Time to get Mobile…..in the Park

And I am not talking about cell phones. I am talking about a growing trend among mobile visitor centers.  This goes way beyond capitalizing on the trendiness of mobile everything — think food trucks, espresso carts, etc. It’s really about meeting the changing needs of the park visitor. The mobile center can move around a park based upon where the people are at any particular time of year — and of course, being mobile they can also take the park to the visitor.  I even saw the East Bay Regional Park District’s mobile center taking part in the annual Fourth of July Parade on Alameda Island.

East Bay Park District on the move
East Bay Park District on the move

I can also imagine that its cost and time efficient. A 2001 report from the GAO summarized construction costs for 80 visitor centers underway in National Parks at that time. They ranged from $500,000 to $39 million — averaging at a little over $6 million. That’s a lot of money, leave aside the time it takes to obtain the permits, bid the job, construct the building and commission the exhibits. Its likely that by the time its completed, its already out of date!

Contrast that to a mobile center that can be designed, fabricated and deployed much more rapidly. I don’t have cost estimates, but believe food trucks can start at around $50,000 fully kitted out.  That leaves a lot of change — even from the cheapest traditional visitor center.  I would love to see these become common-place: spending there weekends and summers in the parks, and there weekdays visiting schools, city parks and more.

It’s time parks got out of the mindset of the traditional visitor center and started thinking about creative new ways of delivering services to the people in cost-effective ways. The mobile visitor center is a great start!

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