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A Conference on Tourism and Conservation in the Great Plains
Great Plains Symposium: April 18-20 | Kearney, Neb.
For those who have experienced it, the Great Plains’ rolling grasslands, charismatic wildlife, and boundless scenery fill the heart with wonder. The Plains are filled with fascinating biodiversity and wonderful opportunities for exploration while also harboring critically endangered habitats. Its people have created diverse cultures and communities. How can we preserve this legacy for future generations?
We argue that responsible nature-based tourism offers one strategy to simultaneously save the region's natural marvels, benefit landowners, and sustain thriving rural communities. This is conservation that works with businesses, landowners, and communities toward common goals; it creates allies of groups—environmentalists, business owners, and land owners—sometimes cast as adversaries. It's already happening in the Great Plains here and there, as events like the Sandhill crane migration gain popularity and efforts like the American Prairie Reserve gain footing. The Center's ongoing ecotourism project seeks to explore, promote, and strengthen these operations.
The conference will feature sessions for business leaders, ranchers, and community partners as well as wider discussions about how to preserve the stunning bounty of Great Plains ecology. It will examine local and global models of conservation and tourism, including speakers from southern Africa where tourism has had stunning success in supporting conservation.
This large-scale conference will examine both local and global models of conservation and tourism. The Nebraska Tourism Commission's annual Agri/Ecotourism Workshop and the Heartland Scenic Byways Annual Conference will join their conferences with this event.
Along with a slate of impactful speakers, the conference will include hands-on opportunities to see and learn about regional ecotourism attractions during a series of pre-conference, optional field trips and workshops. Field trip seats are limited, so register early!
Early-bird registration: $100 (ends March 1)
Joel Sartore, Keynote
Joel Sartore is an award-winning photographer, speaker, author, teacher, conservationist, National Geographic fellow, and regular contributor to National Geographic magazine. His hallmarks are a sense of humor and a Midwestern work ethic. Joel specializes in documenting endangered species and landscapes around the world. He is the founder of the Photo Ark, a 25-year documentary project to save species and habitat.
“It is folly to think that we can destroy one species and ecosystem after another and not affect humanity,” he says. “When we save species, we’re actually saving ourselves.”
Martha Kauffman, Managing Director, World Wildlife Fund's Northern Great Plains Program
Kauffman manages an area that encompasses five states and some of the least understood terrain in the 'Lower 48.' She works with local ranchers, Native American tribes and government agencies to increase protection for the landscape, create economic incentives for conservation, and restore native species including iconic and rare animals such as bison, prairie dogs, and the most endangered mammal in North America, the black-footed ferret.
Nils Odendaal, CEO, NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
Nils Odendaal is a native Namibian and has been involved in conservation for more than 20 years. He first worked for Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation in north-western Namibia focusing on community-based natural resource management. He has been involved with the NamibRand Nature Reserve for the past 13 years. First as the Reserve’s control warden and later as CEO. He is also one of the founders of the Greater Sossusvlei-Namib Landscape Association.
Dan Flores, Author, “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains”
Flores is a writer and historian who specializes in environmental and cultural history of the American West. Before his retirement, Flores held the A.B. Hammond Chair in Western History at the University of Montana in Missoula. He’s the author of “American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains,” which won the 2017 Stubbendieck Great Plains Distinguished Book Prize.
Okwa Sarefno, owner and operator, Nature Leadership, Botswana, Africa
Okwa Sarefo is the creator of Nature Leadership, a small adventure touring and guiding company. Sarefo has been guiding in Botswana for the last 18 years. Over the last 4 years he ventured into training other guides. The company exhibits a friendly and forward-thinking attitude that recognizes the need to shift with ever-changing customer needs. Sarefo's philosophy is to emphasize an exclusive experience with a small number of people to view nature on foot or the silent mokoro (canoe).
Ecotourism manager and operator, Calamus Outfitters, Burwell, Neb. & GPEC consultant
Professor Emeritus, Biology, UNL. Janovy is the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming Africa Notes: Reflections of an Ecotourist.
Director of Global Engagement, Hospitality, Restaurant & Tourism Management, UNL. Jha, a recognized expert in luxury hospitality and tourism strategies, was the first Professor in Residence at the Venetian-Palazzo resort in Las Vegas.
Forsberg is an award-winning photographer of Great Plains nature and wildlife, co-founder of the Platte Basin Timelapse project, and a faculty member in IANR at the University of Nebraska.
Associate Professor, UNL Law. Schutz, a Nebraska native, is a nationally-recognized authority on the often-intertwined subjects of agricultural, environmental, and natural resources law and of state and local government.
VisionMaker Media. Former Great Plains Graduate Fellow Schlichting, a recent UNL Journalism graduate, helped lead the award-winning “Wounds of Whiteclay” report. An enrolled member of the Ioway tribe, she's working to spread ecotourism ideas to Indian tribes in the Plains.
Traveler, author, photographer. Jacobs, a Nebraska native, has traversed across the globe exploring over 50 countries on a low budget adventure, propelled by a desire to understand the world we share.
Interpretative writer. Borowsky has more than 20 years’ experience developing interpretive text and interactive media for museums and historic sites. He has also worked with several of Colorado’s scenic and historic byways.
