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NPS ranger Corinne Fenner gives a nature talk at Congaree National Park, NPS ranger Corinne Fenner gives a nature talk at Congaree National Park in Hopkins, South Carolina. National Park Service, outdoor education, nature walk, 2008, SC, Congaree, Natural Lands, Hopkins, Congaree National Park, Forests | Recreation, Darcy Kiefel
Darcy Kiefel

No joke: the National Park Service is hilarious on Instagram

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If we could, we’d spend every day exploring America’s national parks. But even when we can’t get there in real life, we're probably daydreaming about trips we've taken, or places we want to go next. So we love following the national parks on social media for our daily dose of beautiful photos, interesting stories … and hilarious captions.

Wait—“hilarious”? It might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think about the National Park Service. But along with caring for some of the most amazing places and important historical sites in the U.S., it turns out someone at the Park Service has a wicked sense of humor: most days, @nationalparkservice on Instagram has us snorting into our coffee.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Vodka is kind of a hobby.” – Betty White⁣ ⁣ Umm…we were thinking more like painting or doing yoga in a park? In 2020, be adventurous and try something completely new. We’re not just talking about challenging yourself to an activity you’ve never tried, like paddle boarding, rock climbing, hiking, or horseback riding. Try your hand at learning a new skill or hobby, like tortilla-making, birding, photography, or even writing poetry. Many national parks offer ranger-led activities, special programs, and cultural demonstrations that can help you test the waters. Ahem…water. Stay hydrated out there.⁣ ⁣ What kind of hobbies or skills have you discovered from a visit to a national park?⁣ ⁣ Image: An artist sits at an easel and creates a pastel rendering of the Grand Canyon.⁣ ⁣ #FindYourPark #hobbies #nationalparkservice #grandcanyonnationalpark #painting #views

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We wanted to know: whose job is it to keep in touch with national park fans the world over? So we called up Matthew Turner, who runs the National Park Service’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. He took a break from picking photos, writing captions, and responding to DMs to tell us what it’s like to be the voice of the parks on social media.

How long has the National Park Service been on Instagram?

The account launched in 2015, not long before we celebrated the agency's centennial in 2016. I began managing the account in mid-2018.  Instagram is one of our fastest growing platforms. The account hit a million followers last summer and crossed 2 million this past fall. It’s been a great resource for us to be able to engage with visitors from all over the world.

Reading the comments on your post, it seems like a lot of people are pleasantly surprised to find out that the National Park Service has a sense of humor.

Our main goal is always to communicate important information: don’t get too close to wildlife, be aware of surroundings, respect the resource, as well as offer travel tips and park news. We could share these messages in a straightforward, no nonsense way, but if we can get the message out using some humor, or grab attention with a pop culture reference, we’ve often seen those posts, and their messages, really resonate.  Especially for a government agency—which people understandably think of as being fairly staid—the use of “edutainment” has gotten lots of positive feedback, while maybe catching others by surprise.

Tell us about the person behind the curtain! How’d you get this very cool job?

When I first started working in the NPS, social media as a park career was not on my radar, especially with a degree in History and Anthropology.  I began my NPS career as a Visitor Use Assistant at Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia. My first gig was working in the park entrance station. This evolved into presenting interpretive programs, including guided tours and living history demonstrations. I later worked as a guide and front-line interpreter at Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Illinois and Harry S Truman National Historic Site in Missouri. It’s at those parks where I first started to focus more on social media as a means of expanding the way those parks engaged with the public. I joined the NPS Office of Communications in Washington, DC, in 2018, where I manage the agency’s main social media accounts and offer guidance and help push out messaging to the field.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating these sand dunes is approximately 3,720 to 1! ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Never tell us the odds! Actually, if you’re adequately prepared, dress appropriately, and drink plenty of water, your odds of a successful visit to Death Valley improves dramatically! Even better when visiting in winter! ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Did you know scenes from Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi were filmed in Death Valley National Park?! Some of the filming locations are best explored (safely!) in the cooler months, but others can be seen from your car, or a short 5 minute walk. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Image: A park ranger at Death Valley National Park shakes hands with C3PO during filming for Star Wars in the late 1970s.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ #FindYourPark #PopCultureParks⁣ #nationalparkservice #thisweekoninstagram #starwars #deathvalleynationalpark #california ⁣

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Do you think of yourself a park ranger?

In some ways. My experience working in parks informs how we use social media. It’s still interpretation, but instead of standing in front of a group of visitors in a park, we’re sharing stories and experiences virtually . A lot of people think of the National Park Service as just rangers in the back country, but there are actually many different types of people with different skills, interests, and backgrounds who help make our parks what they are. You can be a scientist, and artist, a historian, a mechanic, a writer—there are lots of ways to put your skills to use in the national parks.

How do you think the rise of social media affected the national parks?

On the one hand, social media has given people the opportunity to learn about, engage, and connect with their national parks and public lands like never before. It’s a great communication tool and has definitely changed the way people look at parks, plan trips, and support parks.

But the rise of social media has obviously changed how people visit—sometimes adversely. Whether there’s overcrowding at overlooks that look great on Instagram, or people trying to get a perfect picture at all costs, our challenge is holding that fine line: educating people as we welcome them, leading by example, and continuing to showcase the best of what the parks have to offer. At the same time, encouraging visitors to keep safety in the picture, respect park resources, and take time to enjoy the park. Then post on Instagram and tag us!

ga_mlk_05212017_15Trust for Public Land supporters have helped conserve structures in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Park in Atlanta. Today, over a million people a year visit this neighborhood to learn more about Dr. King's life and legacy. Photo credit: Christopher T. Martin

We couldn’t agree more! That’s why we’ve been working with the National Park Service to protect and improve these important places for nearly 50 years. Read about our recent victory on the border of Zion National Park, and learn more about some of the more than 200 parks that Trust for Public Land members have helped us preserve.

And of course, follow @trustforpublicland for your daily dose of parks inspiration and to learn about all the ways your support is helping connect people and nature!

Comments

Beverly M Asmutis
I've travelled to Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier national parks and to some in Canada. Never was I disappointed. Their beauty, wild life and preservation must be maintained for ourselves and our children to enjoy forever. Nothing should be allowed to harm or lessen their integrity. The rangers do a magnificent job of keeping us educated and entertained while also keeping everything running smoothly. All manner of support to these parks and people should be a U.S. government priority.
Darlene Borcherding
We must remain vigilant & work hard to keep big oil, mining, & so on, out of our parks & off our public lands!!!
Craig Swenson
I am boringly retired so decided this past fall to begin an annual road trip each spring to visit as many National Parks and Monuments before my ability runs short. I have visited more than 15 to this date and always wanted to spend more time at each one. I now look forward to my new annual pilgrimage.
Barbara Z. Roberts
I have visited most of the National Parks in the west and camped in most in tents and car and then a Roadtrek motor home. I took a winter trip to Yellowstone to cross country ski that was exciting as we skied through campgrounds that I had stayed in in summer. In the east I went to Elzabeth Cady's home and the Women's History Museum. She is one of my favorite feminists who worked to get rights for females along with many others. When I went to Glacier National Park we could walk on the glacier but with climate change we are losing glaciers. In Alaska I saw pictures of have much has already been destroyed. Why aren't we doing more to save our world? When I traveled to these parks we had programs put on by the rangers and they lead hikes too. At 95 years of age all I can do is help with money and contacting the politicians who have the power.
Barbara J. Arnold
Thank you for sharing this fun insight. I don't do much social media so I really enjoyed reading some of the examples.
Wynne
I absolutely love the NPS social media. Incredible content and tells a great story with an authentic voice! Keep crushin'!

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