What Must The National Park Service Do To Improve Its Web Presence?

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Bummer.

The Internet is the currency of the media world these days, with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops tied into it to get the latest news and information. While the National Park Service is promoting its social media tools, and has greatly improved its websites in recent months, there still are some weak links.

A good example of this need surfaced just the other day, when it was announced that "Tuskegee Institute NHS, Tuskegee Airmen NHS and Selma to Montgomery NHT are extending their reach by using mobile tagging with interactive quick response (QR) codes. Park websites can now be accessed anywhere via mobile devices with a simple scan."

While QR codes provide a quick, easy way to link your smartphone to a specific website, the websites need to be prepared for that traffic. In general, the three sites mentioned above cover the bases in terms of providing visitor information, but there are gaps, and some shortfalls. One disappointing aspect common to not just these three sites but to all NPS sites is the "Schedule of Events" search feature. If a park doesn't populate its calendar, no results are returned. So if you search for events at Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail between January 5 and the end of March, you'll find there are absolutely no events. Is that truly the case, or hasn't the park staff gotten around to loading that information?

Gettysburg National Military Park's web gurus seem to have realized the frustrating aspect of the event scheduler, and below it places links to upcoming events.

Constant monitoring also is needed to see that a park's "News" section is updated with the most recent release. Visit Selma to Montgomery's website and you'll find that no news releases have been posted since last March 27. Has no other newsworthy item surfaced since then?

Now, there are some very good websites in the National Park System universe. Yellowstone National Park's website overflows with information, so much so that it takes quite a while to digest, and problems arise because it can seem like you're traveling through a maze. If you don't have a well-designed site and an up-to-date Site Map, discovering just what is available for you can be a hit-and-miss proposition.

And sometimes even with a Site Map, 503 errors -- "We're sorry but the page you requested can't be served at this time." -- crop up. Another curiosity about Yellowstone's website (and maybe other nps.gov sites, too) is what happens when you click on the "Website Policies" link. You get a blank page.

But the Yellowstone webmeisters overall do a pretty great job with their pages. Click on the "Plan Your Visit" link on the home page and after a quick, descriptive paragraph of what awaits you in the park they offer a paragraph riddled with hot links to topics such as "things to do," "places to eat," "fees, reservations and permits," "accessibility" and, being seasonally correct, "Visiting in Winter."

Sadly, though, the link to "brochures" was out of operation when I checked Friday. It was back in service Saturday, and the list of available publications was robust, from fire science, bison ecology, and birding reports as well as backcountry planners and historical information. Isle Royale National Park's link to brochures is not as flashy in layout, but still offers a relatively rich selection of topics, from camping and boating to invasive species, fishing regs and the park newspaper.

Most of the big parks -- Yellowstone, Yosemite, Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain -- have content-rich sites that, in general, are easy to explore. Maintenance will take some pages down occasionally -- no doubt the situation with Yellowstone's brochures page -- and that should be expected with the amount of traffic these sites bear.

Still, a general criticism of park websites is they're inconsistent. While some park sites list a page "For Kids" that provides information on Junior Ranger programs, other park sites don't. Some parks view their site's home page as a tourism billboard, and rightly so. Go to Cape Hatteras National Seashore's home page and you'll see links to Directions, Operating Hours & Seasons, Fees and Reservations, Program Schedule, Park Newspaper, and Events, Ocean Swimming Safety, Off-Road Vehicle Use, Climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island Lighthouse Tours. But there's nothing on camping, a topic that is deeper inside the site, taking three clicks to reach.

Smaller (in size) park units, and large (in size) units that experience relatively little visitation both suffer from a lack of web maintenance, something that could be tied directly to a lack of staff and funding. For instance, if you wanted this past weekend to tour Gates of Arctic National Park and Preserve's photo gallery to go "on a virtual expedition through the vast, expansive, natural beauty of the Brooks Range," you were rewarded with, "Unable to connect to the CommonSpot SITES data source 'commonspot-sites'. Please verify that this is a valid ColdFusion data source."

Curious about the best birding to be found at Essex National Heritage Area in Massachusetts? A bad link takes you to Page not found.

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Whoops!

