Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Ranger in a Strange Land: Park Podcasts

From an NPS press release:
Cast Away: Park Rangers Take Public on Podcasting Adventure

WASHINGTON – All across the country, park rangers are turning into podcasters. Hundreds of brief audio and video programs are up on park websites and on iTunes giving visitors a new national park experience. People can learn about park resources, take a guided tour, get help planning trips, and, best of all, meet actual rangers.

“While nothing can replace a personal experience in a national park, we think our podcasts will enhance people’s trips or give them the opportunity to learn about a park that they can’t visit,” said Mary A. Bomar, Director of the National Park Service. “Whether people download them to portable devices or watch them on their computers, these free electronic presentations give us another way to serve park enthusiasts of all ages.”

Learn About Parks

Many parks offer interpretive podcasts about wildlife, history, and topical issues like climate change and fire management. The most extensive collection of park podcasts is from Yellowstone National Park where they are reaching out to new and nontraditional audiences to spark an interest in visiting the park. The Inside Yellowstone series has more than 50 episodes, which are one to two minutes in length. More episodes are on the way.

“Our podcasts give people from every corner of the earth the chance to fall in love with Yellowstone and become its stewards for the future,” said George Heinz, one of the writers and on-screen personalities for the podcast series. The park has another online series called Yellowstone InDepth that presents mini-documentaries on subjects like volcanoes, invasive species, bears, and wolves.

Yosemite National Park launched a new monthly podcast called Yosemite Nature Notes. A printed publication of the same name began in the 1920s and existed for five decades. “Just like the earlier version of Nature Notes, our podcasts tell Yosemite’s stories from the perspective of the people who work here,” said Steve Bumgardner, videographer and producer at Yosemite National Park. “I like the idea that we’ve brought this institution back to life and that we use new media to put a personal face on the National Park Service.”

“My favorite podcast about Canyonlands National Park is the one on potholes,” said Carter, an 8-year-old visitor who watched all of the park’s podcasts before his trip. “It was so interesting to learn that tiny creatures are living in a bunch of dirt.” Carter’s sister Brooke, 11, appreciated knowing how to recognize cryptobiotic soils so she didn’t walk on the delicate crust. Their mother, Tiffani, thought the podcasts empowered her kids and said, “they loved being the experts and teaching us (their parents) what they learned while we walked around the park.”

Take a Guided Tour

In addition to general information, podcasts are a great way to offer ranger-led tours of specific areas that people can enjoy on their own schedule. More and more people download guided tours onto their iPods or mp3 players prior to their national park trip. When they arrive, they literally have a ranger in the palm of their hand to guide them on a walking or driving tour.

At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, people stop at overlooks along the South Rim Road and watch podcasts about geology, history, life, and recreation at those exact spots. Everglades National Park also has a car tour (audio only) that leads listeners on a guided exploration down the main park road. Four civil war battlefields – Gettysburg, Antietam, Petersburg, and Richmond – offer podcasts that allow you to walk or drive along as you listen to an NPS historian talk about decisive and dramatic battles.

Urban parks use podcast tours to reach local residents who may not know much about the parks they pass every day. For example, residents in Minneapolis and St. Paul can listen to information about Mississippi National River and Recreation Area while walking a four-mile loop near the river. Residents of Washington D.C. can download walking tours for Rock Creek Park and people in St. Louis can do the same for Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Plan a Trip

Visitors already use the internet to research park trips, but now podcasts make it more personal. “It’s a blast when visitors hear my voice and recognize me from the podcast,” said Elysha Iversen, Wilderness Visitor Use Assistant at Grand Canyon National Park. “It tells me that we actually reach people and help them plan their hikes before they get here.” Iversen and others record podcasts with important safety information about trail conditions. The park also offers hiking and river running orientation videos as podcasts and will soon, launch new podcasts about Leave No Trace to help people reduce their recreational impacts.

Glacier National Park offers videos online about hiking, and rangers say the programs speed up the backcountry permit process. “Rather than having to watch the video at the permit station which is required, more and more visitors have watched it online ahead of time,” said Bill Hayden, Interpretive Specialist.

Other parks help people plan trips with podcasts, too. Visitors can learn about recreational activities at Curecanti National Recreation Area, like fishing, hiking, and camping. Katmai National Park and Preserve has an audio podcast weaving together music, stories, and tips for reaching that remote wilderness area.

Take a Virtual Tour

While not available for download like podcasts, virtual tours give people a park experience right on their home computer. For example, Clara Barton National Historic Site offers a virtual tour of Barton’s home, a building that served as the national headquarters for the American Red Cross. The tour allows visitors to navigate through all three levels of the house and gives access to images, text, and audio clips.

Acadia National Park has an eCruise along the rocky shores of Mount Desert Island and Glacier National Park offers eHikes that take visitors through stunning wilderness areas among glaciers, wildflowers, and bears. The experiences really have visitors buzzing. One man wrote, “I am a fighter pilot in Iraq…and it makes my day when I can take a hike in Glacier even if it’s from behind my computer.” A teacher from Michigan said, “the virtual hikes are awesome for a classroom project I am doing with my 5th graders.” And, another visitor remarked, “they are perhaps the next best thing to actually being there.”

New virtual tours are coming soon: Zion National Park will release an eHike for Angel’s Landing; Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks will launch eHikes that go through the Sierra Nevada foothills or among the giant sequoias; and the Statue of Liberty will provide an eTour covering Liberty Island, the inside of Lady Liberty, and a 360-degree view from her crown.

Some worry that creating podcasts and virtual tours about national parks may keep people, especially children, disconnected from the actual places. “Personally, I don’t think that people are going to give up on the real thing,” said Todd Edgar, Media Specialist at Acadia National Park. “After learning about parks from our online resources, people want to get outside and explore on their own.”

For many other national park podcasts and virtual tours, go to If a park unit offers online programs, you will find them by clicking on “Photos and Multimedia” in the left navigation bar of the park’s home page. The following list provides links for the podcasts mentioned above:

Acadia NP | Antietam National Battlefield | Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP | Canyonlands NP | Clara Barton National Historic Site | Curecanti National Recreation Area | Everglades NP | Gettysburg National Military Park | Glacier NP | Grand Canyon NP | Jefferson National Expansion Memorial | Katmai National Park and Preserve | Mississippi National River & Rec. Area | Petersburg National Battlefield | Richmond National Battlefield | Rock Creek Park | Yellowstone NP | Yosemite NP


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