Far too often I scan the web and download reports about parks and tourism with the same old frustration that they are conceptual in nature and do not address contemporary issues. This report is different. It’s a concise analysis and highlights practical actions that connect people and parks.
Here are excerpts from Advancing the National Park Idea: Connecting People and Parks Committee Report (PDF) prepared by the National Parks Conservation Association:
Massive degrees of technological innovation are having largely unknown effects on the ways increasing numbers of Americans receive their information, interact with information, and share experiences in terms of how they then learn about, connect with and value national parks. Visitor centers are not generally up to date in effective use of technology to assist in communicating information and concepts important to understanding parks. The Committee received revealing input from park superintendents and other employees with whom they discussed the use of new technologies in parks. Although some believed that use of some technologies may be degrading park experiences, the Committee found a growing realization that such technologies and the expectations and habits of those who use them (especially younger populations), can increase connectivity with parks and the values they contain, and create conditions for more meaningful park experiences.
Three broad issues emerged:
1. Parks and the Park Service are generally not allowed to use new communication and social networking technologies on government-supported websites because of security concerns. These regulations severely dampen the ability of the Park Service to benefit from the new communication processes that visitors may access to make decisions about what to do, where to go, or what services are worthwhile for their social group. This condition is especially acute for young, “hip” users of web-based communication technologies.
2. Visitor centers and other locations where visitors gain information in parks are more and more often viewed as out- of-date and old fashioned. They are not friendly to the ways in which more and more tech-savvy visitors gain information once in a park, or to increasing amounts of information that is available to visitors before they come to a park.
3. Websites and in-park information are not usually available in languages other than English. “Best practices” adopted by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) strongly encourage parallel websites for each language used rather than using auto-translation programs, and current mythology within the Service indicates that such programs are unreliable and inaccurate in translation. However, sites such as the Virginia State Park site are having excellent results. Maintaining one website for a system as large as the National Park System, with nearly 400 parks and a myriad of other subdivisions, takes massive resources. Replicating such information for millions of Americans who communicate most easily in languages other than English is untenable financially, and single-page substitutions are unfair for people whose right it is to access their national parks. The Park Service and the OMB need to reassess current dogma.