Interested in camping somewhere in the Delaware and Leigh National Heritage Corridor in Pennsylvania? Click on the "Outdoor Activites" link and you're sent to a page that says, "A wide range of lodging and camping opportunities are available within the Corridor, from a gilded age bed and breakfast to primitive camping opportunities." Period. Where you might find those facilities is a mystery.

Some websites can seem a bit mysterious when you reach their homepage. Delaware and Leigh National Heritage Corridor's, for instance, greets you with two links in the left-hand column: Park Home and Plan Your Visit. Click on Park Home and you're taken...to the page you're on. Click on Plan Your Visit and the possibilities open up a bit, with links for directions to the park, operating hours, fees, accessbility, things to do, and things to know before you come...a link that leads to bare bones pages, one on weather that states: We have four seasons and the temperature varies 10 degrees from one end of the Corridor to the other on any given day. The winters are harsher in the two mountainous northern counties (Luzerne and Carbon) than in the southern-most county (Bucks).

No doubt, staffing and funding constraints surely are behind the inconsistencies and shortfalls of nps.gov websites. But here in the 21st century, where information can/should be a click or two away on the Internet, the Park Service needs to not just strive for consistency and delivery, but ensure it.

For starters, it should require that every park's homepage contain links for the basics: Plan Your Visit, Photos & Multimedia, History & Culture, Nature & Science, For Teachers, For Kids, News, and Management. And those pages should have information on them and content that is updated regularly.

If need be, park managers, give your social media staffers a break from Twitter and Instagram and have them spend some time on website content. The rest of us will appreciate it so much more.

Comments

I would like to see some basis park information on every website that goes beyond nature and history.

1. When was the park created? And let's define creation. Either when Congress passed the enabling legislation or when the park actually opened its doors. Very different in most cases.

2. How many visitors came the past year? And keep it up to date.

3. What is the expected recommended length of stay in a park unit? Though it make take you weeks to see Yosemite, that number is very interesting in a historic site or battlefield

4. The size of the park in acres and the number of full-time employees

5. A little on how the park was created.

6. And the most subjective of all. Why was the park unit created? What makes it of national importance?

I can dream, right?

Danny www.hikertohiker.com

Some good concerns, Kurt!

I've experienced frustrations as well, and hope their limited resources allow them to adopt some of your helpful ideas.

However, overall, I really appreciate the design, consistency, and volume of information produced by the NPS. Yes, not all parks have as much info on their sites as they could, but there's an awful lot of great stuff. The Facebook feeds of many of the parks are a daily joy, and by sharing visitors' photos and experiences, [= 0.95em; line-height: 1.45em]create a sense of community and excitement[/][= 0.95em; line-height: 1.45em] that was never possible before. And, the official park map/guides are gorgeous, and great fun to collect (they are my obsession, rather than the passport stamps) -- when I needed to "fill in the blanks" for six of the national parks I had visited but whose guides I was missing, I emailed park staff who promptly responded and mailed me the missing brochures for free. (This was easily done via the websites, with one glitch at Denali that was easily worked around. Folks at Rockies politely asked, "could you please ask us about this later, we're cleaning up from the floods!") [/]

[= 0.95em; line-height: 1.45em]With -40 wind chill today in the heart of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I am daydreaming of spring and summer park adventures! [/][= 0.95em; line-height: 1.45em]Thanks again for all the good posts here at the NPT website and the Facebook feed. [/]

I understand any current year's finances are probably in flux, but I think every unit's previous year's appropriations and expeditures should be included online in some detail. I'd also like to see something like an organization chart, even if the names and contact info were redacted.

I can dream, right?

Given the chronic lack of funding and personnel, I think most sites to a remarkably good job. It's not just NPS websites that have occasional shortcomings. I had a dickens of a time yesterday when I tried to gather information about products available at one of our big box stores. And one day last week, my credit union's website was "Down for Maintenance."

About the only frustration I have is that it's very difficult to find out sometimes whether or not a park's campsites are available for reservation. But that's not only the park sites, it's also Recreation.gov and Reserveamerica.com. It's very hard to tell if all available reservations are taken or if that park (or forest or BLM site) is simply not in the system. It would certainly be nice if each park with campgrounds could provide either a link to Recreation.gov or a note telling us that campsites are first come first served.

