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WKU faculty members explore geotourism sites in Europe

WKU Department of Geography and Geology faculty members Dr. Leslie North and Dr. Jason Polk spent part of summer 2013 exploring show caves and geoparks in eight countries in western Europe in an effort to research the managerial structure and education opportunities of the facilities.

Dr. Leslie North records audio while exploring Tiefenhohle in Germany.

Dr. Leslie North records audio while exploring Tiefenhohle in Germany.

The team began its journey in England before continuing the research expedition to 18 prominent geotourism facilities in Ireland, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland. As part of the ongoing research, Dr. North interviewed operations managers and show cave guides, participated in guided tours, collected educational materials, and documented visitor experiences during tours and in interpretation centers.

These data complement learning outcomes assessments that were initiated by the research team and continued over a three-month period with the gracious help of show cave property managers and tour guides. The data also support a similar study conducted in the United States by Dr. North and her 2011 data set from over 150 show caves worldwide.

A interpretative sign located at Doolin Cave in Ireland. Scientific banners, displays and interactive exhibits are a common feature of show caves in the European region.

A interpretative sign located at Doolin Cave in Ireland. Scientific banners, displays and interactive exhibits are a common feature of show caves in the European region.

WKU geoscience graduate students Jeremy Simmons of Jackson, Miss., and Elizabeth Tyrie of Glasgow are engaged in the project through data analysis and direct ongoing communication with participating show cave facilities. Tyrie also participated in presenting a portion of this research at the 2013 Geological Society of America meeting in Denver. The research, which was partially funded through the WKU Research and Creative Activities Program, will help to support the development of a larger external grant proposal related to informal geoscience education.

“Tourist attractions can be perfect venues for captivating interests and filling voids in science understanding,” Dr. North said. “Through continued investigation, an effective model of geotourism facility management, particularly as related to karst landscapes, may be developed and implemented across the globe to help protect these fragile landscapes.”

Department Head Dr. David Keeling noted that “this is the type of international research that gets WKU on the map. Student engagement is an important part of the educational goals of the department, and this is a great example of that vision and principle.”

Contact: Dr. Leslie North, (270) 745-5982.

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