So this morning I was reading the LA Times while visiting relatives this Thanksgiving weekend. To my amazement there was an article about declining visitor traffic to National Parks (Camp? Outside? Um, no thanks).
I have to admit I was torn on this. My initial reaction was “good” since I’ve seen so many areas over used and abused as of late, but on the other hand my reaction was of horror knowing that National Parks wouldn’t be able to keep going with out revenue from increasing traffic & resulting admission fees since the Bush administration has reduced funding over the past 6 years. All politics aside what amazed me even more is how interest in US National Parks is decreasing.
The question of how to raise awareness and interest to National Parks seems like an obvious one to me…
Sure as the article states video games and maybe parental paranoia is adding to the problem, but the reality is that most people don’t realize what beauty these parks hold nor what activities await visitors. Personally I think the National Park Service is too reactionary in their marketing. Here are the 3 ways I find out about the various National Parks:
1. Their website (NPS.gov) – it is informative, one I reference often, but is limited.
2. The handouts I receive from rangers when I drive into each National Park – great information, but its not what got me to drive to the park.
3. Word of mouth – nothing gets me out more than hearing about or seeing something new.
As a web strategist and photographer what would I recommend to the NPS do to address the declining attendance?
Easy! Use every means possible to get the word out about the natural beauty and activities awaiting families in these incredibly beautiful locations.
1. Implement visitor blogs – post feedback, comments and images from visitors
2. Host NPS labeled groups on Flickr to showcase the amazing scenery of our National Park system
3. Leverage the enthusiasm of avid photographers (professional or amateur) with sponsored events and adding highlights from Items #1 and #2 above.
4. Get the word out to families about traditional and new events held at these parks.
5. Leverage the creative passions of famous and up and coming photographers by hosting regional gallery showings. Not formal gallery showings, but school oriented showings and educational programs forÂ elementary , jr. and high school students. Tie these to local photographers and naturalists eager to share their experiences.
Sure I love National Parks and likely have a view point quite different than the targeted audience, but thinking back to what got me interested in the first place…. it was family, friends, stories, pictures and the curiosity that followed. The formula to tap that in todays youth may be different, but its still easily attainable. I hope the National Park Service figures it out. I’d hate to think that future generations won’t see the value and beauty of the parks currently in place. I know one of the many reasons I photograph these locations is to inspire awe in others, fuel an interest to visit and preserve what mother earth created.