Nature Center Issues & Solutions: A roundtable of ideas & answers
Hosted November 2016
An informative and collaborative roundtable discussion about issues, trends, and problem solving at nature centers and visitor centers.
Issue 1 What to do when your budget is being reduced? Funding Solutions:
Leverage your friends group and what money they could generate from specific sales. This money usually doesn't have to go through the state and be restricted.
Work to create good partnerships to help you do what you might be losing because you have less money.
Create a walking or bike race to generate funds.
Ask your staff for ideas: One site received an idea to place an aquarium habitat full of insects (or something else related to your site) in an area with the donation box right next to it. Kids drop their money into the donation box and take a little insect. A sign says "Thank you for your donation." Kids really want the toy so they drop coins in all the time.
Ask at your gift shop register, "Would you like to round up to the whole dollar?" Make sure this money does stay in your park though and doesn't go to a general fund.
Install a Penny Collector machine (pennycollector.com) that makes the crushed pennies with a design.
Install a Spiral wishing well coin funnel to collect up loose change in donations.
Think of unique, humorous, or correct wording on your donation boxes. For instance, one park wrote "Your 2 bucks helps us" and put a picture of 2 deer next to the donation box.
Use a GoFundMe page or this type of approach to raising money. Try to get on National Giving Day list.
Issue 2 Park is being loved to death Solutions:
Determine and push for the idea that you could shut down the Park at a certain time when it is at maximum capacity. Put signs on the highway and social media to alert visitors when it is closed.
Start offering limited tickets to your site or for tours. Sell tickets that are valid for just the AM or PM times. Make sure you don't just keep putting in more parking lots. Install good directions to other parking lots.
Accommodating different user groups: Create a weekly schedule where one day is for horse trail usage, another day for just trail bike usage. Post this online to alert visitors to the varied user group use and ask that Rangers enforced this use as it is rolled out so everyone gets notified.
Alert your fundraisers to this issue so as they are writing grants or approaching donors, they can understand and educate others about what is happening and look for the best funding sources.
Issue 3 A new center needs help creating good exhibits AND Someone needed help on How to begin writing interpretive panels. (This particular case involved a need to incorporate marketing of private tours or events.)
Learn from Enchanted Rock State Natural Area website to learn how they combined their visitor center interpretive panels, gift shop merchandise, and site check in counter. Contact the park and ask to speak to someone about the presentation from NAI's 2016 National Conference. They will share their planning documents and the powerpoint.
Get inspiration from an animal or thing that you are passionate about. For instance, if you like foxes, begin your writing by describing how on the fee based jeep tour you pass through fox habitat and encourage visitors to observe.
Determine exactly whee and exactly what signs you should install. You want to avoid Landscape Clutter. Ask where and if you really need it. For small areas and quick information you might use QR codes or call in options or Apps. Make sure you have wifi available so these options can be used reliably.
Place signs where people naturally stop, such as bathrooms or trailheads. Contact Fort Collins or Yellowstone National Park and ask about their open space sign study to understand best practices. Also collect your own data on where people stop and go back to see how your signs are working with visitors.
Issue 2 How to make your higher ups value what you do as an interpreter Solutions:
Focus on getting a small section in a new building. Maybe you won't get a brand new nature center so determine where you can do some interpretation
Can you do a survey to show your value among the community? Mecklenberg County, NC did this and found in the whole county survey that people really valued nature centers. They were able to use that to leverage support and money to their nature centers.
Ask the resource department or safety department what messages they want to get out to visitors. This is outreach to other departments who can then speak about your good work.