About three weeks ago I moved to Zion National Park. As I was sitting in my office researching the park, so I would be able to answer any visitor questions, I saw something astounding. The visitation in Zion has increased from 2 million to 4.3 million in less than five years. I asked my supervisor why he thought the visitation had increased so much and he answered “social media.” I found this very interesting, about a year ago I wrote a blog entitled “How Social Media is Destroying our National Parks”, on this site and while I still stand by the arguments I made in the blog, today I thought that I would offer a different, alternative viewpoint on how social media is helping save our national parks. This issue is not, and has never been black and white.
As we approach the end of 2016, I think this is an opportune time to look back on the Centennial year of the National Park Service. It has been a busy year in the parks, with lots of ups and downs. In case you missed them, these are some of the headlines in the NPS from 2016.
We take a break this month from our regularly scheduled programming to celebrate something very near and dear to my heart (and most likely yours as well). On August 25th, The National Park Service celebrated 100 years of service. In case you weren’t able to make it out to a park for the day- let me summarize the events across our nation. It was a festive special day, unlike anything our parks have seen before. With free entrance, musical events, instameets, special campfire programs, and free cake: every park offered something special for those guests fortunate enough to be visiting a park on this historic day. We were the google doodle of the day, Facebook featured us their home page and we were the number one trending topic on twitter. Because I am a National Park Service employee, I was lucky enough to receive several gifts –from coworkers, management, and park visitors- to commemorate this special day. These gifts got me thinking about the gifts that our national parks give all of us daily. Gifts that are worth celebrating as the agency which protects them reaches this milestone.
Recently, Yellowstone has been the spotlight of many trending headline: the woman petting the bison on opening day, the foreign tourists putting a bison calf in their vehicle because it looked cold, the group of four Canadians walking out on Grand Prismatic Spring, and, even today, a trending headline about an elk charging a woman taking a photo of it. While these headlines can be equal parts amusing and infuriating, they perfectly illustrate the challenges facing our public lands and, in particular, our national parks as they enter the next century.
The National Parks are known to be colorful, from the wildflowers to brilliant sunsets and sunrises to the wide diversity of colorful animals and even to the rainbow colored waters. However, there is one area in which our parks are seriously lacking in color and that is within the people who visit our national treasures. Out of the over 307 million people who visit our parks each year, a surprisingly low percentage of them are minorities. In fact, only 22% of the people who visit the parks identify as non-white. This is a troubling statistic, and it is one that needs to change. But how?
Hopefully after reading previous blogs and following the tips given, you have landed a job in the outdoors this summer in a park or forest, doing what you love. But now what? Summer is still a few months away so how do you prepare for it? When I began my first summer at Grand Teton in 2012, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or even what to expect. Here are some things that you might not think to expect from your summer, but that will definitely happen.
After the news of the Federal Budget increase for the National Park Service, several more initiatives have been announced as the NPS undergoes a rebrand in order for their centennial in 2016. They are using their 100th birthday as an opportunity to change the way people think of, view, and visit the national park system. They are presenting the parks to an entirely new audience in order to sustain them for the next 100 years. Studies have shown that although visitation in the parks is up –with 292 million visits in 2014 alone-, the people who are visiting are mostly older Caucasians. Jonathan Jarvis explains that, “If we were a business and that was our clientele, then over the long term, we would probably be out of business.” The two initiatives are part of a major effort by the park service in order to breathe new life into the aging system to carry it in the future.