Recently, I experienced something that troubled me.
A local businessman shared a survey-link on Facebook (about the CAPC**) asking residents to complete the survey. I didn't take the survey (yet!) but decided to first scroll past the shared link and review the comments. I froze when I landed on one that struck me in my heart. It said - "Personally, I'd like to see tourism de-emphasized. It's ruined our village."
Ouch! Do others really think and believe this? Eureka is ruined because of tourism?
This got me into a state of deep deliberation, and alas, this blog-post is the result of my deliberation. While I don't have the answers, it is my hope to inspire some shifts in perspectives with this blog-post.
Let us all please remember, "a belief is just a thought you keep thinking. If you shift your thinking, you shift your beliefs."
Mystic is a sleepy, little fishing village in Connecticut.
Historically, Mystic was a significant Connecticut seaport with more than 600 ships built over 135 years starting in 1784. Mystic Seaport, one of the largest maritime museums in the United States, has preserved a number of sailing ships, such as the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan. The village is located on the Mystic River, which flows into Fishers Island Sound and by extension Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The Mystic River Bascule Bridge crosses the river in the center of the village. The name "Mystic" is derived from the Pequot term "missi-tuk" describing a large river whose waters are driven into waves by tides or wind. The population was 4,249 at the 2020 census.
Friday Harbor is the seat of San Juan County, Washington (a 3 hour 45 minute ferry ride from Seattle) and it is the county's only incorporated town.
2020 census indicates the population 2,829 residents living on 1.01 square miles (685 acres) of land on central San Juan Island's east shoreline. The town sits on a sheltered body of water which was named Friday Harbor after a Hawaiian sheepherder who went by the name Friday. Town founder Edward Warbass (1825-1906), who spearheaded the creation of San Juan County, claimed 160 acres of government land there in the early 1870s to be developed as the official county seat, but the town of Friday Harbor did not grow significantly until the 1890s. Fishing, farming, agriculture, lime quarrying, and shipbuilding were the cornerstones of its early economy, which is today based on tourism, real estate, and construction.
Skagway, Alaska is 90 miles (145 km) northeast of Juneau (Alaska's Capital City.)
Situated at the north end of the Lynn Canal, Skagway is the northernmost point on the Inside Passage (Alaska's Marine Highway). Skagway was founded in the 1890s as the gateway to the Yukon and Klondike goldfields, and it was incorporated as a city in 1900. It owed its importance to its role as the Pacific coastal terminus of the White Pass through the Boundary Ranges and of the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railway (the first railway in Alaska.) The railway suspended service in 1982 when the Anvil Gold Mines that it served were closed, but a portion of the lower line was reopened in 1988 for tourist travel. In 2007 voters approved the transition of Skagway from city to municipality status, a process that was completed in 2009. The area was originally inhabited by the Tlingit, and its name derives from the Tlingit word skagua, meaning “place where the north wind blows.” 2020 census indicates a population of 1059.
One one hand, Eureka Springs is exceptionally unique. On the other hand, we have much similarity as that of like-type sister towns across America and there is good reason why we find ourselves on list after list after list of "best small town places to visit."
Studies on the impacts of tourism have shown that a destination’s population is what recognizes economic and social benefits as well as costs of tourism on their community and their lives.
Economic benefits are usually regarded as the most important benefits of tourism and include:
increased employment opportunities
improved standards of living
Social benefits include:
the maintenance of traditional cultures
increased intercultural communication
understanding, improved social welfare
quality of life
increased recreational opportunity
Studies have also shown that different groups within a community may have different perceptions of the impacts of tourism. In one study that I reviewed, it examined a tourism destination on the Greek island of Samos.
It revealed that local residents who were economically dependent on tourism had a more positive attitude towards the tourism industry than those who were not. OK, so this is not riveting results. Ask any server or bartender here in Eureka Springs and you will find this to be very much the case without having to conduct any kind of formal study. The point is, this kind of juxtaposed dilemma between town residents has been a struggle for small communities all over the globe year after year with economic & social costs of tourism being:
increased tax burdens by developing infrastructure used primarily by visitors
immigration of labor
increased local government debt
increased crime rates; prostitution
friction between visitors and residents
changes in traditional cultures and way of life
increased cost of land and housing
over commitment of resources and development budgets to tourism
As with any community, the diversity and inclusion is what makes it thrive or not. There are so many factors that focus a person's individual lens about tourism’s benefits or costs. But going into the discussion with a devolve & de-emphasize mindset is unproductive for all involved.
The juxtaposition here is that this kind of thinking is not coming from a colorful place of 'love' or 'citizenship' or 'community', it is more of a black & white disenfranchised, outsider view of tourism.
Some of these many factors that frame this thinking include:
length of residency
extent of tourism development
residents’ proximity to the tourism sites
the degree of dependency on tourism
the degree of community cohesiveness and/or local patriotism
reasons for moving to the community
education and/or employment status
... to name a few.
I remember one day within my first month of residing here, I was in a shop purchasing something when the the all-too-familiar low, deep-throated, gutteral vibration of a Harley vrooooomed by the shop quite loudly. The shopkeeper exclaimed, "I wish we would outlaw them here." I asked, "how long have you lived here?" She replied, "too long! Over 30 years!"
C'Mon. Solving this conundrum is no easy feat but then again, I must ask, "would we want to?" Shouldn't a town be more than less? Shouldn't a community do all it can to thrive, survive and flourish? Shouldn't a community have residents clenching the juxtaposition but still reaching consensus for the greater good?
