Did you hear about the "electronic rangers" you can now rent in Death Valley National Park? For $15 a day these gadgets, which you place on your rig's dashboard, will give you a guided tour of the park. Park officials hope these devices, among other things, will generate a new revenue stream for Death Valley.
Manufactured by BarZ Adventures, these devices use GPS coordinates to trigger a video commentary of the immediate area. Already the devices have been deployed at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi, Cedar Breaks National Monument in Utah, and reportedly are on their way to Shenandoah National Park, if they're not already there.
Death Valley spokesman Terry Baldino told the AFP wire service that along with using the devices to entice younger generations to Death Valley, officials view the daily rentals as one way to boost revenues.
David Blacker, executive director of the Death Valley Natural History Association, had this to say about the GPS Rangers:
“In our attempt to keep Death Valley National Park relevant as we move into the 21st century we must embrace new technologies to help us with our educational and interpretive mission. This partnership with the National Park Service and Bar Z Adventures is our first step in doing this.”
Is the relevance of our national parks dangling on the future of where technology takes us? There's no doubt that advancements in technology play a key role in our lives, and can help deliver stirring interpretive programs in the parks. But first the younger generations have to want to go to the parks, and I question whether the prospect of listening to a GPS Ranger will be enough to persuade Susie and Johnny to beg their parents to take them to Death Valley or Shenandoah or Vicksburg.
Another question to ponder is whether it's a good thing to automate the national parks, to replace walking, talking interpretive rangers with electronics?
This summer I had the opportunity to join a ranger-led tour of the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The ranger, Larry Gore, captivated an audience of roughly 20 with a natural history discussion of the rain forest. Young and old were listening intently to his talk, laughing at his jokes, and watching as he used visual aids -- puppets of salmon and banana slugs -- to explain the cycles of life in the Hoh.
Ranger Gore also clearly answered questions that arose.
Will the GPS Ranger be able to duplicate such an interpretive program?