Ecotourism and Freshwater Landscapes: Compiling the Draft Proposal

The time has finally come to put it all together – the concentration proposal. Although it is currently a draft, weaving together all my research and thought on freshwater landscapes was challenging but rewarding. From the beginning I was set on waterfalls being the focus of my concentration. The overarching topic of waterfalls as my freshwater landscapes of study has been solidified but many questions remained- what about waterfalls? Why should people care and what are their significance? In what situated contexts? What courses will apply? Although many of these questions still apply, drafting the proposal helped me figure out a lot of them.

The true evolution of my concentration began with teaching a class about waterfalls in Hydrology. Liz helped me to find pertinent scholarly articles about waterfall geology, geomorphology and how falls are transient features in a watershed. Articles by Michael Lamb, a professor of geology at the University of Minnesota, especially led me to think of waterfalls as unique geologic places, more than just pretty sights to see. I ended up drawing on Lamb’s articles a good deal during the process of writing my draft proposal.

Although the geologic significance of waterfalls was clear at this point and an aspect I definitely wanted to include, I still struggled with how to integrate waterfalls into larger cultural, economic or political contexts. Upon further research and weaving of my topics, the aspect of tourism became essential to putting waterfalls in a more focused context. Ecotourism in particular is important as waterfalls are prime tourist destinations and tourist revenue can greatly influence local economies. People clearly love waterfalls and want to visit them. However, beyond the simplicity of people wanting to visit waterfalls for their scenic splendor, the question arose: why are people drawn to waterfalls? I’m still researching the possible causes of this attraction and the possible cultural roots waterfall attraction.

The cultural significance of waterfalls along with their role in the tourism industry guided my choices for situated contexts. I immediately chose Japan, particularly the area around Mt. Fuji as one of these contexts. Many waterfalls in Japan are sacred places and sites of austerities for Shugendo practitioners – a Japanese mountain religion. Waterfalls also influenced religious pilgrimage routes that later gave way to tourist destinations. Apart from the deep cultural significance of waterfalls in Japan, my other situated context would be the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. Although the religious history behind the gorge isn’t as extensive as Japan, its unique geology and booming tourism industry makes it an interesting counterpart to Japan. Also, the notion of gorge fires making people re-think the impacts of tourism and waterfall access could be an interesting issue to research.

Upon researching and considering waterfalls from these various viewpoints, it was time to think about questions. My intersectional questions from the concept map we made with regards to weaving topics were particularly helpful in deciding what questions to ask. As of now, I am asking:


  • How does ecotourism affect communities near waterfalls?
  • What geomorphic variables affect waterfall location? Waterfall appearance?
  • What effect does landform appearance have on religious pilgrimage?


  • Why are people drawn to waterfalls?
  • How does religious significance influence preservation?



  • What are the most effective methods of waterfall visitation and preservation?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of having waterfalls be easily accessed vs inaccessible?


  • How can one be an ecocentric tourist?
  • How can people visit waterfalls without degrading the area?
  • What should be done about accessibility?

These questions are rough and will surely change. I plan on continuing to improve their clarity and cohesion as my research continues. Although my concentration is far from done, I at least now have ideas on how to bring all these aspects of waterfalls together. I plan to work hard towards a cohesive concentration and am excited to see how it will continue to evolve.

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