Field Trips Offer a Fresh Perspective on Tourism

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” is the classic advice for being a respectful traveler. But what does that really mean?

The ‘Sustainable Tourism’ class, taught by anthropology professor Dr. Sarah Quick, works on answering that question. The topic at hand: the environmental and social impact of travel and tourism. Students don’t just explore these issues in the classroom; the course incorporates a number of field trips, where they can apply their lessons through experience. These field trips also give Cottey students an opportunity to explore some fascinating local and regional spots!

‘Sustainable Tourism’ challenges students to ask questions such as: “What are the environmental, cultural, social, and economic consequences of this industry?” “As the tourism industry strives to become eco-friendly and ‘sustainable,’ exactly who and what is being sustained?” In spirited class discussions, students draw on their own experiences as travelers — and think about what it means to act as an engaged, ethical global citizen.

One major assignment asks students to analyze a particular destination anywhere in the world, and the sustainability issues it represents, and then share their findings with the class. “So we all become more informed about sustainability issues as related to particular places,” comments Dr. Quick.

Rowan Carter, a third-year environmental studies major, chose the course in hopes of becoming a better-equipped and more responsible traveler. “While I've always wanted to travel, and did travel briefly to Thailand the year before, I have had the general view that at worst tourism is a new form of colonization and at best a mode of accelerating environmental degradation,” they said. “I wanted to learn from the class if there were better ways to travel, and, more importantly, how to change the tourism ‘industry’ in the future to lessen its negative impact on others.”

This past semester, the field trips included visits to the local Bushwhacker Museum; Fort Scott Kansas; Prairie State Park; and an optional visit to the Kansas City River Market. Each of these field trips spoke to a specific dimension of the course. The Bushwhacker Museum offered an opportunity to explore ideas about “supply and demand” and what types of attractions motivate visitors and spur tourism. The Fort Scott visit tied into explorations of how visitors interact with historic sites and monuments. And the trip to Prairie State Park was a culmination of sorts, challenging students to apply everything they’d learned.

Prairie State Park is a local treasure. Just a forty-minute drive from Cottey, the park preserves the tallgrass prairie habitat that used to cover so much of Missouri. It is also home to some of Missouri’s last bison population. A number of trails offer visitors a chance to hike across the grassy plains and hardpan prairies, traverse rocky creeks, and get a glimpse of what Missouri once looked like. The park is a plentiful habitat for native wildlife, including coyotes, badgers, white-tailed deer, bobwhite quail, owls, hawks, sparrows, sand pipers, endangered butterflies, and of course the main attraction… bison.

The park’s Regal Tallgrass Prairie Nature Center helps visitors learn more about their surroundings with a number of natural history exhibits, including a prairie snake. The snake was a big hit for Cottey students, who got to hold it. “Another highlight was the field mouse, not on display but spotted by students (to be later fed to the snake we learned),” said Dr. Quick.

After the visit to the Nature Center and a chat with the staff there, students took a short hike on the prairie and played Nature Bingo. “I personally had a great time,” said Rowan. “I got to pet a snake! It was exciting to be able to go there and know what to analyze about the site, and to be able to actually apply the theories we learned, which doesn't get to happen often in many classes.”

Dr. Quick capitalized on this opportunity with an impromptu Q&A session after the hike. “Students learned of the dangers of having dogs on site (some like to chase the bison) as well as how the bison are culled periodically.” While dogs are welcome in most Missouri State Parks, Prairie State Park is the exception, because of the challenge of maintaining the delicate ecosystem and protecting the wildlife. It’s a good example of one of the course’s key themes: visitors can unintentionally harm the the very places we want to preserve.

Rowan learned a lot from the course; its lessons are already influencing the way they approach travel and tourism. “The class gave me a more comprehensive understanding of all of the variables involved in travel/tourism, how to analyze the systems in place, and how to make decisions based on those factors. Being equipped with those skills also gives me a chance to further educate myself on my own. If I hadn't taken the class, I wouldn't know where to start.”


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