Well, Representative Stevan Pearce held his second hearing into national park visitation trends the other day, and came away with some incredible solutions. Perhaps the topper was a suggestion that the National Park Service promote its parks!
Among those testifying to Pearce's House parks subcommittee was the director of marketing and communications for the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association in California. Karen Whitaker said she has troubles getting national park brochures to send or handout to folks visiting the area.
Whitaker also complained that Web sites don't include enough details about park attractions, activities and amenities.You can read about some of the hearing's details here.
I also hear that Chris Jarvi, the Park Service's associate director of partnerships, related that surveys indicate visitation is down the past two years because folks are too busy, don't want to travel great distances, and are losing interest in visiting parks.
The committee also heard that the United States is losing its luster with international travelers. I wonder if that could be a result of the administration's foreign policies?
I guess what concerns me is this ongoing perception that national parks were created to be economic engines for gateway communities and the recreation industry in general. Marketing is a cost of doing business, folks. If gateway communities want better marketing of the national parks, perhaps they should shoulder that burden. Must the government always provide the answer or come to the rescue?
And really, isn't there already a lot of marketing of the parks? I wrote a travel story about Glacier National Park that ran in major newspapers in Miami, Pittsburgh, Denver, Atlanta and Little Rock. How many hundreds of thousands of readers saw that? And I'm just one among hundreds of travel writers who produce widely distributed stories on the parks.
Go to your nearest book store and look at how many national park guidebooks there are. Pay attention to your local PBS station and at least once a year they'll show the program about Great Lodges of the National Parks. The Internet is rife with stories, Web sites, and a few blogs, about national parks.
I could go on and on, but you get it. The national parks are not hidden. But they do face competition and economic conditions the Park Service has no control over. I don't think better distribution of park brochures or an advertising blitz is necessarily the answer to this perceived problem of waning visitation.
If Congress directs the Park Service to add a marketing division, that will just be one more budgetary drain on the agency. The money to fund such a division could be much better spent in the parks.