Texas state parks are looking for ways to reach out to younger visitors, many of whom would rather play computer games than take a hike through nature, with innovative new programs, Statesman.com reports. Although 2012 visitor levels have bounced back after the 2011 drought saw all time lows in visitors, the visitors are still older and more likely to be white.
The average age of state park visitors is currently 46, but the communications department of the Parks and Wildlife Department wants to reduce that age and bring in more racial and ethnic minorities. Across the nation, families have visited parks less and less in the last 30 years, as computer games rose in popularity.
The parks department has about 12 new programs in the works to try and bring in new visitors. These include things like a junior ranger program where visitors can complete activities to earn badges and certificates, and rent-a-backpack programs. The backpacks contain things like binoculars, microscopes and plant identification books that are specific to the park’s ecological region. Last year the department hosted its first Geocache Challenge, which brought in over 18,000 people to state parks.
Other initiatives include improvements to the department’s website, signs, brochures, maps and state park exhibits to help visitors, who may not have much outdoor experience, learn how to enjoy the outdoors. The department is trying to do more with less, as the Texas Legislature cut the department’s budget by $150 million, a fifth of its budget, in the last legislative session.