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 in cooperation with Grand Canyon National Park. Participants included executives of companies operating in the national parks, providing overnight accommodations, meals and more to an estimated 100 million park visitors annually. Also participating were National Park Service (NPS) leaders, including both 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.
Both NPS Director Jarvis and NPF President Neil Mulholland referenced the 2016 Centennial of the National Park Service as an opportunity to unify the park community and to share information about the importance of the national parks across America and the world. They expressed their excitement about a brand new initiative to engage a world class agency in this effort – the Grey Group.
During 2013, Grey will undertake key research on public awareness of and attitude towards parks and begin the process of developing creative materials which can be used by the park family in a coordinated way. Mulholland outlined the importance of fully engaging the park community in the effort and discussed key opportunities in the initial research and creative design phases.