National Geographic - Center for Sustainable Destinations: Working to protect the worlds distinctive places through wisely managed tourism and enlightened destination stewardship.

About Gateway Communities

Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Seward, Alaska, are very different in many respects. But they have one important thing in common: proximity to national parks that draw tens of thousands of tourists each year.

They are what we call "gateway communities," important not just for providing food, lodging, transportation and other business support for visitors, but also as portals to cherished landscapes such as Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Kenai Fjords and Acadia National Parks.

All across America, gateway communities are becoming increasingly popular places in which to live, work, vacation and retire. In the 1990s, two million more Americans moved from metropolitan centers to rural areas than migrated the other way. Communities with natural beauty and a high quality of life are magnets for businesses, working families and retirees.

But rapid growth and popularity with visitors can place stress on communities. Here are just two examples:

  • Bar Harbor, Maine, gateway to Acadia National Park, has a population of 5,000 but sees 2.5 million tourists a year, most during the short summer season.
  • Rural land near Bozeman, Montana, outside Yellowstone National Park, has gone from $600 per acre in 1981 to more than $20,000 an acre today.

Many groups including the Urban Land Institute and The Conservation Fund are working with communities across the country to preserve their unique heritage while growing their economy. Here's what we've learned:

  • The vast majority of residents, new and old, feel a strong attachment to the landscape and the character of their town. They want a healthy economy, but not at the expense of their natural surroundings or community character.
  • Elected officials and residents want to find ways to preserve what they love about their communities without saying no to jobs and economic development.
  • Across America, communities have found that economic prosperity need not degrade surroundings, diminish community character, or create tourist traps.
  • Successful communities are finding that beauty pays and that sustainable tourism provides more benefits than mass-market tourism. They are discovering , that retaining community character is a key to economic success and that thoughtful management of public resources and well-planned development can help prosperity occur.

This Toolkit provides gateway communities with a resource for learning how to protect natural treasures, preserve community character, and strengthen local economic growth.

No matter where your community is located, there are two things to keep in mind. First, special places do not remain that way by accident, and second, whether fast or slow, change will occur. Through this toolkit and our collective efforts, we hope that change comes to North America's special destinations because of thoughtful planning, collective action, and a shared community vision.

Ed McMahon is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute and co-author of "Balancing Nature & Commerce in Gateway Communities"

Larry Selzer is President and CEO of The Conservation Fund