Over the past few months I’ve seen article after article about how the average age of visitors to National Parks is on the rise. No one really knows why as the reason is almost as elusive as whether or not global warming is really happening. One thing is for sure though, everyone seems to be focused on pinning the lack of interest on the kids and the interference of technology. I couldn’t disagree more.
Why? Well here’s the thing. I grew up in a family that thought nothing of taking my brother and I (as a 5 year old and an infant) to the White Mountains National Forest, Assateague National Seashore, and a bunch of other national treasures. We grew up in these places, and now that both of us are in our 20’s we don’t think it’s strange at all to spend a weekend romping around these places with family, friends, and significant others. Our parents managed to instill a total respect of nature and natural wonders in us when we were growing up, and some things just don’t go away.
As for technology, if you want to get people outside there is no better way to do it than with technology. Do you want proof? Do a Google Image search for Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, and Glacier National Park. If your heart didn’t speed up for a moment as you looked at those images, you probably ought to just start with a walk in the park. But if it did, you just experienced the glory of National Parks AND technology. The power of visitors sharing what they see and feel only makes more people want to visit and experience it themselves in person. So go ahead, bring your camera, your iPad, and whatever other device you have with Instagram fired up and ready to go. Share everything and anything you got on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. The world is way more interested in seeing your photographic take on the Haystacks at Ecola State Park than another duck face mirror shot. Trust me.
So what can be done to get people (of all ages) back into the National Parks? A few things.
First off, parents, to-be parents, and someday parents – learn to love the outdoors and pass the love on to your kids. It’s going to mean getting dirty and bug bitten. You might get some scratches and bruises, but those only add character. You’re going to drive, hike, and run in circles, probably get lost, and have a run in with a wild animal. Your kids are going to scare you a few times (I know I did), but they’ll thank you later in life for giving them a chance to figure out their limits. In the end, you’ll be proud to have raised a kid who can do so much.
Second, when you’re planning for a National Park trip – don’t cut technology out. Pack your camera, a backup camera, your GoPro, Contour, or just be ready to strap your cell phone to your head. Share your excitement about your upcoming trip on your social networks and encourage your kids to do the same. Once you’re on the road, go nuts sharing pictures and bragging about the stuff you see. Worst case scenario, you’ll have a few thousand pictures to go through when you get back home and you might be annoyed to the brink of insanity by people asking for travel tips.
Finally, there’s a huge world out there and it’s not always on the other side of the country. Look up your State Parks as well and don’t be shy about taking day trips or weekend trips. As much as we all want to go to Yosemite, Denali, and the Rocky Mountain National Park, I find I’m amazingly content with what’s in my own state. I’ll make it to my “dream” parks someday, but for now I know my built-in love for nature isn’t going anywhere.