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Park Visitation: Some Bright Ideas?


    Well, Representative Stevan Pearce held his second hearing into national park visitation trends the other day, and came away with some incredible solutions. Perhaps the topper was a suggestion that the National Park Service promote its parks!
    Among those testifying to Pearce's House parks subcommittee was the director of marketing and communications for the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association in California. Karen Whitaker said she has troubles getting national park brochures to send or handout to folks visiting the area.
    Whitaker also complained that Web sites don't include enough details about park attractions, activities and amenities.You can read about some of the hearing's details here. 
    I also hear that Chris Jarvi, the Park Service's associate director of partnerships, related that surveys indicate visitation is down the past two years because folks are too busy, don't want to travel great distances, and are losing interest in visiting parks.
    The committee also heard that the United States is losing its luster with international travelers. I wonder if that could be a result of the administration's foreign policies?

    I guess what concerns me is this ongoing perception that national parks were created to be economic engines for gateway communities and the recreation industry in general. Marketing is a cost of doing business, folks. If gateway communities want better marketing of the national parks, perhaps they should shoulder that burden. Must the government always provide the answer or come to the rescue?
    And really, isn't there already a lot of marketing of the parks? I wrote a travel story about Glacier National Park that ran in major newspapers in Miami, Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta and Little Rock. How many hundreds of thousands of readers saw that? And I'm just one among hundreds of travel writers who produce widely distributed stories on the parks.
    Go to your nearest book store and look at how many national park guidebooks there are. Pay attention to your local PBS station and at least once a year they'll show the program about Great Lodges of the National Parks. The Internet is rife with stories, Web sites, and a few blogs, about national parks.
    I could go on and on, but you get it. The national parks are not hidden. But they do face competition and economic conditions the Park Service has no control over. I don't think better distribution of park brochures or an advertising blitz is necessarily the answer to this perceived problem of waning visitation.
    If Congress directs the Park Service to add a marketing division, that will just be one more budgetary drain on the agency. The money to fund such a division could be much better spent in the parks


You make some fair points here. The National Park Service exists for a balanced combination of preservation, recreation, and education. It is also true that there is a lot of third-party promotion of Parks, from the numerous popular National Park guidebooks (with more on the way), and many newspaper and magazine articles about National Parks. Nevertheless, I think that the National Park Service is missing a number of opportunities to promote National Park visitation - and this is a shame because people who visit National Parks are likely to be people who support National Parks, either directly through on-site user fees and donations, or via their votes for elected representatives who support the Parks. Take, for example, the hugely popular "Passport to Your National Parks" program - which is produced by the non-profit Eastern National, and which promotes visitation to the Parks by having special "passport stamps" at each Park. Yet, this program is run with only minimal coordination from the National Park Service, with not all Parks formally participating, and little overall guidance for the Park Service. As another example, consider the National Park Traveler's Club, which among other activites, recognizes members' progress towards visiting all 390 National Park Units in one's lifetime. National Parks are such special places, one would think it only logical to encourage Americans to visit all of them at least once - and yet, the National Park Service has probably done little or nothing to develop or promote this concept independently, its done entirely by this outside group, the National Park Traveler's Club. In fact, next to getting to all 23 Parks in Alaska (and the Parks in Guam and American Samoa), I somestimes joke that one of the biggest challenges to visiting all 390 Parks is figuring the bizarre way in which the National Park Service came up with its much-vaunted "390 Parks" figure in the first place - which it makes it hard to get people started on the concept in the first place. All in all, while I agree that these hearings seem largely motivated by those who don't see nearly as much worth in the preservation of the Parks as in how much money the Parks can generate, I do, however, think that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and there is a valid underlying point here. The National Park Service really might benefit from thinking a little more about how to promote itself, and in so doing, turn more Americans into Park supporters. John D.

The Alaska parks saw increases probably due to the tremendous amount of television and print media advertising done by the state of Alaska augmented by the large amount of advertising done by the cruise ship and tour industry. The private sector and the local Chambers of Commerce are more than equipped to promote the National Parks from which they draw their bread and butter. No federal 'marketing' subsidies are needed.

Time restraints also limit the public to go to a National Park. Many people simply do not have the time to visit a national park or they might believe that its not worth visiting a national park. Some do not even know if there is a national park near them. The NPS needs to promote National Parks more in other ways besides just a few newspaper articles or brochures.

Wait a minute, we have a conundrum here. The parks have had their funds reduced to such an extent that they cannot provide the amenities and upkeep to take care of the people that do visit. So why are we concerned about increasing park visitation? Or am I missing something here? The fewer people that visit....the better for me.

Bill: What you are missing is that the more people that visit the National Parks - places like not just Yellowstone, but also places like Gettysburg NB, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and Nez Perce NHP - the better for the country. John D.

Just could not resist the "Bush Bashing" ! ( I wonder if that could be a result of the administration's foreign policies? ) Maybe there is just too much land "locked up" for a handful of tree huggers ?

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