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WALES, United Kingdom — The team that won a competition to highlight the importance of a copperworks in the Industrial Revolution drew its focus from Jared Bowers, a Carroll County native and 2001 graduate of Carroll County High School.
Bowers is a doctoral candidate at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
In addition to being a part of the team that earned accolades for their ideas to promote reuse of the Hafod-Morfa Copperworks as part of the “Heritage Apprentice” challenge, Bowers has been on a world-wide odyssey while pursuing his studies in sustainable tourism since setting off from his home.
“It was a very interesting competition to be involved in,” Bowers wrote in a message to The Gazette about the heritage project. “The site has such a legacy and yet much of the world doesn't realize how important Wales and the copper industry were to global industrialization.”
His life in the Blue Ridge Mountains put Bowers on the path to his current study of ecomuseology, which focuses on museums that preserve the identity of a place and help communities develop.
He applied this concept to the copperworks and wants to put it to use in the rainforest of Guyana after he receives his doctorate, he said.
Based on the BBC’s version of “The Apprentice,” the contest sought to advance conversion of the industrial site established in 1810 as a cultural tourism attraction.
“The surviving buildings are the last remaining substantial monuments to the copper industry in the lower Swansea Valley, which was once the centre of the international trade in copper, the world's first globally integrated heavy industry,” according to information on the Hafod-Morfa site posted at welshcopper.org.uk/.
On the 12.5-acre site remain “12 internationally significant industrial heritage buildings.”
Going back a few years, Bowers’ first stint in the United Kingdom came when earning his master’s degree in ecotourism at Edinburgh, Scotland, after he attended Elon University in North Carolina for corporate communications.
His goal was to be able to work at a higher level in the tourism industry, and he jumped at the chance to study in Scotland as the master’s program there fit his needs.
“After I finished my degree, I travelled around the world for a year (2008) where I was very fortunate to get involved in some interesting situations, such as living and working on an organic farm with a family in Argentina and then with a Buddhist monk in Thailand, working at nature reserves in New Zealand and Australia and a slew of other things in between,” he said in an e-mail. “The reason behind this was to get as much experience as possible in tourism and conservation work and build up my resume a bit.”
After six months of teaching environmental education in New Hampshire, Bowers accepted a job as tourism manager in Guyana for the Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development.
“There I met several researchers from Newcastle University who were carrying out different studies in the rainforest,” he recalled. “This definitely sparked an interest in me to return to school for my Ph.D. So my girlfriend and I applied and were both accepted to do Ph.D.s at Newcastle University in the northeast of England.”
While his girlfriend got her studies started, Bowers worked in Rwanda and Uganda for a few months to raise the tuition money. His doctorate work began in January 2011.
His time in Guyana made a deep impression on Bowers. There he ran the ecotourism program for Iwokrama, an organization that manages a million acres of rainforest.
“The whole idea behind Iwokrama is that there are different ways you can sustainably use a rainforest, rather than simply clear-cutting it,” he said. “And one of those ways is ecotourism — so we had some tourism cabins that guests stayed in and we took them on several nature-based tours to look at wildlife including jaguars, anacondas, monkeys, caimans, giant otters and much more.”
Guyana is nearly the size of Michigan, but has less than a million people that for the most part live on the coast, adding to the feeling of isolation at the rainforest ecolodge and research center.
There is no power grid there — all electricity comes from solar panels and a generator.
Before that, Bowers consulted for Volcanoes Safaris, specializing taking tourists to see the gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda, on ways to makes their lodges more attractive to customers.
Bowers’ current research is to see how “ecomuseology” principles can boost the Rupununi region of Guyana.
“I want to help local indigenous communities there to develop tourism, but at the same time protect their cultural traditions and way of life and, of course, the natural environment, as well,” Bowers said.
He’s already seen how the rainforest project has brought benefits to the people, such as job opportunities, healthcare and better communications.
One reasons that Bowers’ “Heritage Apprentice” team won was through applying the ecomuseum concepts to the former copperworks in Wales.
Ecomuseums take their direction from the community and have been a hallmark for heritage preservation in Europe since the 1960s.
“In other words, the communities curate the exhibitions, are heavily involved in the operations (as volunteers, workers and participants) and interact with the site to develop the local sense of place,” Bowers explained, as it applies to the copperworks. “It would involve a lot of interpretation (including apps, interactive media, etc.) on the relationship between the operations of the copperworks and the natural resources that propelled it forward.”
His team also recommended other improvements to the copperworks, such as history tours, an on-site museum and a fish-and-chips shop.
“We're not sure what aspects of our plan will be carried out, but as part of winning the competition, we get to go back and work with the local stakeholders to try and solidify the vision for the site,” Bowers said. “Hopefully, certain aspects of it will be implemented, but either way, the whole competition as a great learning experience.”
The time Bowers spent with his family fishing, walking and biking in Southwest Virginia prepared him well for his studies and his work in the outdoors.
His experience boating and canoeing on the New River led him to apply for an internship as a kayak guide on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.
Bowers has worked in tourism ever since landing that internship.
“It's all based around a desire to share the interesting natural and cultural resources of a particular area with different folks,” he explained. “I always enjoyed learning about other cultures and seeing new landscapes, so the choice to try and make a career out of that seemed logical.
“And I'd say that interest definitely comes from growing up in a place like Carroll County and then wanting to see how the rest of the world compares.”
Having seen many of those places around the globe, Bowers counts his home in Virginia as one of the more beautiful and friendly places around the world. “I don’t think I realized the value of all that until after I had left.”
More information on the “Heritage Apprentice” challenge is available HERE.