Valley Forge National Historical Park, brought to you by the folks at Lipton Tea!
Yep, that's right, Lipton Tea and its parent company, Unilever, have found another way to finagle their corporate presence into the national parks. When last Unilever appeared on the national park front, it was to help promote the physical fitness benefits of visiting the parks. Now the company drops its name at the beginning of an audio tour of Valley Forge.
"Welcome to your personal audio guide for Valley Forge National Historical Park, sponsored by Unilever and Lipton Tea," beams the voice when you call the recording line at 408-794-2820.
I'm a bit concerned about this form of delivery of "prominent moments in Valley Forge's history," as the Park Service puts it in advertising this latest venture. On its face, the message is that you can tour the Revolutionary War battlefield with your ear glued to your cell phone so you won't miss a word.
"We're utilizing this technology to get our message out in a new way," says Park Superintendent Mike Caldwell. "Since visitors use their own cell phone, there is no equipment to rent or store, nothing to check in or out, so it's that much easier."
Yes, it sounds like it's easier, but it also seems to be marking a further erosion of park interpretation, as this audio venture doesn't require the presence of a real live park ranger.
And that perhaps is the key downside of this program. I mean, the parks need money and if corporate America wants to chip in, that's fine, as long as it's not in the form of taking over park operations or finding a way to charge visitors more fees.
No, my concern is that the Park Service is turning to an audio recording, not rangers, to provide interpretation to Valley Forge.
What do you do if you have a question? Whom do you ask? That's the value of live interpretive tours of any national park, the give and take between visitors and rangers. Will we soon face the day when the only park rangers to be found are manning audio boards to ensure the recording is available?
Plus, if you've been following the uproar over the prospect of more cell-phone towers popping up in Yellowstone, you'll likely cock an eye at this sentence of the audio tour press release: "Cell phone tours are part of the park's effort to reach out to recreational users..."
So should we assume the Park Service will now be lobbying the FCC to OK cell-phone towers throughout the national park system?
If you've been paying attention the past year you'll recall that one of the gripes about the Paul Hoffman draft of the Park Service's Management Policies was that it could have led to more cell-phone towers in the parks. And now the Park Service seems to be saying cell towers are key to their outreach mission, so already the folks in Washington are finding ways to get what they want.
One thought to leave you with: In touting this new form of outreach, the Park Service says it's also intended to help park visitors fulfill their "daily minimum outdoor recreational requirement."
So if you run into another park visitor with a cell phone glued to his or her head, be sure to applaud them for their great workout!