I think that they need to get away from worrying about how nice and pretty and NPS-uniform the sites are, and have some low-price interns spend time sitting at a non-NPS computer trying to navigate as Timothy Tentpeg, generic citizen would. Simple questions, for a simple and not sophisticated end user. Take a lot of notes, Mr/Ms Intern.

Examples - OK, coming to Jellystone Park, if there is no housing available in the park, what is the nearest campground/motel/BnB that is close enough to still enjoy the park

I'm coming in for thesis resrearch while on vacation - how do contact the park historian or archivist?

Is there a link to local road conditions?

My dog lives in my fifth wheeler with me year around. What should I know?

And other everyday stuff like that.

I know what would make a great drinking game. Every time one of the usual suspects with ties to the NPS says, "chronic lack of funding" or "short staffed", everyone take a drink. Because it makes you want to.

I don't drink.

How about every time you make a post with a negative comment about the NPS you have to give up drinking for a day?

That partially explains why you folks are such whiny stuffed shirts.

I realize I left one thing off my 2014 wish list: That commenters would refrain from personal attacks, insults, and comments that veer off the topical cliff. Please reread our Code of Conduct if need be. You can find it here.

Really, this can be a much, much more helpful site with more thoughtful, constructive comments. Tearing down one another does no good and actually dissuades some folks from commenting at all.

Sorry Kurt.

Let me move backto my suggestion about having an intern try navigating as an everyman, looking for end user useability. The comments after that weren't useful.

Yes, Tahoma. I agree. Add that to the list.

Danny

I'll own my part in this, Kurt and apologize. I generally try to stay focused on my concerns with the NPS until someone turns it into a personal attack they carry across threads. It is as if the commenters (not NPT) dissuade any dissent about the organization and when they are unable to shout loudly enough go for the individuals. I do stand behind my assertion that this seems to be a page taken from the agency book though, and am in no way surprised they will attempt to "Ranger Danno" someone who cries foul about their fraternity.

Hmmmm.

It appears gremlins may have invaded some NPS websites this morning. I received error messages when trying to access the morning report and information on the Find a Park website.

But am I correct in thinking that may be because someone is working on them?

Of course it is gremlins. The NPS never makes mistakes.

Nope, definitely gremlins. See their footprints in the snow?

Yeah, Lee - - - from the random NPS 'can't show you the link' message I got this morning for the Morning Report, now a few minutes ago I got an official looking 404 error page. By any government issue cyberissues RTFM, that is a known gremlin related issue.Those of us old enough to remember early SNL might also remember the Pepsi-syndrome, and modern latte-related derivatives of that are always an option.

Dang, Rick, I was about to ask you to explain to this old man what RTFM stands for, but then I Googled it and am glad I didn't. You really can find anything on the Internet!

I wonder if anyone at the White House sent that message to folks at Health & Human Services lately?

Good suggestion Rick, but lets make sure the Intern is well rewarded, housing, food allowance, substantial stipend, time frame (a semester lets say), and college credit for his or hers effort. These type of internships are available, have used them myself. They can be very successful

Well, my wife just saw this thread over my shoulder and said, "Oh yeah, the servers [and other stuff] are down. They may have to roll them all back to 12/31."

Wonderful topic, Kurt. I hope I'm not too late to the discussion. I love the NPS website and use it extensively while planning my national park vacations. However, there are several items I would like to see changed. I will try to list many of them here.

• I would like each site to list addresses or coordinates for every visitor center, contact station, place of interest, etc. It would cut down my planning time if I could simply input a location instead of having to match the location of a visitor center on mapquest with the location on the park unit map.

• I would like to see each site list their hours of operation for every visitor center, contact station, place of interest, etc. for every season. It complicates things when I am trying to plan for a trip in six months, and the site only lists the hours for the current season.

• My daughter enjoys participating in the various junior ranger programs. It would be nice if each site provided photos of the various badges and patches they offer. Some sites do not list any info about their programs, leading us to believe they don't offer one, only to surprise us when we get to the park. Some sites do not list the different variation of their programs, such as junior firefighter programs. Photos would cut down on some of the confusion on what was actually offered at each site. There are many different programs offered in the DC area, but it is uncertain from the sites if the same or different badges are offered at the many park units. In addition, it would be great if someone in the park system took the time to update the junior ranger website. It is so outdated. It would be nice to have news posts of when new junior ranger programs have been added.

