President Trump signaled his commitment to the National Parks by donating his first quarter’s salary to their upkeep.
America’s nationhood is based upon ideals. America’s National Parks are the physical touchstones that reaffirm who we are and why we are.
America remains America if our Parks remain integral to our lives. It means making our Parks relevant and relatable to all Americans through the 21st Century and beyond.
National Parks have three primary customers. Each requires diverse actions to meet their needs. Visitors are one customer. However, the environmental and historical resources a Park protects are also customers with their own unique needs.
Making sure a Park’s plants and animals are healthy and thriving is grounded in science linked to creativity. The 1995 reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park was a master stroke that is improving the Park’s environment on a daily basis.
Making sure the historical resources of a Park remain viable is a daunting challenge. Natural parks even have historic structures, sites, and viewsheds. Time, the elements, and visitors constantly assault this historic fabric and context. A leaky roof today may become a collapsed one a year later. Unfortunately, Park maintenance has been neglected by presidents and the Congress far too long.
Making sure visitors gain the intended insights, and leave with a sense of civic renewal, is complex. Young people no longer bring to their Park experience the language, historical, geographical, or scientific knowledge of previous generations.
There exist highly successful best practices that will help President Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and the Park Service address these challenges.
Expanding Partnerships – Every National Park should have its own Friends Group, corporate partners, and, where appropriate, Cooperating Association.
Lack of funding has devastated America’s National Parks for more than a generation. There are less than 100 Friends groups among the 415 National Parks. These groups are formed by local citizens and chartered by the Department of Interior. Friends groups generate support within the communities surrounding each Park. Partners can supplement Park resources with volunteers to staff special events. They also serve as advocates to win preservation battles.
Cooperating Associations are another vital Park partner. These groups run Park bookstores, build a membership base, raise funds, and co-develop and present interpretive programs.
Corporate partners have provided vital funds for major maintenance projects. Target raised $5 million to help repair the Washington Monument in 2000, while Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacoccca, spearheaded raising $36 million for the restoration of the Statute of Liberty in the 1980s.
Embedding Parks in schools – Young people must grow up with National Parks being an important part of their life. Parks need to be a learning resource. This will help the next generation embrace the role Parks play in preserving America’s civic culture.
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (HFNHP) has been at the forefront of highly successful education initiatives. In 1988, the Park partnered with the local county schools to create an award winning living history immersion. Each year the Park provides educational material to local K-12 schools, including a full day Civil War simulation where students experience being raw recruits.
In 2009, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground and HFNHP developed “Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student” video workshops. Eighth grade students studied a major Park theme (i.e. John Brown’s 1859 raid) and then, working with media coaches, wrote, acted, directed, and produced short videos on some aspect of that theme. The multiple avenues of learning, from history to film making, has become a national model for engaging young people.
Making Parks virtual – iPhone and Android screens have become our window to the world. Bringing the Park to the visitor, creating unique experiences, is one way of engaging more people, without expanding the number of Park staff.
Recently, HFNHP launched “Time Trek” which uses smart phones and virtual reality to immerse young people in history. They peer through their smart phone cameras with images from historical story lines overlaying their surroundings.
Google Street View now has technology for mapping trails and off-road environments. “Guide by Cell” and applications like “Wikitude” and “Detour” enable nonlinear tourism. Imagine virtually hiking the Appalachian Trail from your own home or having real time access to experts in a park you are visiting.
President Trump’s and Secretary Zinke’s leadership and vision can make Parks Great Again.
Scot Faulkner is President of Friends of Harpers Ferry National Park and a former Trustee of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground.
Scot Faulkner is the best-selling author of: "Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution." He also served as the first chief administrative officer of the U.S. House, and was director of personnel for the Reagan campaign and went on to serve in the presidential transition team and on the White House staff. During the Reagan administration, he held executive positions at the FAA, the GSA, and the Peace Corps. Read more of Scot Faulker, Go Here Now.
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