How public relations helps parks reduce visitor impacts.

Photo by Aniket Deole via Unsplash

By: Hannah Manoucheri

Most people claim to love the outdoors, but do they really? It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s full of animals and bugs and it’s certainly not most people’s cup of tea. However, for the people that do enjoy it, there’s a lot of PR work that goes into the promotion of recreation opportunities and preservation of natural lands and National Parks.

As a public relations student at Chico State, I declared my minor in recreation administration in hopes of finding easy coursework that would break up the routine of the work we do in the PR program. Not only did the coursework prove to be harder than expected, but this challenge also showed me a new field of public relations that hadn’t interested me until now.

A developing trend that I found in my work under the Recreation Hospitality and Parks Management department at Chico State is the impact that social media marketing is having on the National Parks System. As spots such as Mesa Arch in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park become more popular online, the influx of visitors that result affect the park’s carrying capacity, leaving staff unequipped to deal with the number of visitors and the footprints they leave behind.

When faced with a problem that forces the park system to stop marketing a park in fear of damaging the space, public relations professionals are forced to create strategies to avoid potential damage to a park while maintaining their attendance rates. One of these solutions involves the removal of geotags on park pictures and the practice of “Thoughtful Tagging”.

Strategies like thoughtful tagging that involve tagging general areas like county or state names are a way to create interest for a park and still maintain retention rates for park attendance. Strategies like these provoke the visitor to feel like more of a responsible patron and reveal the importance of a specific park to specific audiences.

These processes to provoke and reveal are what “Parkies” (people who work in natural resource management) call interpretation. Interpretation is like the PR of the environmental science world. It takes deep root in the National Park System as a way to show the value of natural resources to visitors. As the ways we process information have changed, we’ve seen a rise in the intermixing of PR and Interpretation in online platforms run by the NPS. 

Interpretation is a vital part of the park management and customer service process and can be found almost anywhere. From signage about memorials to brochures and stickers available at ranger stations and information centers, the growth of public relations for Outdoor Recreation providers has led to the divergence of traditional Interpretation in favor of newer, more tech-forward solutions. As a result, some modern forms of interpretation are starting to look more like PR.

The outdoor recreation industry will always have a need for PR. If you can master how to provoke and reveal the whole of an issue to someone in the voice of your client, you can find a space in outdoor recreation.