Be Our Guest

Message From The Director

I remember the lectures clearly, both giving them and receiving them, before going to a friend’s house for the first time.  My parents would tell me to behave, eat what they served with a smile, use my manners and don’t make a mess.  As a parent I gave a similar set of instructions to my children when they were going to be a guest in someone’s home. 

As an adult, those messages still ring true, but are played out in a different way when we either have guest over, or are guests.  When company is coming, we clean things a little better and prepare to put our best foot forward making them feel at home and welcome. When we are the guest we try to help our host however we can, clean up after ourselves and try to leave their home as nice as we found it.  

When visiting a state park, you are visiting someone’s home.  Aside from the obvious, that these places are home to wildlife that ranges from a common gray squirrel to an endangered nesting shorebird, these parks are also homes to our employees. Our park teams take care of these places like they do their homes, and some even live on site.  Each day as they welcome thousands through the gate, they are doing their best to ensure the park is clean, that we have put our best foot forward and that everyone feels welcome.  Whether coming for a day or an extended stay, our teams around the state are exceptional at their jobs and do everything they can to make each visit a memorable experience.

Our visitors, as guests, can also have an impact on every other visitor’s experience. We have all heard or told stories about invited guests at parties who caused problems when they visited.  Perhaps they were rude to others at the event, broke something, made a mess or just generally made the whole get-together less than it should have been.  Just like those guests, visitors to parks can do the same, sometimes without even knowing it. 

To help describe what a good guest is, I have spoken to many of our team members and asked them what are the things that guests do that are the most frustrating --or the most helpful? The things they shared, things I will share with you, all focused around making visitor experiences, as special as they can be.  

So here are some do’s and don’ts from our park staff around the state:

1.  Do plan for your visit. Check the weather, our website and take a look at the information we have on kiosks inside the park.  The information can make your park experience better. We share park history, trail information and useful tips.  Our signage on parking and directions inside the park is there to ensure everyone can visit the park with minimal impact to the resource --so that resource can be there for generations to enjoy.

2.  Don’t create a scene or cause a traffic problem when a park reaches capacity. We frequently have to close parks because they are full.  The person turning you around is just trying to keep traffic and visitors safe.  They have had every reason why they need to make an exception thrown at them. Understand that we are closing it for the protection of the resource and safety of our visitors.  Whether you have a park passport, or have already been in that day and left, we are sorry you will have to come back later.  Please be patient.

3.  Do ask questions. We are here to help.  While we may be busy, and stopping at the gate may not be an option, many parks have visitor centers and offices where you can speak with someone. If during your visit you encounter a problem, please tell an employee so we can address it while you are there.  Don’t let a problem we may have been able to address ruin your experience.

4.  Don’t be trashy. With millions of visitors a year, taking out the trash is a daily activity at most parks.  It is labor-intensive and time-consuming, and cuts into the time we have for visitor services and other park needs. When visiting make sure you clean up after yourself, place your trash in the proper refuse containers, or pack it out.

5.  Do share your park experiences with us. Take pictures and create memories while there.  Our staff loves seeing posts tagged on social media, posing for pictures or getting surveys and notes that show how the park is important to you and what your experience was like.

6.  Don’t forget to plan for your dog. If your dog is going to be part of your visit, make sure to consider how you are going to manage them in the park.  All dogs must remain on a leash under your control at all times in the park. In the campground they can be in an appropriate enclosure. Please remember, a dog barking all day at your campsite while you are away, or scarring a child who is afraid of dogs can really impact other visitors' experience. An off-leash dog can disturb ground-nesting birds, create a problem for on-leash dogs, destroy birds or turtle nests and harass other wildlife that needs the park habitat for their home.  Your dog can quickly ruin other visitors' experience at the park or inadvertently damage wildlife.

7.  Do try something new. Our parks offer programs and experiences that can cater to what you already like to do --or offer you a new adventure.  Experiences can range from tubing down a black river to paddling a mountain lake, crabbing in saltwater marshes or finding waterfalls.  Visitors can primitive camp next to a mountain stream, use a camper cabin with a lake view, stay in a 1930’s CCC cabin or relax in a luxury villa.  Try our Ultimate Outsider program or learn how to geocache. We offer something for everybody and something new for you.

8. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do while visiting someone else’s home --from putting nails in walls for decorations in a cabin, to creating a mess in a restroom facility.  Talk to any park employee, and they can share a story of something someone did that made them shake their head and caused our team extra work. If it’s inappropriate to do in yours or someone else’s home, it is likely inappropriate to do in a park facility.

9. Do be considerate of others. From loud music, an errant frisbee on a crowded beach or inappropriate language, your actions can impact others simply trying to enjoy the park.  Make sure your enjoyment doesn’t come at the expense of someone else's.

Parks are a great place --although those of us that work in them may be slightly biased!  We love sharing them with our visitors and showing off some of the best resources in our state. So, come, be our guest!  We hope you feel welcome and want to come again.  As they say in the south....“you’re welcome to come by anytime”.  We’ll be ready!