You know by now that my mind works in brevity. My staff often hear me repeat two things: Interpret the park, and Put your programs where the people are.
Those short statements seem silly because they are simple and obvious. A typical response might be…”well DUH!” Then I wonder when I read reports that tell me the park was full but no one came to the program When I ask “Why?,” we talk through promotion, title, program description, theme, bad topic, uninviting…etc, etc, and I often ask, “Where did you present the program.” And the answer follows: “Oh, in the AV room in the visitor center.”
Well, that’s nice, (really nice). It’s comfortable, air-conditioned; good rain or shine, all the AV equipment is right there – PERFECT! … except … the audience is somewhere else! The audience is a quarter-mile away, in the campground, and they’re not in a hurry to unhook their $200,000 RV and drive to your program. And sadly, few will walk or ride their bike; especially knowing they will have to make the return trip after dark.
So, get more creative, consider your audience, apply appropriate technique, and Put your programs where the people are. Most campsites have electricity – pick an empty site and hook up that projector, set up the screen, use the grill on the ground for your campfire and ask folks to bring a lawn chair and come to the program. Better yet, don’t show pictures at all. In the campground you are IN nature –use it, be in nature – owl prowls, bat programs, star-gazing, night sounds, Dutch oven cooking, s’mores, roast marshmallows and tell and share campfire stories …these are all wonderful programs for the campground that generate family, park, campfire, night-in-the-outdoors type memories. And, instead of walking a trail, experiment with leading a walk on the campground roads. It’s accessible, close and can be a fine program that helps the visitor realize there’s nature all around the campsite.
Does it work?
In one park the interpreters tried diligently to fill the nice visitor center for their evening programs but seldom had much of a crowd. I challenged them to present their programs where the people are. They experimented with that and soon the favorite location for evening programs was beside the bathhouse. Now that doesn’t sound very inviting, but the bathhouse had electricity, had a grassy area where visitors could throw blankets or place chairs, and was in the middle of the campground. Campers could see folks gathering, could hear the talk and laughter, and enjoyed the evening as they strolled along campground roads to the evening program. Program attendance soared.
About a month ago park interpreter Geoff Wright, wrote:
- Andy and I have made a habit of taking the whole program down to the campground. This made a huge difference in attendance. Maybe 5 or 10 people would wander up to the VIC for a program, but we would easily have 20 or 30 if we did it in the campground. Our campers really liked having the programs brought to them.
Moral: Put the programs where the people are!