US – China Partnerships Go for a Walk in the Park

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by Sarah Wang
Crater Lake National Park in Oregon has established a sister park relationship with China’s Wuyishan National Scenic Area. Image: Flickr user Johnathan Miske.

Just in time for the year-long centennial celebration of the National Park Service, Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park signed a sister park agreement with China’s Wuyishan National Scenic Area in Fujian Province in February 2016. Under this agreement, the parks will work to fulfill the goals of the National Park Services’ Sister Park Program, including increased information sharing and inter-park relationships to tackle issues from cultural heritage preservation to mitigation of threats such as invasive species.

2016 has also been branded as the “US-China Tourism Year” by Brand USA, established by the Travel Promotion Act in 2010 as the nation’s first global marketing effort. In 2014 Oregon had a total of 62,000 Chinese visitors, whereas by the 3rd quarter of 2015 there had been 107,000, a 25% increase over the same time in 2014. Between the sister park relationship potentially highlighting Crater Lake as an integral destination and the promotional efforts of Brand USA, expectations are high for what 2016 will bring for Oregon’s tourism relationship with China.

Crater Lake is the most recent, though not the only, national park to partner with China. In August 2015, Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park became sister parks with Baihuashan National Nature Reserve in China. The parks share similar ecologies and geographies as both are roughly 70 miles west of their respective nations’ capitals. The sister park relationship allows the parks to share resources on resource conservation, construction, and management.

Including Crater Lake and Shenandoah, China has sister park relationships with a total of eight US national parks. Yosemite National Park in California has two relationships, with Huangshan National Park in Anhui Province and Jiuzhaigou National Park in Sichuan Province. California’s Sequioa – Kings Canyon National Park also has a sister park relationship with Mount Tai Scenic Spot in Shandong Province. The Grand Canyon in Arizona is sister parks with Mount Yuntai National Nature Reserve in Henan Province. Nearby Zion National Park in Utah is sister parks with Danxiashan Geopark in Guangdong Province. In the Midwest, Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave is sister parks with South China Karst World Heritage Site, which borders the provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, and Yunnan. Finally, Hawai‘i’s Volcanoes National Park is sister parks with Wudalianchi Geo Park in Heilongjiang Province.

Interest in traveling to US national parks has continued to grow as Chinese tourists flock to the United States in increasing numbers. In 2014, 40% of the 2.2 million Chinese tourists who visited the US visited at least one national park or monument. To further increase interest, Brand USA has produced a documentary entitled “National Parks Adventure.” Covering 30 US national parks, it will be released in China in the spring of 2016 and will stay in theaters there for up to a year.

The National Park Service has also aided in the establishment of sister parks between the US and other Asian countries, including: Cambodia’s Samlaut Protected Area with Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park; Nepal’s Sagarmatha National Park with Shenandoah National Park;  Palau’s Peleliu Battlefield National Historic Landmark with War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam, Thailand’s Khao Yai National Park with Great Smoky Mountains National Park between North Carolina and Tennessee;  and, in 2015, multiple new partnerships between several parks in Mongolia’s with Yosemite and Glacier National Parks in California and Montana, respectively.

Sarah Wang is the Event Coordinator and a Project Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.