Keeping up with the US National Park Service

Given my research interest in the inner workings of heritage and conservation organisations (i.e. how they manage themselves and communicate their management role to stakeholders) I used to be a regular reader of the NPS Morning Report. Issued by the Visitor Resource & Protection office, it was very much focused on operational issues, but always gave insights into the way in which the Park operations responded and adapted to different situations and events.

Since the demise of the Morning Report, I now read the weekly NPS Green & Gray Report instead, which is issued by the Office of Communications and is much more focused on wider communication of NPS activities to external audiences as well as internal employees and stakeholder partners.

From an external standpoint, the evolution of the organisation’s management communication has been interesting to see in terms of ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ and of course reflects the NPS’s broader mission for engaging the widest audiences and supporters for the Parks which has grown over the past decade.

Discussion document on National Marine Parks

The Blue Marine Foundation has recently published a report which considers the idea of National Marine Parks in the UK, and sets out proposals for how they might be established using local partnership models which build on current environmental protection designations.

Map of current landscape designations around the UK.
Current landscape designations highlighted in report (Blue Marine Foundation)

The report recognises the opportunities which the pandemic has brought around raised recognition of environmental issues, and the opportunities which communities have with connecting or re-connecting in enhanced ways with the natural environment to promote wellbeing and generate sustainable economic benefits.

The report also highlights the relatively limited connections which many coastal communities have with management of the blue resource adjacent to them currently, and flags Plymouth Sound National Marine Park as a potential management model for increasing and widening stakeholder engagement in dynamic ways. It also highlights success of the World Heritage Site designation for the Jurassic Coast, generating £111 million annually for the economies of Dorset and Devon.

Recognition is made of the deep heritage connections which coastal communities have with the sea, and the proposed sites for National Marine Parks build on the distinct natural and cultural characteristics of these locations around the country.

The labelling of an area brings recognition and discussion, and the report’s proposals for National Marine Parks is an intriguing prospect which I hope will gain traction.

National Park Week (USA)

National Park Week logo

National Park Week in the USA has just finished, organised (of course) by the National Park Service and supported by the National Park Foundation. This year, there have been more virtual events unsurprisingly than ever before, along with daily themes around which social media content was focused such as Transformation Tuesday, Earth Day, and Junior Ranger Day. Twitter even rolled out a Covid-friendly Park Ranger emoji complete with mask to accompany the related hashtags for the week #findyourpark

The Presidential Proclamation from the White House noted the healing power of connection with nature, and the opportunities for the NPS as an organisation to engage ever more equitably with the communities it serves.

This year’s Park Week also saw the anticipated launch of the NPS app, which brings together a range of handy visitor information about parks and sites in the National Park System, along with maps and links to interpretation materials. The app takes the design principles of the Unigrid further into the digital realm (Those who recognise our guidebook and signage obsessions on this blog will realise I’ll inevitably be coming back anon on this….).

The app’s first iteration is good and, even though somewhat afar sitting in the UK, I have already lost a number of hours playing with it – and am now mentally planning future trips back to the States to try it out on location.

Park Week details for this year, along with resources from previous celebrations can be found here: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/national-park-week.htm

A sense of place: stories of stewardship from the National Park Service

In the treasure trove of the US National Park Service administrative history resources which highlight the thinking behind the management processes and development of the organisation I have recently stumbled across a set of podcasts which were originally produced as part of an oral history project with the Association of National Park Rangers (ANPR).

The interviews with retired Rangers and other NPS staff provide fascinating glimpses into personal histories intimately tied into the Service’s activities and more tellingly, ethos, ideas and philosophy – and where individuals see their role in the wider development trajectory for the organisation as a whole. The podcast episodes range across a broad range of management activity in the Parks which is public-facing, but also takes in the work behind the scenes to support that front line activity and lead to overall Park and Service development and ideas of what stewardship means corporately and individuallt.

The episodes are a real pleasure to listen to – not least because one of them touches on my own particular obsession around ‘official guides’ to sites, considering the history of NPS publications and site brochure design principles.

Link to the podcast series: A Sense of Place

Academic journals: Journal of Park and Recreation Administration

Journal summary: The Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (JPRA) is the official publication of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. The Academy is an organization of distinguished practitioners and scholars committed to the advancement of park and recreation administration. The Journal was established by the Academy to bridge the gap between research and practice for administration, educators, consultants, and researchers.
One of the leading journals in the park and recreation industry, JPRA was launched in 1983 to encourage scholarly research and the advancement of knowledge for best management practices and delivery services. JPRA provides a forum for the analysis of management and organization of the delivery of park, recreation, and leisure services. JPRA will publish distinguished original manuscripts that will accomplish the following:
– move theoretical management concepts forward in the field of park and recreation administration
– provide clear implications of theory and research for problem solving and action in park and recreation organizations.

Publisher: Sagamore

Website: https://js.sagamorepub.com/jpra

Access: Subscription; some open access

Journal type: Academic peer-reviewed

The US National Parks system as a political pawn causing untold damage

The current Government shutdown in the USA caused by the political dispute over President Trump’s demand for funding for a wall along the US border with Mexico is having significant negative effects on the historic environment and nature conservation of the ‘treasured’ National Parks system, as well as related agencies falling within the realm of the Department of the Interior.

During this shutdown 80% of the employees of the NPS have been furloughed, leaving only skeleton staff mainly for policing and security.

It has been reported that the National Parks Service is losing $400,000 per day by not collecting admissions revenue where parks and heritage sites charge, quite apart from wider revenue lost from concessions, campgrounds, retail and hospitality. There have been widespread reports of significant human health, pollution and threats to nature and ecosystems, with sanitation sites overflowing and litter not being collected. Questions have also been asked on why sites have been left accessible, rather than simply closing the various NPS units/sites altogether.

Maintenance backlogs and acute maintenance/management issues are building due to the impact of weather at this time of the year also. It is not a pretty picture – foremost for the dedicated NPS staff who are not being paid, many of which are trying to keep things going on a voluntary basis, secondly for the long-term damage being done to the natural and cultural resources of the Park System which has been heralded as “America’s Best Idea”, and thirdly for the unfortunate political circumstances whereby the environment (in its broadest form) comes low down in the pecking order when Government faces a crisis.

The Lake District and UNESCO World Heritage Status

IMG_0196
Castlerigg Stone Circle © David Gill

The Lake District in north-west England was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017 [UNESCO]. The listing notes, “a distinctive cultural landscape which is outstanding in its harmonious beauty, quality, integrity and on-going utility and its demonstration of human interaction with the environment”.

The Save the Lake District group wishes to protect this internationally recognised landscape from any further damage. The group is calling on the Lake District National Park to take steps to protect this fragile environment. The issue surrounds the use of the so-called ‘Green Roads‘.

The concerns are covered by the BBC: “Lake District authority ‘violating World Heritage status’“, BBC News 14 April 2018.