• I've often thought it would be nice if the sites were able to post the films offered at the park online. It would be great to watch the film(s) the night before instead of using precious park time to watch the films. I realize that there may be copyright issues involved here though.

• I would like to see all available park maps on the site. There have been times where I have found park maps at the Harper Ferry Center site that were not on the park website.

I'm sure I can come up with some more, but these would be great for starters. Hopefully someone in the park system finds all of our comments useful. Maybe, that's what has happened to the website this week. We can hope.

Morning Report is back up, including the issues we missed.

What must they do? As pointed out they should make it more tablet and mobile friendly. Every single piece of Adobe Flash-based content - be it videos or maps - should be removed and put in a more mobile-friendly format. That is number one on my wishlist.

Todd, you make some good suggestions. I too have been frustrated by out of date and wrong information on NPS websites. There is no explanation for it other than a lack of will to correct it where it happens. Too often the visitor services staffs don't look at the operation through the eyes of the pubic. Information on park phone lines is also often not up to date. All that is need is for someone in authority to deliver a few kicks in the pants to fix it.

The only problem with your idea of making things like park films and audio tours available to the public is that I am sure they fear having people bypass their visitor centers will result in reduced sales for the book store operations.

They really shouldn't even be called book stores anymore. Once upon a time all that was for sale in many visitor centers were a few scholarly books on the park, some post cards and some pamphlets for like $1.00 that were often written by the staff. Now there are examples of parks where the floor space of the visitor center book store and the exhibit and information desk area have been flipped. There are lots of examples of people going to the store employees to ask park questions because the NPS person is off in a corner hidden away.

So I'm sure any proposals like this one won't go far. And any staff person who makes them will get ugly looks from the park's superintendent in staff meetings as he thinks of this visitor count stats and book store sales being diminished. Never mind if it is better for the visitor.

There have been some good suggestions, but despite the scoffers at the "lack of staff and money angle," anyone who has tried to maintain or expand a website knows that they require regular care and feeding – and learning the necessary skills takes time. I don't know anything about the interface behind nps.gov and how easy (or difficult) it is to use, but my experience with a couple of widely used commercial web systems confirms they can consume a lot of hours—and be very frustrating at times.

Good web content doesn't just fall out of the sky. Someone has to research the information, verify if it's still current, write the text, shoot the video or photos, and format it all to meet the specific requirement of the web interface—and that's before you try to get it to upload without any hitches. Converting content to a format friendly for mobile devices is a great idea...but it's not quick and it's not free.

Larger parks such as Yellowstone may be able to dedicate more staff time to their website than smaller areas, and during the "off-season," which varies from park to park, there's almost always some staff time in any park that could be spent on website work. During peak season, it's often a different situation altogether, and I can say from personal experience in a small park that the time and staff to spend updating a website is a rare commodity for at least half the year.

We see a fair bit of complaining, some of it warranted, about too much NPS money and staffing being diverted from the field to "headquarters overhead," whether it be at the Washington, regional or park level. Maintaining and improving a website falls into that category, and dollars and staff time spent on that work isn't available for other needs, whether it be face-to-face visitor services or trail maintenance. Yes, it's about setting priorities, and on-line services are increasingly important to park visitors ... but we can't have it both ways.

Perpetual Seasonal, I'm going to go out on a limb and disagree with you. I don't think it's a lack of will that's behind the website problems, but a lack of staff. You look at the bigger parks, the Yosemites, Yellowstones and Grand Canyons to name three, and their websites are very rich in content. The smaller sites struggle to keep up.

Here's what one superintendent told me:

"...how is a park like XXXX, with so few staff and a lot fewer than we had before, to really keep up on this? I absolutely agree that it's critical but we've never been able to hire anyone with the right skills so it's all added onto what folks are already doing. It's a real challenge. Give me a fraction of YELL's resources and I could do a hell of a lot more..."

And the staffing problem goes beyond web gurus. In many parks, the chief of interpretation often is also tasked with being the public affairs officer...and not only don't they always have the time to handle that job properly, but they don't always come with the skill set. That's not to say they don't work hard at it, but it's not always their top priority.

