Today I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the State Park Advisory Council (SPAC) at Bear Brook State Park. The location was chosen in order for the Council to visit a former 4-H camp within the park that had been discontinued and turned back over to the park service. The camp would best be described as rustic with parts still in good shape but others definitely in need of a little TLC.
That highlights an interesting dilemma for the parks. In many ways, the camp is an asset that could possibly generate some revenue but in others it’s just a liability – something else that needs attention and maintenance. Either way, for the time being it’s a distraction from the bigger issues facing the parks. Fortunately, everyone in this group has a positive half-full attitude so hopefully a use for it will be found.
The meeting was mostly a status report where the parks staff updated the Council on budgets and major issues. I’m guessing the “advise and act as advocate” aspect of the Council happens within subcommittees or outside the actual meetings. I know from my own non-profit experience that much gets accomplished behind the scenes and these are folks who clearly love the parks and want to see them prosper. I did sort of get the impression that this Council is winding down, although from the website it appears the Council will continue for 4 more years. In 2009 they had 10 meetings but last year they were down to 5. Regardless, several expressed interest in this blog so I’ll continue to record my observations as an “interested party”, trying to keep them as fresh and honest as I possibly can.
I’ll use the rest of this blog for a few unconnected comments.
I wanted to mention that just last week I finally saw my first state park license other than my own. It was in Hanover, which, as it’s so far from most of the fee-based state parks, would be more indicative of someone who wishes to support the parks than someone who is trying to save a few bucks in entrance fees. That’s a good thing. Today at the SPAC meeting, I saw at least one more and I expect I’ll see more nearer the seacoast.
The website has two conflicting links to the SPAC, one listing it as the Council and the other as the Committee. Both are active depending on what link you click, although the committee page is out of date.
I’m convinced even more of the need for local assistance from “friends” groups, snowmobile clubs, and the like. Clearly New Hampshire’s budget woes will continue for some time and these groups have 3 very important benefits: 1) a source of volunteers who can get tasks done if they are needed and can be mobilized, 2) a source of ideas and expertise from dedicated advocates who know the parks’ strengths and weaknesses, and 3) a source of local advocates for the park who can voice the parks’ interests to local governments and other groups. I’m pleased to see that the SPAC has that very item listed on their to-do list for the fall. My blog about Rollins SP mentioned the need for one in that area. I wonder if it’s time to create the “Friends of NH State Parks”.
I hear much talk about “branding” with the “Live Free and …” tourism campaign being rolled out. “Live Free and Recreate” would be a good slogan for the parks. But a bigger problem in my mind is the very diversity of parks doesn’t give the public a clear picture of what to expect at any one park. Using my own experience as an example, until a few weeks ago the parks named Rollins, Winslow, and Wadleigh meant nothing to me and the signage said nothing. The signs on the interstate either say nothing or “no camping”. If I was running an attraction, the first thing I’d do is let people know what’s there. I had virtually no idea what to expect and even a careful reading of the descriptions on the website doesn’t prepare one properly. How was I to know that Wadleigh is unstaffed or that Rollins is padlocked shut until Memorial Day? In a way, each park needs to be branded and identified with two or three activities that represent the most important aspect of the park.
Another challenge is that the promotional materials (I got a copy of the newest parks brochure today – it’s beautiful) devote an equal amount of space to each park, no matter how small. I’m sure the Nansen Wayside doesn’t deserve as much attention as Umbagog Lake State Park, but the two get equal billing on the brochure and website. Maybe they need to be given ratings based on attendance, or link within the website to user ratings in TripAdvisor and Yelp. Suppose you wanted to use the search-by-activity feature. It would be terrific to then sort the results by region, price, or popularity, instead of the nice neat alphabetic listing you get now.
If promotional materials were to actively promote the top 10 parks by popularity, or the top 5 by category, it would be much easier to promote them in the brochures, on the website, or at the state welcome and tourist centers. For that matter, why can’t each park have something that promotes the rest of the park system? “If you liked this park, you may want to visit…” Hand something out to visitors other than the usual list of “don’ts” (don’t camp, don’t walk your dog, don’t play with fire, etc.). Encourage folks to “collect” parks by handing out a sticker unique to the park that can be put on the map or in a small booklet. Maybe kids (or adults) can receive cards, similar to trading cards or to the wildlife cards put out by non-game & endangered species division.
I could go on and on but it’s late and I’ll have to save those ideas for the next blog. A few quick notes about Bear Brook State Park: It was quite buggy today and would probably be pretty miserable until the dragonflies come out and start eating up the mosquitoes. But the landscape looks gentle and is probably a great place for a scenic hike, not strenuous, but more of a casual stroll. It’s amazing that there’s a property so big and wild yet so close to Concord and Manchester. I look forward to coming back and seeing more of this park.
As a final note, I must have seen at least 50 red efts in the short half-mile walk we took today, including some of the smallest ones I’ve ever seen. The ones in my yard at home are all pretty much the same size but some that I saw today were less than an inch long. Maybe that’s just what you expect in other parts of the state but it was pretty interesting to me. Here’s one for the blog. Happy travels little fellow!