LJWorld.com weblogs Linda's Backroad Musings

GPS and the National Park System


Sherlock Holmes and I have something in common. A magnifying glass as a tool to solve mysteries. My mysteries are not literary. Gathering clues from state brochures, welcome center hosts, local residents, friends and of course internet web sites, I then use a magnifying glass on a map. (Does anyone else have trouble seeing a map?) This is my way of solving how to navigate through a state using the best scenic routes. As much as I love electronics, so far no GPS. Recently, I read on one of my favorite blog sites, National Park Traveler, in select national parks for $15 a day, you may rent a GPS gadget that you place on the dash. As you reach a certain location, it will present an interpretative of your surroundings. While this might not be much different than CDs available at many National Parks, Kurt Repanshek feels it has the potential to be much more popular perhaps even to the point of eliminating the give and take of human interaction.Repanshek, a former AP journalist and now freelance writer, writes in a blog post September 27, 2007, "is the relevance of our national parks dangling on the future of where technology takes us?" National Park Rangers are highly trained and knowledgeable about the area they serve. Their presentations are well prepared. Most importantly, they answer questions. The interaction is invaluable. As far as I am concerned, a visit to a National Park, including our National historic fort sites in Kansas, is not complete without a presentation by a ranger followed by questions and answers.Repanshek addressed this subject again several days ago when he posted "Another look at those GPS Rangers in National Parks." He admitted they have proven to be beneficial. Rangers can see where the traffic in the parks is heaviest, directing people to other sites. Many parks are cutting ranger positions and the electronic devices are filling the gap. Importantly, they include tours in American Sign Language. Kurt Repanshek again hints at his feelings when he ends his most recent post with, "Is this a good move for the National Park System?" Granted, it appears the interpretative GPS unit is a beneficial tool. On the other hand, I want to listen to a real person who has answers to my questions and stories to tell. I think it would be a mistake for the National Park Service to allow GPS gadgets to replace our National Park Rangers.I think Sherlock would agree, is always good ask questions to better magnify a mystery.


sunnysmith 9 years, 6 months ago

Hi Linda,My name is Sunny Smith and I am the Marketing Manager for BarZ Adventures, the makers of the GPS Ranger multimedia tour guide system. We here at BarZ Adventures are huge fans and supporters of the National Parks and to that effect, we are also fans of Ranger-led tours or campfire chats for just the very reasons you mentioned. Our goal is not to replace park rangers, but to supplement the interpretive missions of the National Parks. Our tours offer an alternative, for those that may not like a large group tour or that are on a different timetable. Our tours allow users to go at their own pace. Also, GPS Ranger tours engage visitors with expert commentary. Our Vicksburg tour for example is hosted by Terrence Winschel, the foremost Civil War historian! On a ranger-led tour, you may or may not get such an informative and engaging experience each and every time.Lastly, we hope to extend access to interpretive information to even more visitors - a whole new generation of technology users, people with disabilities and non-English speakers can all benefit through the GPS Ranger. We hope you give it a try if the opportunity arises; we're always looking for feedback and suggestions for improvement!Regards,Sunny

eileenroddy 9 years, 6 months ago

I'm being dragged into the tehcnological age whether I like it or not. A friend lent us a wee GPS for our recent (my first) visit to Colorado and I used it to get us around the Rocky Mountain National Park. It didn't tell me anything other than where I was going, and how to get back to where I left ... and I thought that was brilliant. I was amazed by how it worked. My husband nearly traded me in - my navigation is peppered with impatience and words not allowed on the website; the GPS just readjusted when we took a wrong turn. Next time I might be able to move to the more sophisticated technology you are talking about Linda.

Linda Hanney 9 years, 6 months ago

Ronda, I am sure the GPS Rangers are the trend of the future.Sunny, I appreciate you responding to my post. If we are visiting a National site where one of the GPS Rangers is available, we would certainly use it. And, I am sure it would provide a wealth of expert information.My general feeling is that the GPS Rangers will be in use at all of the National Parks and National Historical Sites within a few short years. This will undoubtedly help with overcrowding as well as all the benefits you have cited.. I do feel there will be many people breezing through our beautiful or historical sites with the GPS Ranger and leave, which is probably what those in charge of the more popular sites are hoping. We have always enjoyed the added experience of rangers stories and interactions especially with children I am glad you do not feel that will be lost to technology.

Ronda Miller 9 years, 6 months ago

Linda, this makes me wish I had more time to load the children up and go back into the Rocky Mountains to give the GPS Ranger a try. I am glad Sunny wrote and let it be known the objective isn't to cut Ranger positions. I think this sounds like a lot of fun to experience and since my son is of the mentality that we absolutely can not ask anyone for directions this might just be a saving mechanism. How well do they do with bears and cougars or are animals also equipped with them? :)

Linda Hanney 9 years, 6 months ago

Eileen, caught your comment just as I was ready to turn off the computer. We are planning an extended road trip next year to Alaska and I am sure we will break down and purchase a GPS. I love maps, though. They are such a wealth of information. I don't think I'll ever give up maps and my magnifying glass. Big cities--well, maybe the GPS would get us through without so many wrong turns. Isn't Rocky Mountain National Park great? It's been a while--need to go back.

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