I would say the same for visitor centers. I have found some very fine ones in Yellowstone (Old Faithful), Zion (Springdale), Capital Reef (Fruita), Olympic (Port Angeles), Cape Cod (Salt Pond), and Cape Hatteras (Ocracoke). Not sure what your point is about the materials for sale in the VCs, but, again, park staffing levels make it impossible for park staff to generate much more than brochures. That's why the cooperating associations are so valuable.

Todd, some park web sites do list the information re visitor center seasons, hours and locations, but not the GPS coordinates. One problem with finding this information, though, is that there's a lack of consistency as to where it is on the site.

While I am a big advocate for local Park control, this issue is screaming out for "outsourcing". The fact ( if it is fact) that each unit is responsible for the creation of its own website is absurdly redundant. There should be a standardized template to which the individual park data, where appropriate, can be added with a minimal amount of effort.

EC has a point. The NPS clearly does not have the staff or funding across the board to handle this aspect of providing the public with information, which is a very key -- or should be -- part of its job.

There are more than a few companies out there today that could provide this service (heck, the Traveler might even be interested in taking it on!), and there should be budget savings to be realized.

Coming up with a standardized template shouldn't be difficult, and keeping it populated with relevant and pertinent information wouldn't be terribly difficult, either. Where the NPS seems to be falling down is the vast staffing and funding disparities between parks. If the agency can outsource the operations of its campgrounds, outsourcing web content generation can be done.

Kurt, thanks for the reply. I think you are right about there not being the staff at parks to produce in depth complicated websites. What I'm talking about is just handling simple things like basic factual information such as having correct opening and closing hours and fees etc. Parks are busy in the summers but most sites I've worked at are almost always slow in the mornings. Checking that that basic information is correct should be a daily ritual for visitor services staff like turning on the lights, counting the money and unlocking the doors.

I am not even sure we should be in the business of producing complex websites. It seems to me that the NPS's focus when it comes to websites should be to give people the information they need to visit the site and see whatever it is for themselves first hand. I would say given the resources available the focus should be on keeping the sites streamline and simple.

My point about the store operations in many parks is that they have expanded from being there to support the mission of the park to being there to bring income into the park. It has gotten to the point that much of the merchandise at some parks has only the most tenuous connection to the resource itself. I've seen time after time where we've succeed in getting people to the park, they come in eager to engage with the resource, and then get sidetracked into shopping! If you ask me I think our parks should give us a break from consumerism. And I think if we are going to have that kind of stuff it shouldn't be easier to find than an NPS ranger that can interact with the visitor.

I'm thinking of a park that has much of the visitor experience centered around an audio tour of the park. The public has to stop in at a park VC to pick this up and receive a free permit to enter the site. That audio tour could be made an MP3 file for people to get the night before and bypass the VC or at least the park could offer a place for the public in the VC to plug in and download it but I am sure one concern they would have about doing this is loss of foot traffic on the sales floor.

Kurt,

Let me make one clarification before a few of the anti-capitalist go ballistic. When I say "outsourcing" it doesn't necessarily have to be a non-governmental entity (although I am sure you would do a great job). Just having someone at the national level within the NPS would accomplish the goal.

Traveler, your point is well taken. There are governmental/private sector contracts that are very successful. This concept of partnership with mutual cooperation and respect is an important one. However, I do not think it is the answer to adequete funding for our National Parks or other governmental agencies. For these contracts to be productive for everyone involved, the agencies need the staff to oversee the contracts to insure standards are met, agency policies are being adhered to, etc.

Campgrounds is a good example. Due to increasing shortfalls in agency budgets, campgrounds are either being contracted out and/or being run by retired couples (many of whom are just excellent), interns or VIPs. It is my own experience that many of the contract employees are poorly paid with no benefits. The same applies to the interns/VIPs. They receive little or no support or supervision (no funding for it), and are performing duties that exceed their authority or clearly should be done by paid agency personnel, at least from my perspective. I see this quite often when posting fire information updates in campgrounds during the summer season.

Some interesting ideas worthy of consideration by the NPS. Having people with expertise in website development and maintenance is essential if those sites are to be of the quality expected by the public these days.

The issue of funding "centralized" web gurus at the expense of field operations will continue to be difficult. I suspect we also tend to seriously underestimate the volume of work required to keep more than 400 individual websites current; this will require a lot more than a single "someone at the national level."

