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National Geographic names Ashland in geo-tourism top 10

Ashland was named one of the world's Top Ten Places for Geotourism by the National Geographic Society, which placed it alongside the Norwegian fjords, Scotland's Isle of Skye and the Island of Grenada.

Jonathan Tourtellot, director of the Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations, defined geotourism as "tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place "¦ where you can have an authentic travel experience without harming the place."

Tourtellot praised Ashland — which has won spots on many "best places" lists — for its history, culture, architecture, shops and restaurants.

"Nestled in the foothills of the Cascades about 285 miles south of Portland, Ashland is famous for its annual Shakespeare Festival. It is also one of the USA's most historic and appealing small towns," Tourtellot wrote.

"Ashland's downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods are remarkably well-preserved, with charming, turn-of-the-century Queen Anne architecture. The wonderful array of boutique-type shops and restaurants attracts both tourists and locals."

His picks were featured in a Jan. 4 USA Today article titled "10 Great Places to Leave Unspoiled." Also listed were Chaco Canyon, N.M., Mackinac Island, Mich., Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Wachau Valley in Austria, the "Northeast Kingdom" in Vermont and Ashland's Sister City of Guanajuato, Mexico.

The selection of Ashland as a top global geotourism destination gives the town a new dimension for expanding its marketing beyond the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and top-quality restaurants and shops, said Ashland Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Katherine Flanagan.

"It's an exciting new angle, recognizing our natural beauty and energy sustainability, coming at it from a global perspective, as an authentic experience," Flanagan said. "It will help grow a new segment of the market, taking in the momentum here of wine and culinary tourism."

Ashland sits on the edge of the giant Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion, which, because of its biodiversity, was identified some years ago by National Geographic as one of the top 10 temperate conifer forest regions in the world, said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist for the National Center for Conservation Science and Research in Ashland.

DellaSala worked on the biodiversity assessment for that study, he said.

"Not only is Ashland unspoiled downtown, but the foothills are outstanding on a global basis," DellaSala said.

Most locales on the list were islands, regions or historical spots, with Ashland and Guanajuato being the only cities singled out for geotourists.

Of Guanajuato, Tourtellot said, "Founded in 1554, Guanajuato is about 230 miles northwest of Mexico City in the country's historic silver-mining region. This hilly, Spanish-colonial city teems with life and history. That presents a nice balance for both tourists and residents. Several of the city's historic buildings have been tastefully converted into hotels and restaurants, and the narrow streets of the city center are delightful to wander through."