Devils Tower has long been a Wyoming icon, tourism hot spot and geological wonder in the state’s northeast corner.
Now, it’s recognized as a must-visit destination for ecotourists.
Devils Tower National Monument was recently named as a top-10 ecotourism destination by the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Richard Edwards, the center’s director, said the center wanted to highlight places in the Great Plains region that may otherwise be ignored by visitors.
“What we wanted to emphasize was, there’s absolutely wonderful places where there are powerful and moving environmental experiences for people to have if they know where to go or what they’re about,” Edwards said.
The center this spring conducted a two-phase survey of 51 naturalists in nine states with knowledge of Great Plains ecotourism. Those contacted for the survey worked for state agencies, nonprofit advocacy groups and private sector tourism firms, Edwards said.
Those surveyed were asked a handful of things, according to Edwards: “Tell us what sites you think produce the most powerful environmental experience for a tourist and/or are the most critical for providing habitat for biodiversity,” and, “These are the sites you would definitely tell your best friends to visit.”
The naturalists produced a list of 97 sites that was recirculated among the group, which further culled the list. Edwards says the center didn’t eliminate sites usable by hunters and anglers but also didn’t highlight sites exclusively used for hunting or fishing.
Wyoming is home to many other ecotourism hot spots, including the Grand Tetons, but Edwards emphasized the list examined only the the Great Plains, which stretch roughly from the Missouri River along Nebraska’s eastern border west to the foothills of the Rockies and from north Texas to where the plains run out in the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Other sites recognized by the center were three in Nebraska, three in Montana, two in South Dakota and one in North Dakota.
The ecotourism sites listed included South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, the American Prairie Reserve in Montana and the Rowe Bird Sanctuary/CraneTrust/Central Platte River in Nebraska.
In its news release naming the top 10 sites, the center recognized Devils Tower’s geologic history as an intrusion of magma, and its consideration by Lakota and other American Indian tribes as a sacred site.
While Devils Tower made the top-10 list, it won’t be the only Wyoming site recognized by the center in its upcoming top-50 list, for which it will produce a map of locations and information, Edwards said.
“We’re not ready to announce those yet,” he said.