"Tourists just come and go and there is money left behind… in that sense it’s really positive. …as long as, you know, we don’t try to become Disneyland. Disneyland is overload."
Eureka Springs is not a theme park and we are not tourism overload. The primary reason I bench our town against other small places in America like Skagway, Friday Harbor and Mystic is that we all have, and will continue to have something that attracts people to visit.
Our American History is and always will be a powerful driver of tourism. The Pequots, Salish and Tlingit peoples embossed their fingerprints in the history books of those places just as the Cherokee to Eureka Springs. Whether we like it or not - it is what it is.
The question is, do we emphasize or de-emphasize?
Otto Ernest Rayburn writes the following passage in his book, The Eureka Springs Story: The Cherokee Indians, when in their southern home—previous to their removal to the Indian Territory—had a tradition that in the mountains far to the west of their country, and to the west of the Father of Waters, there were springs that their fathers visited and drank of their waters, and were healed of their maladies. This tradition was handed down from one generation to another. After the removal of the Cherokees to their present home in the Territory, many visited these springs, camped here, and drank these waters. Since the discovery by the white men the writer has conversed with members of the Cherokee tribe, and learned that these were the springs referred to in the tradition.
Thank you Otto for your emphasis.
Sure, we could agree to stop the parades, close the restaurants, bars and boutique shops, stop zip-lining, take away the float trip and water-activity businesses, close the marinas and shun musicians and artists -- our visitors would still visit for the history, the ghost tales and the natural, beautiful vistas of the Ozarks. Bikers might still joy-ride through and gays and lesbians might still choose to get married here.
But if we lessen, if we de-emphasize, things begin to devolve as less begets less.
Culinary residents can't earn a living with so few restaurants. Artist residents can't sell their art with so few shops to do so. Sure Sally and Jane will get married at Thorncrown, but then they'll transport themselves and all their guests in a motor coach to Bentonville for a rockin' reception.
Why would we want to devolve?
Why would we want to evolve?
These were the questions I deliberated about as I thought about writing this blog-post.
Let's face the facts, Eureka has been evolving everyday from a place of love, acceptance and inclusion for years and years and will continue to do so. Impacting the experience with a devolve/de-emphasize mindset comes from a place of fear. "Ahhh! We cannot become Disneyland! Let's pass on the tourism to other towns and places in Arkansas, it's ruining our village."
I didn't take this lightly. People and places evolve at different paces and we must all take into account the many factors (some noted above) when analyzing another's perspective. We came here for different reasons, and things evolved from that point for all of us as each new day allows our community to collaboratively co-create life in Eureka.
If you choose not to be a part of the co-creation, Eureka Springs will continue to evolve all around you at a different, seemingly rapid pace that is juxtaposed against how you are personally evolving as a resident of Eureka Springs.
There are places in America that one might describe as "ruined" - like Bodie, California - but Eureka Springs is not one of those places, nor is Mystic, Skagway, or Friday Harbor.
Bodie, now a ghost town, even welcomes over 200,000 visitors a year - as a ghost town! Now, THAT'S perspective!
Of over 90,000 National Register sites nationwide, Washington is home to approximately 1,500 and 19 of those places are found in San Juan County. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Historic_Places Friday Harbor also welcomes approximately 200,000 visitors a year.
Six blocks of downtown Skagway, Alaska are designated as a National Historic District. With the massive development of the cruise industry in this State, tiny little Skagway welcomes nearly one million visitors annually.
The Mystic River Historic District encompasses the part of the village of Mystic, Connecticut that is on the Groton side of the Mystic River. The district was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 24, 1979 covering approximately 235-acres that include much of the village now known as West Mystic and many buildings from the 19th century. Each year Mystic welcomes approximately 250,000 visitors.
The Eureka Springs Historic District is a district that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The boundaries are those of the entire city of Eureka Springs, Arkansas to include our historic railroad depot. Eureka Springs hosts over 750,000 visitors yearly. While visitors come to Eureka Springs year around, March through December are the peak months for visitation. Tourism here supports over 2,600 jobs in Carroll County.
The U.S. Department of the Interior recognizes the designated Bodie Historic District as a National Historic Landmark. When you become a "landmark" on the National Historic Register is is because memories were made there that were of significance.
We are Eureka Springs
...and we are still making new memories every day. We're not yet a "historic landmark" because we happily remain a thriving, historic destination.
But, like Bodie, if we we're to become a ghost town, we'd likely become a "historic landmark" and then our annual numbers may diminish from our usual 750,000 visitors to 200,000 ghost-town aficionados.
"We're not a ghost town, we're a town with ghosts." ❤️
*IMO | "In My Opinion" is a blog-series that features commentary, ideas, thoughts and viewpoints from the personal opinion of John-Michael Scurio, local resident, creator, owner and blogger for www.iloveureka.com. This is not an editorial. Editorial content is any content that's designed to inform, educate, or entertain. It provides readers with data about a topic or explains something to them. At its core, editorial content is about providing value to the reader. It's not designed to sell. It's not designed to drive conversions. This is my opinion. Thank you.
**CAPC = City Advertising & Promotion Commission.
Incidentally, 18 million visitors per year visit Disneyland in California and roughly 58 million visit Disney World in Orlando. We are no where near "tourism overload."