American Recreation Coalition Announces 2008 Beacon Award Winners

Washington, D.C. - Six 2008 Beacon Awards, representing outstanding efforts in harnessing the power of technology to improve public recreation experiences and federal recreation program management, were presented by the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) at the opening reception for Great Outdoors Week on Monday, June 9. The awards were presented by ARC Vice Chairman Richard Coon at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Winners of the 2008 Beacon Awards are:

National Park Service WebRanger Program: WebRangers began in 2005 and has become a premier destination for youth – indeed, all ages – interested in history, science, nature and the National Park System. It embraces peer-to-peer sharing as well as offers agency-provided knowledge. It draws youth from across the nation – and in fact from around the world. ARC applauds the National Park Service for this outreach and thanks Best Buy Children's Foundation and the National Park Foundation for financial support of the project.

Glacier in Real Time: This National Park Service effort utilizes electronic technologies to develop a suite of new visitor services providing information on current park conditions, interactive multimedia programs and innovative exhibits produced at a fraction of traditional costs. From weather forecasts to campsite availability to webcams to trail reports to requests for publications – all of that is now possible instantly on-line. And static exhibits once costing $3,000 are now produced inhouse for $100-$300. ARC applauds the partnership with two local friends groups and the sharing of these successful efforts widely within the agency. Don Virgovic, National NatureWatch Program Leader for the Forest Service: This award recognizes Mr. Virgovic’s many and varied successes in harnessing computers to connect the Forest Service to visitors and the general public. His "eagle cam" is currently receiving 20,000 hits daily. His I-Nature feature directs visitors to the best sites to view wildlife. His electronic photo library enables Forest Service employees to access thousands of copyright-free images. And Don's efforts are a model of partnerships – with zoos and state tourism offices and nonprofits. Don brings truth to the statement that some only mouth – "technology is our friend."

Phoenix Interagency and Citizen OHV Travel Management Working Group: This award recognizes a team that took on problems and applied technology to solve them. Use of off-road vehicles is fun and can be done safely for people and the environment, but use must be managed. So a team from the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, from Arizona State Parks and Arizona Game and Fish, from a sand and gravel company and from enthusiast organizations developed and used technology and good sense to create a winning management plan. Elements of the plan include better dissemination of information to enthusiasts over the internet, an OHV Ambassador Program, new ways to contain dust, trail design work, better signs and Tread Lightly ethics training. Because those facing regulation are part of the process, public support has been good.

Pike's Passage: Mississippi River Water Trail Development: Steve Stockton, Director of Civil Works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said in his nomination letter, "Nowhere else on the Mississippi River is there a water trail that uses technological innovation to provide the visitor with such an outdoor experience." GIS, GPS, computer modeling and the World Wide Web connect the technology-based public with the great outdoors at minimal cost. Through partnerships with the American Canoe Association, the St. Louis Canoe and Kayak Club, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Pike's Passage has become a model for future recreation innovation and advances.

The Going to the Sun Road Visitor Transportation System: The Federal Highway Administration and the National Park Service are managing a $150 million road rehabilitation effort in ways that minimize adverse consequences for visitors. The challenge was great – to get a sufficient number of persons to voluntarily elect to ride a shuttle rather than drive the Going to the Sun Road so that traffic congestion from reconstruction would not be unbearable. The threshold for success was set high: divert 800 to 1600 private vehicle riders per day. And the results were still higher: an average of 2200 riders per day. And rather than a decline in visitation – something anticipated because of construction – visitation actually increased significantly! This was done by shrewdly sharing information about the advantages of the shuttle with hikers and with those who remembered the challenge of finding parking at sites like Logan Pass. The information was shared on the internet, with improved signs, through gateway organizations and other partners. And the shuttle was just one part of an innovative partnership on this project: the actual roadwork is being done under an innovative Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity contract that allows a single contractor to manage the total route to minimize public disruption.

ARC initiated the Beacon Awards during Great Outdoors Week 2005, implementing a recommendation of Partners Outdoors 2005, whose participants felt that a new awards program, administered by ARC and involving federal agencies hosting more than a billion recreation visits annually, would encourage experimentation with and use of new technologies and alternative communications channels to enhance visitor experiences and improve recreation program management. Recreation-related federal agencies annually nominate outstanding initiatives where new technologies provide improved, cost-effective solutions to recreation program needs. Award criteria include:

1) Innovation in either the use of technology for visitor services or the use of technology for recreation management;
2) Partnerships with for-profit and nonprofit organizations in the private sector;
3) Efforts to share news of creative solutions within the agency; and
4) Community support for the work of this initiative, as reflected in awards, community boards and committees, etc.

The American Recreation Coalition is a Washington-based, nonprofit federation formed in 1979.Since its inception, ARC has sought to catalyze public/private partnerships to enhance and protect outdoor recreation. Its membership consists of more than 100 organizations, including national and regional associations and corporations that represent a major share of the $400 billion a year recreation/leisure industry and enthusiast groups representing millions of recreationists. ARC provides a unified voice for recreation interests to ensure their full and active participation in the government policy making that is shaping present and future outdoor recreation resources, facilities and opportunities. ARC conducts research on a regular basis, organizes and conducts national conferences and meetings and disseminates information regarding recreational needs and initiatives through a variety of media, including its Web site, www.funoutdoors.com.