The cost for the field trips and workshops are in addition to the symposium registration amount. Sign up for field trips via the registration button at the top of this page. All field trips and workshops are available on a first-come, first-served basis and there is limited space. Register early to grab a spot!
Crane Trust Fat Biking Tour
Cost: $20, Time: 12 to 2 p.m., Activity Level: High, Location: Crane Trust
Enjoy an excursion on comfortable “fat-tire” bikes that can tackle even the toughest terrain. View stretches of the historic Platte River, venture over untilled prairie, and journey to places where a vehicle can’t reach. Bring a water bottle and bike riding attire!
Workshop: Nebraska Business Development Center
Cost: $5, Time: 1 to 3 p.m., Location: UNK Campus
Join Rick Yoder from UNO's Nebraska Business Development Center for a workshop on how to build a sustainable, 'green' business and attract environmentally conscious customers. Half of the workshop will be dedicated to learning how to switch products, reduce energy consumption, and detect waste while the other half will show you how to market yourself as an eco-friendly business.
Crane Trust Bison Tour
Cost: $20, Time: 12 – 2 p.m., Activity Level: Low, Location: Crane Trust
The Crane Trust is home to the largest genetically-pure herd of bison in the state of Nebraska. The bison at the Crane Trust not only provide a great ecotourism opportunity for guests but, more importantly, are a vital piece to restoring and maintaining thousands of acres of historic prairie ecosystems. Get an up close and personal tour of the Crane Trust's bison herd, led by staff who can answer your questions about these historic animals. Bring a camera and wear comfortable shoes.
Photo Safari with Award-Winning Photographer Michael Farrell
Cost: $15, Time: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Activity Level: Medium, Location: Buffalo County
Embark on a photo safari with award-winning photographer Michael Farrell and discover things in the environment of the Great Plains you've never bothered to notice before! Bring your camera and wear comfortable clothes and good sturdy shoes. This tour involves a lot of walking and climbing over the terrain.
Agritourism Progressive Meal
Cost: $55, Time: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Activity Level: Low, Location: Various
In this unique agritourism experience, you'll visit two breweries and one winery plus have appetizers, lunch, and dessert all for an incredibly low price! The first stop is Kinkaider Brewery in Broken Bow for appetizers and a tour followed by Mac's Creek Winery in Lexington for lunch and dessert. Then it's back to Thunderhead Brewery in Kearney for beer and homemade cheesy bread sticks to round out the afternoon. Each stop includes a tour of the facilities, Q&As with the owners, and agritourism ideas and strategies.
Guided Tour of Old Father Prairie
Cost: $10, Time: 1 to 3 p.m., Activity Level: Medium, Location: Old Father Prairie
Join a master naturalist on a guided tour of Oldfather Prairie, a two-mile loop on the northeastern edge of Cottonmill Park in Kearney. The trail contains interpretive signs and your guide will offer expert knowledge on the grasses and wildflowers along the way. Wear good walking shoes and comfortable clothing.
Harlan County Lake Prairie Dog Tour
Cost: $20, Time: 7:30am - noon, Activity Level: Medium, Location: Harlan County Lake
Interested in watching prairie dogs at play? Then join environmental educator Keanna Leonard for a tour of the prairie dogs, the Harlan County Reservoir, and fascinating local history. Prairie dogs are most active in the morning, so bring your binoculars and cameras and get ready to film some antics. Added bonus: Songbird migration is happening at the same time, so you'll also get to hear some of nature's best performers!
Biking the Kearney Hike/Bike Trail
Cost: $25, Time: Noon to 3 p.m., Activity Level: High, Location: Buffalo County
Biking and a guided tour of a museum: It's a two-for-one deal! Start your journey at Yanney Park at 1 p.m. and bike to the Kearney Archway for a 45-minute guided tour of this museum dedicated to Nebraska's role in westward expansion. Then head back to Yanney Park. It's a roundtrip ten-mile journey on an easy paved trail. Rental bikes are available (along with helmets) or you can bring your own bike and helmet. Wear active clothing and bring a water bottle.
Workshop: Incorporating Stargazing into Nature Tourism
Cost: $10, Time: 1 to 3 p.m., Activity Level: Low, Location: UNK Campus
Join Nebraska Star Party's John Johnson and learn about how ecotourism businesses and nonprofits can add stargazing activities to their offerings. Also learn about why the Great Plains is the perfect spot for viewing the Milkyway and several Northern-Hemisphere constellations. Spend the second half of the workshop at UNK's planetarium to learn about star identification and what features of the night sky there are to see from the Great Plains.
Prairie Plains Walking Tour
Cost: $20, Time: 7:30 a.m. – 3 p.m., Activity Level: Medium, Location: Aurora, Central City, NE
Join Bill Whitney of Prairie Plains Resource Institute (PPRI) and explore some of central Nebraska's most gorgeous locations! Visit Bader Park and Gjerloff Prairie in the morning, have lunch on PPRI's Education Center patio, then head to Sherman Ranch and end with the trail bridge over the Platte River south of Central City. Learn the history of Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30), the transcontinental railroad, and Lone Tree (now called Central City) and their recent re-discovery of native son, Wright Morris.