"Centralizing" website updating also has some downsides, including duplication of effort. Whether they're NPS employees or even contractors, individuals located outside a park simply won't be aware of the myriad of details about a park necessary for quality content; employees at the local level would still have to provide the nuts and bolts information for a park's website and feed updates on upcoming events, current road and trail closures, etc. to "website central." In just one example, if facilities are closed in two dozen parks on the same day by a big storm, that information needs to be posted promptly on each individual site.

Perhaps one answer is a combination of more centralized expertise for overall website design and general maintenance while continuing local posting of "breaking news," but the challenge for small parks in particular (example cited above by Kurt) remains.

There are no easy answers on this one.

EC,

I'm not an anti-capitalist, just an anti-greed, and thank you for clarifying. I admit my first thought when you posted was "great - another throw it to the private sector grab", but I agree with your clarification.

By the way - an interesting entry in today's Morning Report about a catastrophic incident in the NPS data center.

Ron et al,

I do believe outsourcing web content duties could save the NPS money (that could be better spent on the ground) and produce a better across-the-board product, simply by tasking a group solely with that duty.

Can a central office in the NPS handle the task? That's a question worth exploring, but frankly the agency is pulled in some many directions by projects, politics, and funding issues that it could be difficult to do. Obviously they're not doing it now, and in the past year they roled out a new website template that isn't consistent across the system in terms of basic content.

I also don't see it as a toss to the private sector. Sadly, agencies like the NPS can't always be everything, and webmeisters and communnications is one thing many parks struggle at.

As for campgrounds, I frankly would prefer to see them back in the purview of the NPS. Back to the days of having rangers roaming the campgrounds for instant interpretive chats.

Thanks Rick B.

Sounds like a mega-incident from a power outage at a bad time (New Years Day) and likely explains the problems accessing various NPS websites in recent days.

Some really good comments above. They pretty well cover anything I could say, except for one point.

Perhaps those of us who spend time commenting, complaining or suggesting on Traveler need to remember that none of that will really do anything other than make us feel good or frustrated, whichever the case may be.

But what might happen if we were to take a few moments to go to a specific park's website, find the "contact us" button and make a suggestion directly to park staff via email? Could it be that oft times they simply may not be seeing shortcomings in their site because they seldom receive public feedback?

My pet peeve is the frustration I've experienced several times when I've tried to reserve a campsite and can't tell whether no sites are available because all are already reserved or the campsite is first-come. I've tried to take that beef to recreation.gov and reserveamerica.com without success. I'm going to try it with some emails directly to the parks. Perhaps, if they know some of us perceive it to be a problem, they might be able to simply post a note under "Plan Your Visit - Camping" that says something like "Campsites may be reserved through Recreation.gov from April through October" or "All campsites are first come first served. No reservations are taken."

I kinda think they might welcome our help.

Lee, I am sure NPS'ers are fully aware of and occasionally monitor commentary on National Parks Traveler. Nevertheless, your suggestion has a lot of merit. Take the time to read and review specific nps.gov web sites for specific NPS units and offer written suggestions for improvement. Actually, monitoring of park websites also should be part of the duties of park staff, but with budget cuts and vacancies, etc., I doubt that frequent monitoring and auditing of park websites gets a high management priority, either by park administration or by staff working in regional offices. However, the internet has become a wonderful tool for NPS public outreach. Look at what Steve Bumgardner and Yosemite have accomplished with wide-spread internet distribution of the highly professional video Yosemite Nature Note clips.


I'm not an anti-capitalist, just an anti-greed


Ah, but I suspect you define them the same. Aren't all capitalist "greedy"? If not, I would love to know where the line is drawn.

And I suspect you have no idea either what my opinion is OR where the line is drawn. I was trying to make nice earler with a point we sorta agreed on. Don't mess it up.

Up to date interactive maps would be nice. The static map on the SLBE homepage, for example, doesn't show lands added during a 2005 expansion. CONG still shows the riverstone tract added in 2011 as being private land.

Go to most of the major UFSWS refuge pages and you'll find maps galore including a mapquest based national map of all wildife refuges.

