Getting rich on the parks’ business plan
I love visiting national parks and monuments. There is another-time quantity about them that I lose myself in. I doubt that many can convincingly argue that they are not similarly soothed by well-maintained, late-’50s-era, simple architecture decorated in earth tones.The roads leading to these places are chip-sealed and narrow asphalt marvels that work over and around all different kinds of terrain. Look for them branching off major highways whenever you pass a time warp marked by a wooden sign painted brown with white, glossy lettering – no razzle-dazzle, just the directions.People generally drive slowly after leaving the other world, and there is little trash on the 6-inch shoulders, or beyond. People don’t throw garbage out of their windows in these places because they are humbled here, and even the nonreligious visitors know that it would be a sin to do so. Travelers are singular in purpose when they are on these byways, and it’s not about getting to the shopping, either. The best you can hope to buy at the brown gift shop, as distinguished from the brown restaurant and brown outhouses, are a map full of elevation gradient lines, a tube of generic sunscreen, or a book written by someone with a Ph.D.When you approach the visitors center (that might have welcomed your grandparents when they were your age), employees, from janitors to tour guides, wear uniforms, clean and neatly pressed. One does not get the impression that turnover is an issue. The corporate ladder is most likely being used by a ranger, repairing a sign. The people who take these jobs are not motivated by higher finance. They don’t need stress or Starbucks to jump-start their days. Their apparent comfort with themselves makes you believe they know many things you don’t. It feels like you are in a house of mirrors with your high school science teacher. By the end of your visit, you will undoubtedly wish it was them running the government rather than working all the way out in its forgotten fringes, even though you know they wouldn’t be happy with any more power than is needed to gently remind folks to stay on the trails.Theirs is a business that requires no marketing. They don’t have to worry about image. Their main goal is to ensure that the product never changes, knowing full well that it can never be “new” or “improved.” The formula can never be duplicated. “What, me worry?” could be their mission statement. Sure, let the next whiz kid try to create what they have in someone’s garage.What would it be like to go to work every day knowing positively that all your customers will leave completely satisfied? Check it out – nobody at your national parks is promising satisfaction or your money back. The only thing guaranteed is that you will never have to take a number for the line at the complaints department.All of this adds up to what I like most about visiting the national parks: The experience never changes. A visit to Mesa Verde now is the same as it was when I went there with my fourth-grade elementary school class.Even when the parks are crowded they’re great. Compare them with walking around any amusement park on a busy summer day where you scramble to stumble over all the other people waiting there to spend money as quickly as possible in order to keep from being disappointed … again. It takes a lot of work to make your experience live up to their hype. Sure, it’s fun, but you didn’t really think the total elapsed time on the rides of 20 minutes in an entire Saturday is what caused you to be exhausted to the point of feeling that you got your money’s worth out of your season’s pass in one single, long, hot day, did you?By contrast, how long does it take your family to get its $10 worth of satisfaction at a national park? You’re usually just about there by the time you pull up to the gate, hand the attendant a $20, get change back. You get it the moment you arrive, you don’t leave until long after you have it, and you keep it for a long time after you leave.You see, the secret to their success is that the parks were not designed to entertain you. The magic that Disney could never copy in all of his genius is that they invite you to entertain yourself. They are there to educate and enlighten you. They are there to revive your sense of wonder. They remind you that this world is a gigantic place in an impossibly expansive time. They are perfect for making a person feel completely insignificant for a change, and that usually ends up being quite liberating.Many of the tourist traps, must-see attractions, and gizmos that I found amazing in my youth have lost their charms as I have grown older and understand their deceptions. They seem small, cheap, and simple with age. This isn’t true with nature’s great wonders. With them, the more I have learned the less I realize I know. They become more amazing each time I visit them! It is a similar thing with great art, yet even that can’t hold the attention of the young.I recently visited Canyonlands with my family. The five of us explored together and saw the same wonders. I looked at my children as they gazed at things unexplainable. I know they watched me doing the same. Driving away we excitedly talked over each other to tell all about what we had seen. It is something we will spend time for the rest of our lives remembering. These are experiences in common. They will never change for me. They will never change for them. We will be rich for our experiences!… If only I can figure out how to write up a business plan.Roger Marolt will return to the 21st century next week. Tell him about your favorite national park at firstname.lastname@example.org
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