Park Technology: Exploring Opportunities

May 1, 2016, Feature, by Karen Zgonc

Geocaching is one of the ways parks can use technology to enhance a connection to nature.From management to fundraising and education to engagement, technology is changing the landscape of our parks. With increased accessibility to tech solutions, there is no shortage of opportunities to explore.

Administrative tools

Most park and recreation organizations now operate online recreation management software to simplify workloads, generate revenue and maximize staff productivity. Activity and membership management, facility bookings, sports league management, invoicing and reporting are just some of the features these all-in-one software packages provide. Communities expect the ease of online registration, ideally on their mobile phones, and it is easily provided. Communication with customers about changes or scheduling of specific activities is easy with email blasts or text messaging through these applications. Multiple administrators can have different levels of accessibility to manage the organization.

Maintenance management software has also gained leverage in recent years. These solutions provide an invaluable resource to maintain facilities, parks, equipment, vehicles and more with features that enable staff to schedule preventative facility management, track costs, log inspections and create work orders.

Technology has also changed the way parks market to the public. By creating tailored campaigns and promotions, hours of work are now done with the click of a button. Beyond brochures and websites, parks can use social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube to name a handful) and mass email programs, such as MailChimp and ConstantContact, to advertise and target past, current and future patrons at little to no cost. Marketing is easy to schedule and automate to lessen staff workload.

Recreation organizations constantly look for new ways to fundraise for specific projects or general operations, and it is now simple to take it online. Crowdfunding presents new opportunities for fundraising. NRPA’s Fund Your Park is a parks and recreation-specific crowdfunding platform. Other popular platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Crowdrise and Razoo. Traditional fundraisers can use auction software to sign in patrons and host silent auctions via mobile bidding.

Engagement Tools

Beyond administrative solutions, technology is also changing how parks engage parkgoers and encourage interaction with nature. In the past, technology in parks was considered taboo and often criticized, but now geocaching, self-guided trails with QR codes, live streaming, free Wi-Fi, education technology and virtual hikes are all examples of ways a park can use technology to enhance a connection to nature.

Your park can provide an old-fashioned treasure hunt, with geocaching. Georgia State Parks has utilized this technology in two ways — a Parks GeoTour, with caches hidden in more than 40 state parks throughout the state, and a History Trail GeoTour, where the combination of the treasure is revealed only after participants have learned about the site’s history. Because of the popularity and demand for geocaching, numerous parks now host FAQs, rules and/or applications for permits to place a cache on their websites.

QR Codes on signs along self-guided trails can enhance educational experiences. With a click of the phone, parkgoers can learn about nature, wildlife, historic sites and more throughout the park. There are field guides developed specifically for this purpose. Union County Parks in New Jersey, has installed tree signage with QR codes that immediately provide information and illustrations with everything you would want to know about a tree, from how it propagates to the region it inhabits.

Live streaming gives recreation organizations the opportunity to engage parkgoers at home with everything from the popular eagle cam to watching city council meetings. The city of North Myrtle Beach and the town of Mooresville, North Carolina, provide access to live events at their baseball and softball fields so little league fans can watch and cheer from anywhere. Other recreation departments have placed webcams on everything from parking lots to trailheads.

During the past few years, parks from coast to coast have rolled out free Wi-Fi. In some cases, Wi-Fi equipment and maintenance has been privately funded. San Francisco, for example, received a $600,000 gift from Google and Los Angeles Wi-Fi was supported by Toyota. Charleston, South Carolina, has a website dedicated to information on its free Wi-Fi that offers FAQ, support, limitations (three hours) and even the possibility of creating a unique network for events.

Contests have always been a popular way to engage parkgoers, and with social media, it’s easy to take it online! Create a specific hashtag for your contest, like the #OurWakeCountyParks or #abileneparksandrec, and follow the entries on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Parks are using these contests as an easy and fun way to celebrate Park and Recreation Month in July.

Technology in and for parks is limitless. Tech has become an important way to connect with nature and, therefore, important for organizations to continually investigate modern ways to engage parkgoers.


Karen Zgonc is the Marketing Director for REC1.