MPA Perspective: What Qualities Make a "Great Park"

MPA News

Editor's note: Artie Jacobson, author of the following essay, has spent nearly two decades as a ranger and manager in the Whitsunday Region of the Great Barrier Reef for the Queensland (Australia) Parks and Wildlife Service. The Whitsunday region, comprising 1% of the area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, accounts for 60% of the park's tourism activity.

By Artie Jacobson

Imagine your ideal protected area. What qualities would its management have, and what actions would management take? In short, what would make it a Great Park? I have given thought to this, based both on my experience in the Whitsundays over 18-odd years and my recent travels to several parks in different countries. Below are some of the qualities that I believe comprise excellence:

  • A Great Park protects and presents a broad range of values or attributes that are obvious and unique in the region, nation, or world.

  • A Great Park emanates a strong sense of welcome or "arrival" to the visitor through appropriately presented and designed infrastructure: e.g., a strategically placed and state-of-the-art information center; appropriately placed signs; relevant educational material; and ranger-guided tours.

  • A Great Park has a progressive natural resource management program in place that sustains existing values.The program is science-based, and recovery programs are underway where required.

  • A Great Park encourages the expectation by management, park users, and the community that all parties utilizing the resource have a sincere desire to conduct their business in sustainable ways, with programs in place that provide for continual improvement in resource management and ongoing responsible use.

  • A Great Park provides a range of recreational opportunities for visitors, supported through sustainable planning programs including social and physical carrying capacity limits.

  • A Great Park has a successful commercial tourism industry that actively supports the park presentation program.Commercial tourism opportunity and subsequent growth should be identified and well-planned prior to opening the park "for sale" via tourism.

  • A Great Park requires tourist programs to be formally accredited against a set of criteria that encourage an eco-friendly style of operation, are aligned with a recognized accreditation program, and are supported by management agencies to help maintain the standards.Compliance with standards should be self-regulatory, again with ongoing support from management agencies. The management agencies are seen as "service providers" to the industry as well as regulators - the regulatory component is not the "be all and end all".

  • A Great Park has a management system that deals with non-compliant users fairly and appropriately to impress upon the community and other resource users that low tolerance exists for any form of disrespect toward this special place.

  • A Great Park generates substantial revenue for park management through providing high-order opportunity for the commercial tourism industry and visitors, and partnership arrangements that allow for other park management contributions to be made (i.e., funding of additional rangers by industry).The revenue supports ongoing maintenance and further development of the park's management program.Ranger services build "real time" partnerships.

  • A Great Park has a seamless management program across the different tenures (marine and terrestrial) in the eyes of the visitor, tourist operator, and other resource user.The user-permit administration and payment systems will be considerate of the needs of permit-holders, placing minimal administrative burden on operators.

  • A Great Park has a workforce with a staff management structure suited to both agency and local park management needs.It has sufficient flexibility within the structure to adapt to change, and consists of individuals who possess a strong conservation ethic, care for one another, and are able to work effectively and efficiently as a team to meet agency outcomes.

  • A Great Park has a management team that performs to the highest presentation standards at all times, including but not limited to: professional and friendly attitude of staff; conformity with dress standards (particularly the wearing of the dress uniform); and good maintenance and presentation of vehicles, vessels, and other equipment and park infrastructure.

  • A Great Park demonstrates a government-wide approach to park management through shared resource arrangements with other departments.

  • A Great Park generates a feeling within the community that the park is a part of the community: a special place that contributes to the social, economic, and cultural well-being of the community as a whole.As a consequence, the park is afforded ongoing care and protection by all.

  • A Great Park generates within the community a strong sense of ownership of the park.The park fosters an equally strong confidence within the community of the park management capacity.

  • A Great Park contributes to providing meaningful local employment opportunities both inside and outside the park, adding to the sense of community ownership of the park.

  • A Great Park has a strong influence on the greater community such that a voluntary desire is established within the community for the greater area to become a "Great Place".

  • A Great Park becomes a model for other parks to follow.

For more information

Artie Jacobson, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Queensland, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4946 7022, E-mail: asjacobson [at] bigpond.com