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The Tallgrass Aspen Parkland Birding Trail: The Stories of the Landscape

Garnaas-Holmes, Erin

The following report serves as a record of research and design work done during the fall of 2013 by the Center for Changing Landscapes and graduate student research assistant Erin Garnaas-Holmes to assist in the Tallgrass Aspen Parkland Birding Trail project. This project is part of a much broader community effort in northwestern Minnesota that seeks to both enhance economic development in the region by bringing more visitors to the area and also inform local residents of the power of their landscapes.

The ecological biome of the Tallgrass Aspen Parkland is unique and rare in the United States, and the region attracts high concentrations of diverse migrating birds. Recent waterhsed management projects have formed large swaths of attractive habitat for both migratory and year-round birds. Meanwhile, at a time when the local economy is starting to grow, a tourist attraction like a birding trail could bring valuable business to local communities. According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, $38.4 billion was spent on wildlife watching activities in 2001. About 48 million Americans observed birds in 2006, and as the population ages that number is predicted to increase. Birding is a year-round activity and has "considerable expenditures" associated with it, including lodging, food and supplies.

The establishment of a birding trail is not only a way to attract new visitors to a region, but it also can be a way for current residents to enjoy their own landscape. Birding trail infrasturcture can serve locals as much as visitors, and it can also present opportunities to celebrate the stories and legacies of the region. Birds, like all wildlife and plants, are part of a larger ecosystem that is connected to human history and our current ways of living. By drawing attention to where, how and why wildlife lives where it does, a birding trail can also illuminate how people relate to their landscape and their communities.

Erin's contract with the University of Minnesota's Center for Changing Landscapes and Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership was facilitated through the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs Community Assistance Program and the Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District.

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Prepared in partnership with The Center for Changing Landscapes, The Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership, and The Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District by the Community Assistantship Program (CAP), which is administered by the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
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