Publication in: Fall 2023 Issue

Photographing Roan Highlands: An Insight into Art and Land Conservation
Juliette Malowany
Author Email:
Office of Sustainability & McCullough Institute
Faculty Mentor(s):
Carrie Tomberlin
Casey King
Abstract / Summary:
Roan Highlands is known for its unique endemic biodiversity, hosting a section of the Appalachian Trail, and as a beloved tourist destination. It is home to many threatened/endangered species and an extremely fragile ecosystem while supporting a thriving tourist industry. Because of this, overtourism and environmental degradation are significant issues facing the integrity and the many species of the Highlands. This project investigates the effects of tourism on the environment of Roan Highlands, how photography can be used for land conservation, and discovering the biggest challenges and inspirations for creating good stewardship of public lands. These research questions were answered through a literature review and a survey that I distributed around Asheville, NC, as well as through the North Carolina Environmental Educators (NCEE) email newsletter. Photographs for the survey were collected during multiple site visits over the summer of 2023. Survey results indicate that most people believe that a lack of funding and ecological degradation are the biggest issues facing public lands. Nature-based tourists prefer pristine, untouched pictures of nature over “contaminated” photos, such as those with cars, trash, and litter. Results show that survey respondents want more art, accessible scientific information, and roaming naturalists available for communication to encourage good behavior on public lands. These results suggest that people want more sustainable community involvement to better engage with nature and public lands. Protecting public lands and wilderness is more important now than ever with the emerging climate crisis as public lands create valuable carbon sinks, habitats for wildlife and endangered species, provide a refuge for community health, and ensure that these beloved natural areas are intact for future generations.
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