Recognizing Excellence in Preservation & Conservation

As co-chair of the Society of American Travel Writers’ (SATW) Phoenix Awards, I have the privilege of reviewing and recommending outstanding examples of conservation and preservation each year. With the growth in tourism, the Phoenix Awards demonstrate the importance of history, culture, and natural assets to visitor experiences but also to defining distinctive destinations. Past winners include Thomas Edison’s home and studio as well as Charleston’s City Market. The 2013 recipients – announced at the SATW Annual Convention held in Biloxi, Mississippi October 20-25 – represent global demonstrations of preservation and conservation excellence.

AMC Maine Wilderness Lodges (Maine) 

The non-profit Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has a 137-year history of important sustainable nature-based tourism practices, investing more than $52 million in resource conservation and recreation management of 66,500 acres of its own property, part of nearly 345,000 acres protected in northern Maine in collaboration with other partners. This Phoenix Award recognizes AMC’s restoration of three 19th-century Maine Wilderness Lodges, connecting them with an 80-mile network of backcountry trails, and preserving roughly 100 square miles of surrounding, previously endangered woodland as part of the organization’s Maine Woods Initiative.

Glenfern Sanctuary (Kotuku Peninsula, New Zealand)

Glenfern Sanctuary operates as a charitable trust to restore existing native and formerly extant species on the Kotuku Peninsula to a state that sustainably supports and conserves this biodiversity. Glenfern is home to a number of endangered fauna including Black petrel, Kaka, Kereru, Pateke, Cooks petrel, Banded rail, North Island robin and Chevron skinkBuilding on the vision and legacy of founder Tony Bouzaid, the 568-acre Glenfern Sanctuary has undergone restoration since 1994. Visitors can explore the Sanctuary via 8 km/4.9 miles of well-developed and interpreted walking trails or on guided tours. This Phoenix Award nomination recognizes the ongoing conservation and environmental protection efforts by the Glenfern Sanctuary.

Nyungwe Nziza Project (Kinyarwanda, Rwanda) 

Since 2010, Nyungwe Nziza Project (NNP) has successfully worked closely with local communities and schools to raise environmental awareness and help generate local jobs by bringing tourists to visit Nyungwe National Park, Africa’s largest protected mountain rain forest. The park boasts more than 280 species of birds, thirteen species of primates (including the world’s largest troops of colobus monkeys) and one of Africa’s largest populations of chimpanzees. The NNP-funded Kitabe Cultural Village, at the park’s entrance, engages local community members in dancing, singing, and historical re-creations. Over the next two years, NNP is working with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Jane Goodall Institute to habituate more chimps in the northern section of the park. NNP is also working with the US National Park Service to create self-guided trails for visitors, establish more campsites for backpackers, and help educate local guides on the bird population and habitats. To ensure sustainability and local buy-in for forest protection and preservation, the NNP trained 470 people on ecotourism business development and cultural activities resulting in three local cooperatives offering traditional baskets, food products, dance and music performances for visitors. This Phoenix Award nomination is to recognize the NNP for its important wildlife and habitat conservation, natural resource protection, and local economic revitalization through sustainable, responsible tourism.

Pearl Brewery (San Antonio, Texas)

Pearl is a mixed-use renovation and redevelopment on the site of the historic 120-year-old Pearl Brewery, which ceased operation in 2000. The property had been used for mid-level heavy industrial activity for many years and, thus, an aggressive environmental remediation and site renovation was necessary. The development plans focused on creating a culinary gathering place, including the third campus of the Culinary Institute of America to train underprivileged youth, more than a dozen varied restaurants, a boutique hotel, a public park and performance space, shopping, offices, and residential options. The restoration of Pearl Brewery permitted the opportunity to implement significant “green building” strategies, earning them LEED Gold Level Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The project also served as a catalyst for other redevelopment in the area. In addition to a focus on the built environment, the Pearl team has worked equally hard to create a culturally vibrant community that both honors and evolves San Antonio and South Texas traditions. This Phoenix Award nomination is for the sensitive redevelopment of this historic structure into a vibrant cultural district for San Antonio.

The Old Mill and Old Mill Square (Pigeon Forge, Tennessee)

As Pigeon Forge’s oldest structure (1830) and only building listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Old Mill has continuously operated as a working gristmill for over 180 years. During the Civil War, the mill powered looms that made cloth for Union soldiers’ uniforms. Owner Al Blanton is dedicated to preserving the mill and to keeping its history alive. Resident millers continue to hand-fill, weigh, and hand-tie each bag of stone-ground grain (more than 400,000 pounds a year). Guides give tours, allowing visitors to see the inner workings of the mill and learn about its historic significance. Visitors can also dine in the adjacent Old Mill Restaurant, which serves biscuits, cornbread, pancakes, hush puppies, muffins, and grits made from the mill’s products. It also generated electricity for the community from the early 1900s until 1935. This Phoenix Award nomination is for the cumulative and continuing work to preserve, maintain and operate the Old Mill as a dynamic and relevant business to the community and heritage travel experience.

For more information about the Phoenix Awards and list of former recipients, visit the SATW website. The 2014 award recipients will be named at the SATW Convention in Iceland this September.