In a nod to the shift from the experience to transformative economy in site management and interpretation, Parks Canada has been placing red chairs in scenic locations around its National Parks. These are designed to not only provide a passive viewpoint experience of natural heritage and landscape, but also generate a proactive sense of adventure in the visitor (the transformative bit) who is encouraged to seek out the locations where the benches have been placed.
The programme has been running for around three years, having started in Gros Morne National Park and has featured in social media and advertising across the country, with each Park taking its own approach to promotion. The hashtags #ShareTheChair and #TimeToConnect hook in to the idea of shared outdoor experience and connecting with nature to bring about wider wellbeing.
The chairs themselves have heritage background, built in the Adirondack or Muskoka style, are bright red and carry the Parks Canada organisational logo. The chairs can also be bought from the Parks Canada website (children and adult sizes available).
It is an interesting approach by the organisation, though has attracted some criticism – but as a site intervention of experiential design which incorporates a call to action, heritage, branding, visual stimulus, and landscape interpretation, it is effective. I hope to capture my own red chair moments in the next month and will no doubt participate in #ShareTheChair as I encourage a couple of teenagers to disconnect from their phones for a moment.
In the UK, we have seen smaller scale equivalents at individual sites with National Trust branded deckchairs, and very subtly branded picnic benches at English Heritage sites.
The Suffolk Wildlife Trust hasa reserve at Framlingham Mere, adjacent to Framlingham Castle, managed by English Heritage.
Wicken Fen is a major National Trust property in Cambridgeshire, and a National Nature Reserve. The fen is a reminder of what so much of this part of Cambridgeshire would have looked like at the beginning of the twentieth century – and a reminder of what drainage and modern agriculture has done to these former wetland landscapes. There is a huge bio-diversity in the fen that makes it well worth a visit.
The National Trust Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve is the home to one of the largest numbers of species and sub-species on any nature reserve in England. The extensive reed beds are home to marsh harriers and dragonflies, there is a dedicated butterfly walk, and kingfishers can be seen on Wicken Lode.
But this was also a working landscape. The reeds and sedge grasses were harvested for thatching and making reed mats, and the waterways provided food in the form of eels. The National Trust has preserved a fen cottage to remind us of what life was like on the fen. There is also a fenman’s workshop giving an idea of the range of activities that would have taken place.