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Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:19 am
by dbhguru
NTS,

In late October I'll be addressing the Massachusetts Friends Network that supports our state parks. Massachusetts parks have been devastated financially. It is time for citizen volunteers to play a bigger role in providing interpretive services and information on the attractions offered by each park. My initial shot over the bow is presented in the attachment. Ideas are welcomed. Citizen volunteers are well represented across the country in the many Friends groups. I'm sure there are no new ideas in what I wrote, but there are going to be better ways to implement.

Bob

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2011 12:32 pm
by bbeduhn
Bob,
It certainly can't hurt to urge factual and expanded information in our state parks. I'm astounded that these aren't typical goals of the park system. It sounds like laziness to me. Yes, budgets are being slashed but all it takes is a little research, much of it done on site and new signs being made. Motivation is the key and hopefully you provided it but it often falls on deaf ears.

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Wed Aug 17, 2011 4:55 pm
by edfrank
Bob,

I agree with your points overall. I wanted to add a couple of comments to what you have written.
Surprisingly, most parks fall short on their interpretive website presentations. Even when good interpretive staffs are available, the information passed to the public via the website on key features and attractions (except physical infrastructure) is often superficial and incomplete. At the worst, information is outdated, or just plain inaccurate. This leaves us in Massachusetts with a low-cost way of improving our services vis-a-vis the best-operated state parks in other states.
What I have found with various state park and National park Service websites is a bureaucratic zeal that everything be organized and presented in exactly the same matter. The same information must be at the same place and be exactly the same length on every park in the system. Something can be said for organization so that people can find a specific piece of information at the same place on each site. But that misses the point. What is needed is an organizational structure, but within that structure a primary section that features what is most important, unique, or valuable at that site. I don't want to sift through five layers of the NPS Gettysburg website to find out about the battle on the site. I don't want to hunt through four layers of menus to find out about geysers at the park. Each park needs to have front and foremost a section on what makes that park worth visiting. The standard structure can exist on the navigation bar along the side of the webpage - but we need to overcome the standardization menace to usability.
There are informal associations in existence now that accomplish this mission for particular properties (e.g. Mohawk), but we need to make the volunteer structure more formal, without “lawyering” it to death through burdensome procedures and reporting requirements.
There simply needs to be a one page form for volunteers to sign that allows them to fill in a blank space for what they are volunteering to do. Here in PA I signed one several years ago and I am still getting invitations to the volunteer picnic. Perhaps volunteering needs to be formalized in some manner to demonstrate legitimacy, but that formalization needs to be seriously minimalist, maybe even more so that you are imagining.
The volunteers could also be identified on the DCR website. I note that for the State of Illinois, individual park interpreters are identified in a list by name with contact information given. Altogether 18 parks are listed with interpreter name and phone number. Although we would not expect our volunteers to be available by telephone, I still think that recognition on the website is a good idea.
One option would be to give someone who volunteers a state email address for contacting them that could be posted. It would give them privacy and still allow them to be contacted. They could opt on the volunteer form to not have an email address assigned or posted.

Ed

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 6:55 am
by dbhguru
Ed,

Excellent points.

Brian,

There are several big reasons why interpretive information in our state parks, especially as provided via websites, is often of low quality and contains inaccuracies. Interpretive programming often lies at the tail-end of the financial chain. Maintaing the physical infrastructure and providing for overall visitor supervision and control rank higher. Park staffs often receive minimal education about their parks, their history and their natural features. Here is an example. When in Meeman Shelby, I went to the nature center and asked a new interpreter if she knew where there were any conspicuously large cottonwoods growing. She explained with slight embarrassment that the only way she knew cottonwoods were present was by their "cotton" wafting around during seed dispersal. Her supervisor had been present for 9 years and didn't know where to send me either. These were the park's naturalists.

My Meeman Shelby story could be recast in different garb dozens of times with respect to individual trees, tree species, forests, etc. as witnessed by Will Blozan and me in other state parks. One can seldom go to the official websites to get accurate and comprehensive information. Any one who attempts to gain a detailed understanding of the natural resources in their parks often encounters conflicting information on the official website. I don't know who produces the websites, but knowledge-wise they seldom know anything themselves, and rely on others who know little about the natural resources of a park.