Lee, maybe I visit different National Parks. I find the camping information pretty easy to obtain. And on many sites, the park will offer alternatives when they do not have camping within the park.

The Forest Service and the BLM are a different story. At some sites, I think they are actively trying to discourage camping; they make it incredibly difficult to even find campgrounds, let alone figure out who or what they might accommodate when. I have found two websites infinitely useful in tracking these down: forestcamping, and uscampgrounds. Both sites are operated by people who love to camp.

No, dahkota, it's not hard to find out if a park has campgrounds. But it is often difficult to learn if reservations are available or not. In parks with multiple campgrounds, some post that information and some don't. If you try to use recreation.gov to reserve a site all you'll get is a rather cryptic message that says no sites are available to reserve. But it doesn't tell you if that's because all are reserved already or if they're open to the first one who gets there. Knowing that changes my plan of attack.

I've learned that it's a nice security blanket to know I'll have a place to lay my weary old head after a day's travel. So it would be awfully handy to know if I may have to scramble to find a place or if I can take my time and enjoy the trip.

But then, I'm just getting old.

Ah. Recreation.gov is not a good reference for campgrounds. They typically only list those that are reservable. For example, they only list the three reservable campgrounds in Shenandoah (there are four). Also, many of the sites in the reservable campgrounds are non-reservable, which recreation.gov doesn't show. The campground maps show these sites but it's not easy to download onto a phone when you are in the middle of nowhere.

I have found that the best park maintained webpage for campgrounds is Glacier's. There is an interactive map that shows all the campgrounds and allows one to click through for campground details. It also provides a calendar that shows when the campground fills each day, allowing one to plan visits to non-reservable campgrounds. It would be great if all the national parks used something similar.

It would be better/easier if recreation.gov included all campgrounds and all campsites, at least just for reference - many people wouldn't even know that Glacier has 13 campgrounds rather than the three listed (and one only lists group sites). The website states: "Recreation.gov is your one-stop shop for trip planning, information sharing and reservations brought to you by 12 federal Participating Partners." But, as you pointed out, that is not true at all.

A good question, but probably not in the purview of this website. I certainly am no expert on the raging debate over economic policy, but two books that discuss these issues from a "progressive" point of view are Naomi Kline, "The Shock Doctrine" and Thom Hartman, "Unequal Justice". EC, these books present the arguments, well documented and quite readable, on the issues surrounding the "free market" policies of Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, others, including the University of Chicago School of Economics, that present interesting opposing viewpoints. Please excuse this response, but EC was interested in this issue and I found these books quite informative.

Dahkota, all very good points. I've noticed similar discrepancies in several parks. I've actually tried to tell people at recreation.gov, but the only ones we ordinary folks seem to have access to are some very nice call takers who don't seem to be able to do much.

But I'm going to try hard to follow up by emailing the individual parks with my appeal and see if maybe that might do something.

It's probably not all that important in the Great Scheme of Things, but hey, I'm an American Taxpayer and so I'm entitled to all the services, convenience and comfort I may decide to demand. So there!

And then they actually have the nerve to think I should be willing to pay extra . . . . .

Bah HUMBUG!

Yes! Please list each park and monument offering the Artist in Residence Program along with contact info, details, accommodations, length of stay, requirements and other important info. There is NO master list for the AIR program!!!

Kurt's examples are not atypical, although, to its credit, the NPS is using a template now for its park unit websites that is superior to the individualized ones used previously. The problem is that some parks are doing a better job than others at interpreting what one of the elements of the tmplate might mean, or keeping their site current with the latest information. Even more troubling is the NPS main website, where data is often more than five years out of date, or "Under Construction" or simply missing. Take a look at the NPS Partnership website, for instance, and you will notice that the annual reports for cooperating associations are listed only to 2007, and the list of friends groups is so outdated that it is almost worthless if you are trying to contact someone. See why these issues are important for transparency and accountability in our new book, Philanthropy and the National Park Service (available on Amazon). We also analyze why the cooperating associations (aka bookstores) have become less educational in focus and more retail-oriented, and why you can now purchase items such as Democrap and Republipoop (I am not making this up!), and now there is a Statue of Liberty Barbie.

js53, very informative post. I believe your observation about the emphasis on more retail oriented cooperating associations is right on. Will be interested in your book.