Are parks still relevant?

There is an interesting article published in The Economist this month about declining visitation numbers in national parks, particularly among young Americans. The article, “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?,” concludes that today’s youth are more interested in roller coasters and techie entertainment than they are in our natural spaces.

“The National Park Service has all manner of explanations for its stagnating popularity. The simplest is that other forms of entertainment are distracting Americans from its charms. As Jonathan Jarvis, its director, put it in 2011: “There are times when it seems as if the national parks have never been more passé than in the age of the iPhone.” A spokesman cites the proliferation of middle-class holiday options in recent decades, from time-share accommodation that makes a regular stay at the beach affordable to family-focused developments in spots like central Florida and Las Vegas.”

Read the full article here.

In a world of Facebook, Wi-Fi and endless gadgets, this conclusion makes sense. Couple this with tough economic times and high gas prices, and it is no surprise that fewer families are taking road trips to America’s national parks.

There is something greatly unsettling about this trend. Because truly, it seems like Americans could benefit from parks and natural spaces now more than ever before.

As someone who is an established park lover, “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?” seems like a silly question. I go outside precisely because I have an iPhone … so I can turn it off, escape my screens, and get away from the hustle and bustle of my city, job and never-ending email. I’d venture to guess that many of my fellow park lovers feel the same way. The natural world is an amazing respite from our 21st Century lives.

Yet I only know the benefits because I have already been exposed to them and have experienced them first hand. Not everyone has had these experiences.

As the article goes on to explain, there are entire new generations growing up in America who don’t know what they are missing … because they have never been introduced to the parks, and they have no reason to be. They have no cultural connection, no personal history in the parks, and plenty of distractions to keep their attention elsewhere. America has become more diverse, but parks have not diversified their appeal.

Future-Park-LoversThis is an interesting challenge for an organization like ours. How can we make our natural spaces and parks relevant, accessible and important to ALL Americans? Our California state parks, in particular, offer an amazing array of natural, cultural and historical resources across the entire state. Whether or not Californians know about these places, prefer them as a destination or truly value them in their lives is a question we want to explore further.

Yesterday we held a meeting of the minds to discuss these very concepts. With a room full of diverse experts, we explored relevancy of state parks to the diverse California population, and the things that drive different people to explore and experience the outdoors. We plan to continue this work and hope you will stay engaged with us as we strive to engage more people with California state parks than ever before.

We truly believe that everyone can benefit from connecting with their state parks. If that means introducing parks to new generations of Californians and Americans, then we are up for the challenge.

What’s your response to, “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?”?

– Alexis Stoxen, California State Parks Foundation