2018 Ecotourism Symposium

2018 Symposium






A block of hotel rooms has been reserved for this conference at a rate of $104.95 per night. To book, call either La Quinta at 308-237-4400 or Comfort Inn at 308-236-3400 and tell them you're with the UNL Center for Great Plains Studies and/or Plains Safaris conference.


Conference sponsorship opportunities, as well as tables in the exhibition area, are available at many levels. For more information email knieland2@unl.edu




UNK College of Arts and Sciences


Omaha World Herald, Jan. 16, 2018

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.

This conference combines three conferences into one large-scale event. The Nebraska Tourism Commission's annual Agri/Ecotourism Workshop and the Heartland Scenic Byways Annual Conference will join their conferences with this event.

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.

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)

For more about ecotourism check out Visit the Prairie or our ecotourism research page.

Preliminary schedule

April 18: Various locations

  • Morning and/or afternoon: Optional pre-conference field trips and workshops (must be pre-registered)
  • 7:30 p.m.: Keynote speaker Joel Sartore

April 19: Younes Conference Center

  • Morning and afternoon sessions
  • Lunch speaker: Nils Odendaal
  • Evening reception

April 20: Younes Conference Center

  • Morning and afternoon sessions
  • Lunch speaker: Dean Jacobs
  • Closing reception at 4:30 p.m.
Conference co-hosts
co-hosts logos

Featured speakers

Joel Sartore
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
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
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
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 Sarefo
Okwa Sarefno, founder Wild Expeditions Safaris

Okwa Sarefo is the creator of Wild Expectations Safaris, 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).

Sarah Sortum

Sarah Sortum
Ecotourism manager and operator, Calamus Outfitters, Burwell, Neb. & GPEC consultant

John Janovy

John Janovy
Professor Emeritus, Biology, UNL. Janovy is the author of 17 books, including the forthcoming Africa Notes: Reflections of an Ecotourist.

Dipra Jha

Dipra Jha
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.

Michael Forsberg

Michael Forsberg
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.

Anthony Schutz

Anthony Schutz
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.

Rebekka Herrera-Schlichting

Rebekka Herrera-Schlicting
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.

Dean Jacobs

Dean Jacobs
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.

Reed Robinson

Reed Robinson
Manager, Tribal Relations & Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Midwest Regional Office. Robinson's office works to ensure agency policies and actions respect tribal sovereignty and serve to build vital intercultural partnerships.

Larkin Powell

Larkin Powell
Professor of conservation biology and animal ecology at the School of Natural Resources, UNL. Powell has published several articles on ecotourism in Nebraska and Africa.

Larry Borowsky

Larry Borowsky
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.

Additional speakers:

Lars Anderson, Reserve Assistant, American Prairie Reserve

Ellen Anderson, Reserve Assistant, American Prairie Reserve

Erin Pirro, Farm Business Consultant, Farm Credit East

Billie Kay and Scott Bodie, Big Blue Ranch

Kristal Stoner, Nebraska Game and Parks

Tim Dwyer, Friends of Missouri Breaks

Casey Cagle, Prarie Earth Tours

Bill Whitney, Prairie Plains Resource Institute

Mary Harner, Associate Professor of Biology, UNK

Joel Jorgensen, Nebraska Game and Parks

Travel bloggers: Melody Pittman, Megan Bannister, Sara Broers, Lisa & Tim Trudell

Ben Dumas, Crane Trust

Chuck Cooper, Crane Trust

Dena Beck, REAP Senior Project Leader & South Central Loan Specialist, Center for Rural Affairs

Katelyn Ideus, Director of Communications & Public Relations, Rural Futures Institute

Richard Reading, Director of Research and Conservation, Butterfly Pavilion

Erin Pirro, Farm Business Consultant, Farm Credit East

Steve Maly, Maly Marketing

Vince Asta, Ponderosa Cyclery

Michael Farrell, co-founder, Platte Basin Timelapse project; Asst. Prof of Practice, Agricultural Leadership, Education & Communications at UNL

Sharon Strouse, Board Chair, National Scenic Byway Foundation

Chris Sieverdes, Board Member, National Scenic Byway Foundation

Bobby Koepplin, Board Vice Chair, National Scenic Byway Foundation

Pre-conference field trips & workshops: April 18

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. No same-day registration for field trips. 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.

FULL: 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.

FULL: 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.

FULL: Kayak Gallagher Canyon

Cost: $50, Time: 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Activity Level: High, Location: Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area, NE

Join UNL’s Outdoor Recreation Assistant Director Jordan Messerer on a kayak trip through the beautiful Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area. Transportation, kayak instruction, and a lunch will be provided. Prepare for about 3 hours of in-boat, paddling time. Dress information and a pack list will be provided. In case of cooler weather, a shorter, nearby trip will be substituted in.


College of Arts and Sciences