Did you know that there’s a running component to each of the 424 National Park Service (NPS) sites spread out across all 56 U.S. states and territories? That means that from Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona to Aniakchak National Monument in Alaska, there’s opportunity to connect your store to the same sites we’ll collectively celebrate as a nation during April 22-30th’s National Park Week.
How do I know this?
From 2016–2019, I spent three years nonstop setting a world record visiting each one of these sites and I learned that they all have some sort of trail integrated into them. From the largest park – bigger than the state of Connecticut – to the smallest that is the size of a room in downtown Philadelphia.
This work by the National Park Service to make sure there is some sort of trail within or connected to the boundaries of every NPS-protected site (commonly referred to as lowercase “national parks”), means that there is ample opportunity for any run specialty retailer to partner with their local NPS site for a running event.
Even better, there’s an entire support staff to help you pull this off.
Every NPS site is staffed with federal employees whose job is to help tell the story of their park. Because the NPS protects America’s most important places (like the Smithsonian protects our most important things and Library of Congress our most important documents) these Interpretive Rangers help visitors understand the meaning of each site and how it fits into our American story. Part of that job includes finding creative ways to get people to visit their site.
Indeed, in 2021, 297.1 million travelers visited the 424 NPS sites, but half of them went to the same 25 parks. This means there are 399 places where the local Rangers will be extra excited to hear from you with ideas on how to increase visitation to their site.
You can search for the park nearest you at the nps.gov/findapark website.
From there, you can also find the associated non-profit that nearly every site has. So if there are bureaucratic blockages to what you want to accomplish, they can often be worked around by partnering with the site’s non-governmental organization. This means you’ll have double the amount of staff members who will be excited to partner with you for ways that increase visitation to the park, promote new activities and help share the site to your audience.
In exchange, new shoppers from the park’s audience will learn about your store and look for running products to use in their local NPS site.
Four Ideas to Start With
While you should brainstorm with your local community the ways you can best activate your local park, some concepts to help spark your ideating:
• Have an annual Fun Run incorporating the existing trail at the site.
• Learn about the trail offerings from your local park staff and advertise in your store which products will best help shoppers utilize the closest national parks.
• Develop a park tour that’s running-focused, for both residents and tourists, that is hosted by a running ranger or store staff trained by park rangers. For example, a store in Washington D.C. could serve as the start/end point for a tour around the National Mall. Or one in San Francisco would run through Golden Gate National Recreation Area. For route building, many parks have a “cell phone tour” of listening markers that you can design from, or offer runners to use if there’s no knowledgeable guide runner.
• Form a run club sponsored by your store that meets at the park.
Katie Nyberg, former executive director of the non-profit Mississippi Park Connection that supports the 72-mile long Mississippi National River and Recreation Area where I do my daily run in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, suggests that if you want a low-lift way to brainstorm, take your running shoes to your local national park and ask the Visitor Center attendant what trails they’d recommend, then you can conceptualize while you run.
No matter what you do with your local national park, remember that the best thing about running in one of our NPS sites is that it’s about more than just running: you’re getting a cultural and historic experience as well.
Hopefully, that encourages you to get out to your nearest site during National Park Week, April 22 – 30, and find your park that helps your store grow.
About the Author
Mikah Meyer is a world record-setting adventurer and professional speaker who consults with tourism bureaus around the globe on initiatives to bring new visitors. As a runner, he is an annual partner for brands like REI, Brooks, and CamelBak. He can be reached via www.mikahmeyer.com