The recent article about the roughly 30 designations that are in play across the 391 units of the National Park System highlights just one of the disparities that exist among units. Another example is the uneven quality of the 391 units' websites.
While it's oft said that regardless of the designation all units of the National Park System supposedly are treated equally by the National Park Service, nothing could be farther from the truth, at least not when it comes to web content. And that's unfortunate, as the Internet is about the only place the National Park Service conducts anything resembling a marketing campaign.
To prove that point, let's compare the websites of Yellowstone National Park and Gauley River National Recreation Area.
Yellowstone just might have the best webmeisters in the Park Service, and a deep support crew in terms of public affairs, interpretation, and science staffs.
Go to Yellowstone's website and right off the bat the lefthand column offers you choices to Plan Your Visit, Photos and Multimedia, History and Culture, Nature and Science, For Teachers, For Kids, News, Management, and Support Your Park. In the body of the homepage there are more hot links to take you to Directions, Operating Hours and Seasons, Fees and Reservations, Road Construction Delays and SEASONAL Closures, Centennial Initiative 2016, Publications, What's New, and Webcams.
Move beyond that homepage and you can spend hours sifting through old and new photographs of the park; videocasts of the park; many chapters of Yellowstone's management history, with a bent toward winter-use; learn all about backcountry camping and how to obtain permits; fishing rules; campgrounds; education programs such as the well-received Expedition Yellowstone; lists of approved outfitters, including those that focus on photography; management debates over the park's northern range, and much, much more.
The website for Gauley River, sadly, pales greatly in comparison. Its lefthand column is modest, even Spartan, offering just Plan Your Visit, History and Culture, Nature and Science, and Management options. The body of the page contains hot links for Directions, Operating Hours and Seasons, Fees and Reservations, and Riparian Assessment.
There is no specific section for Photos and Multimedia, or News, and nothing For Teachers or For Kids, and no way to Support Your Park. Now, if you root around the website you'll find some content, such as more details on whitewater adventures on the Gauley, a nice page that, when updated, lets you figure out both water levels on the Gauley and when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans releases from the Summersville Dam for the fall 2009 rafting season. And there's a link to American Whitewater's Gauley River page, which offers ample information on the Gauley.
Sadly, the History and Culture page offers only a time-line of human occupation in the area and the evolution of the rafting industry. And while some park websites go into rich detail with birding lists, flower lists, and faunal information, Gauley River's Nature and Science page on its face is highly generic, though you can download pdfs addressing the recreation area's riparian areas.
Now, this is not intended to serve as a critique of the Gauley River staff. Rather, it's to point to the inequities that exist across a system that is not supposed to have such inequities. Understandably, larger parks with more acreage, more infrastructure and more tourism traffic are going to require more money and staff. But if you accept that the National Park Service's web presence is the agency's, and the 391 units', main form of getting the word out of the wonders that exist within the National Park System, you'd hope there would be equity across the system.
They say President Obama is highly cognizant of the powers of the Internet, Let's hope he expects his agency heads to be just as cognizant and that they order some much-needed work on the Park Service sites.