Podcasting the National Parks

Apple's iPodBack in January the National Parks Traveler reported on the Park Service serving up a new radio station on the National Mall in Washington D.C. At the end of the article, Kurt states: "Most people walk [the Mall] ... and aren't toting a transistor radio. While your kids might be armed with an iPod or similar MP3 player, I'll bet they're not tuning into the NPS."

That comment had me thinking about what direction the National Park Service should be taking with their public outreach programs. With CDs, satellite radio, iPods, and even DVDs holding our attention in the car, has the age of low-power limited reach AM radio information systems passed? I don't know the answer for today, but I do know that AM radio is definitely not the future. Communications technology changes so rapidly. The hot new iPod you bought last year has already been outdated by newer siblings. Wireless internet technology is replaced with faster technology every year, leaving the old hardware to gather dust. Then there are cell phones with constantly changing functionality: photos, music, and internet. If it's hard for the retail industry to keep up with these changes, imagine what it must be like for the cash-strapped Parks trying to guess or adapt to what the next big communications technology will be.

What about a blog? It wouldn't cost much. But as a visitor, you can't really take a blog with you on your trip. So today, I had an "ah ha" moment when I read that Glacier National Park is experimenting with podcasts on their website. I think this may be the answer! What is a podcast you ask? Simply stated, a podcast is an audio or video file that can be played by most modern personal audio players like Apple's iPod and some newer cell phones. Podcast are stored on websites where they can be downloaded over the internet. The cost to produce these podcasts is minimal. In it's most simple form, a podcast can be recorded with only a microphone and a computer. Imagine the opportunity to download audio information on your iPod from your hotel room the night before your big adventure into a national park. I'm even wondering if there would be a way to download the most recent podcasts from within a typical Visitor Center to your MP3 player, while you are in the park.

Visitors would get to pick which information is most relevant to them on their journey. Are you going to be camping? Download the podcast about camping resources. Are you specifically interested in the park fauna? Download the podcasts for Roosevelt Elk and for Marmots. Have kids? Download the podcast created just for children 8 - 11 years old. There could be podcasts for park history, seasonal information, and expert commentary. What about podcasts from different perspectives? How might a Custer historian interpret the battle at Little Bighorn compared to a Sioux historian? Download both podcasts and hear for yourself! There are many ways a technology like podcasts can be applied to the specific stories being told in each park around the country.

Podcasts work because they are built on top of a mpeg technology which is already over 10 years old and has stood the test of technology time. So, even while new audio devices change every 6 months, the audio format they play is old (in computer years). The Park Service could create content today that could be listened to again and again for some years to come. What do you think? Glacier is asking for feedback on their webpage. I would be interested to hear your thoughts about it here too.


Podcasting becomes a strong outreach tool as the number of mp3 players sold continues to grow. It is a great idea with strong potential. Even stronger when you think of program delivery in multiple languages. Great story!