When it comes to the outstanding trees, parks like Cook Forest State Park with its Dale Luthringer are the exception. But, move up the organizational ladder a notch and you won't find the specialized knowledge keeping pace. The higher you go, the less they know. There are exceptions, I suppose, where someone went up the ladder from an interpretive role and lots of on-the-ground knowledge, but the rule applies. So, if you don't get it at the bottom, you don't get it.

Bob

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:43 am
by bbeduhn
Bob,
I suppose that's how things work but that is really sad. How could someone enter into a park system job without a love of the outdoors and a little knowledge of the outdoors? Are most park administrators really a bunch of hacks who don't give a damn about their actual parks? If so, yikes! That doesn't bode well.

Even the Nature Conservancy, whom I hold in high esteem, seems to be content with invasive species ruining their lands. It's more than a little disconcerting. Money isn't really the issue. It's simply about caring.
Brian

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 10:37 am
by Rand
Bob,

You ever find anything at Meeman? I hiked along most of the trails the parallel the bluffs this summer and didn't see much in the line of cottonwoods, but the hoards of mosquitos chased me off the floodplain in short order.

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2011 8:24 pm
by dbhguru
Rand,

I got one Cottonwood at just over 144 feet on a pretty sloppy measurement. Others were in the 120s and a few in the 130s. Will and Jess were there in march when you could see much better. Yep, I also got mosquitoed out. The temperature was 96 and the humidity 90% on the day we were there. Darn near croaked. I will NOT go back in the summer.

Bob

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:04 am
by ElijahW
Bob, other ENTS,

What is your view of public vs. private parks and/or reserves? Are interpretive programs generally more helpful at a place like Biltmore or even its no-entrance-fee equivalent or the typical state or national park? If this is the case, maybe private management/ownership of these public places would be a beneficial experiment. This would have to be limited to tourism and/or research purposes, of course - no commercial logging. If a sufficient demand exists for America's unique forests and parks, the market would provide ample incentive for protection. I heard recently that PA is selling off many of its state parks to close (or lessen) its budget deficit. No doubt many of these places will be developed, but perhaps some could thrive as private reserves. Any thoughts?

Elijah

Re: Improving Our State Parks on a Shoestring Budget

Posted: Fri Aug 26, 2011 1:57 pm
by Joe
dbhguru wrote:Ed,

Excellent points.

Brian,

There are several big reasons why interpretive information in our state parks, especially as provided via websites, is often of low quality and contains inaccuracies. Interpretive programming often lies at the tail-end of the financial chain. Maintaing the physical infrastructure and providing for overall visitor supervision and control rank higher. Park staffs often receive minimal education about their parks, their history and their natural features. Here is an example. When in Meeman Shelby, I went to the nature center and asked a new interpreter if she knew where there were any conspicuously large cottonwoods growing. She explained with slight embarrassment that the only way she knew cottonwoods were present was by their "cotton" wafting around during seed dispersal. Her supervisor had been present for 9 years and didn't know where to send me either. These were the park's naturalists.

My Meeman Shelby story could be recast in different garb dozens of times with respect to individual trees, tree species, forests, etc. as witnessed by Will Blozan and me in other state parks. One can seldom go to the official websites to get accurate and comprehensive information. Any one who attempts to gain a detailed understanding of the natural resources in their parks often encounters conflicting information on the official website. I don't know who produces the websites, but knowledge-wise they seldom know anything themselves, and rely on others who know little about the natural resources of a park.

When it comes to the outstanding trees, parks like Cook Forest State Park with its Dale Luthringer are the exception. But, move up the organizational ladder a notch and you won't find the specialized knowledge keeping pace. The higher you go, the less they know. There are exceptions, I suppose, where someone went up the ladder from an interpretive role and lots of on-the-ground knowledge, but the rule applies. So, if you don't get it at the bottom, you don't get it.

Bob
WITHOUT A FUNCTIONING CIVIL SERVICE SYSTEM THE STATE OR ANY ORGANIZATION IS JUST ANOTHER MAFIA RACKET