World Tourism Day: UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the USA

by Sierra Winters

Happy World Tourism Day! Covid trends vary from place to place, but many travel destinations are once again safe enough to explore. If you are comfortable with traveling again and yearning for an awe-inspiring vacation, or even if you just want to daydream and plan for the days that you can pack your bags and hit the road, we have for you here a great guide to visiting some of the most spectacular destinations in the United States: the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In this article, we will cover some tips on how to contribute to their preservation and enjoy these landmarks of great social and cultural value around the world.

In the U.S. we are fortunate to have 24 of these beautiful and historic places. They range from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Redwood National and State Parks in California, and even overseas to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in, well, Hawaii!

Protected under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, the sites hold cultural, historical, and scientific value, all of which represent the rich history of our planet.

While tourism is a great way to learn about these sites, help generate jobs, and benefit local economies, it has the potential to negatively impact local communities via unsustainable development and/or damaging the environment. We have all seen tourists toss trash out of their car windows; this litter might end up in a water source and, along with other debris, pollute the entire ecosystem. Perhaps while filling out an immigration form, you’ve realized that tourists can spread invasive species across the globe, disrupting the balance of the ecosystem. And surely, you’ve heard the news about California’s wildfires, which are severely damaging parks and are often ignited by unattended campfires, arson, debris burning, equipment, and unextinguished cigarette butts.

Additionally, climate change is bringing about more intense droughts, floods, and hurricanes, in conjunction with rising sea levels. A study from the Environmental Research Letters about the Disproportionate Magnitude of Climate Change in United States National Parks highlights that the average temperatures in national parks increased by a little over 1 degree Celsius from 1895 to 2018, twice the rate as the rest of the nation. This trend is only going to accelerate; National Park Service scientists predict that in Moab, Utah, the average temperatures will rise between 5.8 to 10.1०F by the end of this century and that soil conditions will dry significantly, affecting every plant and animal present. 

In parks around Washington DC, where the land around the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers is sinking, rising sea levels are particularly problematic. Birds in Fort Washington are losing their habitat and threatened species in Dyke Marsh are faced with flooded and eroded marshlands that were once a reliable home. These problems are not unique and will soon spread to other low-lying areas.

Of course, the negative effects of climate change are not localized to specific regions; for example, warmer temperatures have affected the migration patterns of the Monarch butterfly and other essential pollinators, affecting plant growth across the nation.    

Given the impact that tourists and society at large are having on the environment, as well as a frequently fluctuating Covid forecast, we encourage you to consider the following tips when traveling:

  • Get Covid-tested before you go! There are plenty of free testing sites readily available across the country and making sure you are healthy before leaving will help protect not only yourself but also everyone you travel with and everyone you interact with while on vacation.
  • Bring your own reusable water bottle and shopping bag. Remember that one plastic bottle/bag takes hundreds of years to decompose, and it may end up in landfills.
  • Take public transportation or walk to get around. It will help minimize your environmental impact by reducing your emissions footprint, and you also will get the chance to meet locals. Be sure to wear a mask and wash your hands frequently, especially if you are taking buses, trains, or subways. Carrying a travel-sized container of hand sanitizer is essential.
  • If you are flying, fly direct; not only will this keep stress levels low, but the more stops a plane makes, the higher your carbon footprint.
  • Stay at eco-friendly hotels, which nowadays are available worldwide.
  • Dispose of your trash and recyclables properly, including used batteries, electronics, etc.
  • Stick to designated paths when visiting national parks; doing so protects fragile ecosystems and is thus vital for conservation measures 

Want to know more about the World Heritage Sites? Check out the list right here!

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