Nearly 150 leaders of the American national park community gathered at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Grand Canyon National Park for a five-day discussion of opportunities and concerns.
The meeting, Grand Thoughts at the Grand Canyon, was organized by the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) in cooperation with Grand Canyon National Park. Participants included executives of companies operating in the national parks, providing overnight accommodations and meals to an estimated 100 million park visitors annually, according to a news release.
Also participating were National Park Service (NPS) leaders, including Director Jon Jarvis and Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell, and the presidents of both the National Park Foundation (NPF) and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
The meeting also attracted key leaders from the telecommunications and entertainment industries and national tourism leaders, including state tourism directors. Grand Thoughts was held at the Grand Canyon Lodge, a structure built in 1928 that continues today to provide an inspiring perspective on America’s natural beauty.
Tom Kiernan, president of NPCA, described unity among the parks community and a focus on long-term communications and funding as essential to achieve a “Bending of the Curve.” He described the current situation facing parks on both funding and visitation as downward. “We are at a crossroads,” he told the group, “but through unified action we can ‘Bend the Curve.’”
The program featured nearly a dozen keynote presentations and special panels. Leading off the program was Brent Young, founder and creative director for Studio 78, a top creator of theme park attractions and innovative film concepts globally. He touted the use of “Augmented Reality” as a part of park visits. Among his suggestions was using geospatial information to share what has occurred at the same spot at which visitors stand today – from battlefields to scenic overlooks. He told the group that a walk with a holographic ranger was technically feasible even today, and that leisure-time forces like theme parks and the film industry are investing heavily in technology that is then available to museums and parks at a greatly reduced cost.
New strategies to boost the financial and manpower resources available in national parks were another key topic of discussion. Participants learned about successes in related fields – including the rebuilding of Chicago’s lakeshore through a public/private partnership – and discussed new ideas ranging from a Penny for Parks proposal, which is connected with pending discussions regarding national surface transportation policy, to issues that could be addressed in conjunction with reauthorization of federal recreation fees, necessary by December 2014.
According to a new public opinion poll commissioned by the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), national parks are “cherished by an overwhelming 95% of likely voters who want the federal government to ensure the parks are both protected and available for enjoyment.”
According to a press release, the new poll finds that more than 80% of those likely to vote in 2012 have visited a national park at some point in their lives, nearly nine in 10 say they are interested in visiting a park in the future and 60% want to stay overnight in a park lodge. National parks are viewed as embodying the American experience, and voters want to see them “enjoyed, honored, cherished, and cared for, not left to crumble into disrepair.”
“From the Everglades to Gettysburg and Yellowstone, our national parks are American icons and inspire visitors from across the world, supporting urban and rural economies nationwide,” said Tom Kiernan, NPCA president. “This poll is a clear indication that voters want to see them preserved and protected for the future.”
Nearly nine in 10 voters see national parks as an important and appropriate federal responsibility. And even in these challenging fiscal times, very few voters from either side of the political aisle say the federal government should be cutting back on funding for national parks.
“The American people understand that national parks are gifts from the past to treasure today and bequeath to future generations of Americans,” said Derrick Crandall, counselor for the NPHA and president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC). “Our nation’s leaders – regardless of party – can’t allow differences on other issues to obscure the unifying force of our national parks.”
The poll of likely voters indicates that they associate national parks with key priorities and American values. Nearly 90% of voters think that candidates who prioritize national parks are seen as caring about the environment, protecting our heritage for the future, patriotic, and a good steward of our nation’s resources.
And as the National Park Service approaches its centennial in 2016, a majority of likely voters (77%) say it is important for the next president to ensure that parks are fully restored and ready to serve and be relevant to future generations in their second century.