The National Park Service (NPS) will use $1 billion in federal stimulus funds to attack an estimated $9.6 billion maintenance backlog among the park system’s 388 properties.
“This is going to make a major dent in our backlog. And it will provide jobs,” Dean Reeder, NPS national tourism director, told state campground association leaders during the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC) 2009 National Issues Conference last week in Washington, D.C.
Also speaking at the conference were U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ARVC consultant David Gorin, David M. Huether, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, Suzanne D. Cook, senior vice president of research for the U.S. Travel Association, Carvin DiGiovanni, senior director of technical and standards for the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals, Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), Lyle Laverty, a consultant and former assistant secretary of the Interior, Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Phil Ingrassia, vice president for communications for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
Reeder said that NPS plans to promote the national parks as a “brand” and establish “a dialogue with the American public” in an effort to stem declining visitation, which has dropped 10% in the last 20 years. He termed “a crisis.”
“It should be a concern to all of us,” he said.
Reeder, on the other hand, said that Americans are returning to basics and seeking “more authentic experiences” in their travel. “And that’s what we offer,” Reeder noted.
As part of the NPS’ branding effort, he reported that the park system will conduct a national survey in the fall and establish focus groups to establish the national parks as a brand.
“The fact that people are looking to take shorter trips — in both distance and duration — we see as a positive,” Reeder said. “The national parks are great and they’re doing great … except that they haven’t kept pace with other alternatives that attract people when they travel. We are getting into that to understand what motivates people and how we can hone our message to reach them at a base level.”
Reeder said branding efforts will get a boost this fall with the telecast on PBS of a 12-hour series produced by Ken Burns, whose previous projects have included the Civil War and American jazz. It’s the best branding gift we are ever going to see,” Reeder added.