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.
The first of these initiatives is to try and bring America’s youth into our parks. Speaking from personal experience, I can say it was visiting the national parks when I was in elementary school that really taught me to love the environment and to dream of one day being ranger. As a child from Southern California there was absolutely nothing more exciting to me than seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. Finding a bear on a hillside and then pointing it out to family and friends and eventually causing a bear jam was something I remember to this day as being one of the more exciting moments of my life. Unfortunately, not every child is able to have these experiences and kids are increasingly spending more time in front of the television than in the outdoors.
The White House recently issued their “Every Kid in the Park” program to not only combat this problem, but also to instill a love for the parks and the outdoors at a formative young age. Beginning in September all fourth graders and their families will have free access to all federal fee areas for an entire year. These federal areas include national parks, forests, recreation areas, historic sites etc… This pass is normally valued at $80, but would be issued to all 4th graders and their families without charge in an effort to get America’s children into the outdoors.
Another trend that the Park Service has noticed is that people on the East Coast tend to believe that National Parks are only in the West. They think of Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon when they think of parks and have no idea of the parks right in their backyard. The NPS has just announced the “Find Your Park” campaign as part of their goal to redefine the word “park” in the minds of Americans. This campaign gives people an opportunity to connect with parks close to home, as well as offering incentives for people to share their stories from the parks. With partners such as American Express and REI, as well as celebrities such as Mary Lambert and Bill Nye, the campaign has already taken off significantly, despite only being officially launched on April 2.