”
The tower itself is popular with rock climbers and also is a nesting and roosting site for birds of prey, including prairie falcons, turkey vultures and golden and bald eagles.