Technology and Parks: The Perfect Match!

Message From The Director

Now, before you think I have traveled to the dark side let me explain… Technology has engulfed our world and not only become a useful tool for so many things but also become something that we use all the time.  Some would argue that this generation is consumed with technology, from monitoring social media and texting as our primary way of communicating to binge watching television shows on demand. No one can argue that technology has changed our world and even our behavior.  In the park community, park professionals have debated the value and use of technology for some time now. Some believe parks are to remain a sanctuary free from technology and distractions from the outside world, while others believe technology can enhance the park experience. 

I love technology, not just the smart phone and the computers, but how technology has made experiencing the outdoors easier and a lot of fun.  Take the advances in camping: not just the obvious travel trailers and fifth wheels that are homes on wheels, but the smaller things like tents, stoves and lanterns. Canvas tents have been replaced with waterproof and lightweight materials that make camping easier and more comfortable. Then there are the advances in technology for my favorite park experience- hiking. From lightweight backpacks to hiking poles, hiking gear has improved and enabled us to enjoy being outside that much more. Technology has also improved footwear and created the “dry fit” shirts and convertible hiking pants that are a must for a long hike! 

However, I must admit my favorite piece of technology remains the smart phone. I know, I know, I’m a park guy and not supposed to be so obsessed with my smart phone, but… it has a camera on it! I am never without a camera to capture those moments that turn into memories that last a lifetime. While I usually carry a “real” camera, I still find myself taking pictures with my phone. It is just so easy and takes great pictures. As I travel to parks across the state, I am amazed at how technology has changed our parks and our visitors.  I see smart phones, tablets, new equipment, larger camping units and lots of young visitors.  Believe it or not, one of the most frequently asked questions we get when a potential visitor makes an inquiry on a potential visit is….you guessed it, “Do you have Wi-Fi?”  Whether we like it or not, we live in a technology world, and South Carolina’s state parks have embraced it!  All parks with cabins have Wi-Fi and most of our parks have Wi-Fi hot spots.  We are working toward having access to Wi-Fi at all of the parks with camping, as Wi-Fi has become a major factor in the decision making process of whether or not a visitor will stay at a park. Technology has been a critical factor in planning for the future of South Carolina’s state parks.  We do not want to leave a generation behind and have them not be able to connect to their state parks because we did not embrace technology. 

The good news is that your parks are still sanctuaries to immerse yourself in the beauty and solitude of nature. Still places of history, where you can get lost in time and discover South Carolina’s roles in the development of a nation. Still places where moms and dads take their kids to learn to fish, swim or understand their role in taking care of our resources. Still places where people fall in love and make memories that last a lifetime. Duane Parrish, the director of our agency, the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, said it best as he was recounting his Ultimate Outsider experience and his renewed appreciation of state parks. He said: “In today’s fast paced world, with emails and the need to stay in touch, people need places to disconnect, while still being connected. State parks allow you to do just that.” Indeed, Duane, otherwise lots of folk may never experience a park. 

I enjoy disconnecting at a park on my time off and enjoy staying connected by posting pictures of my adventures and experiences, and encouraging others to come and explore the wonderlands of South Carolina. The more pictures I post the more my friends inquire about where I was when I posted a particular set of pictures. I often hear ‘I’ve never been there’ or ‘I never knew we had that in South Carolina.’  So, fall is here. It’s the best time to experience your parks and, in the spirit of new technology, check out our new website to help plan a visit to your state parks. Bring your smart phone, tablet and laptop; we’re ready for your next visit! Immerse yourself in the resources of your state parks, post your pictures, then put down the phone and listen. The sounds can be deafening, the crickets, tree frogs, wind and even the laughter, but these sounds can also be renewing. Off the grid, not a bad way to spend the day. I like it. Maybe, even leave the phone down for a while and disconnect with the knowledge when you need to reconnect, you can. 

See you in the parks!