Patchogue, New York. The PUP Global Heritage Consortium is pleased to announce the publication of Version 1.0 of the Visitor Experience Plan for Fire Island National Seashore, a unit of the US National Park Service located on the south shore of Long Island, New York. PUP members Stacie Smith of the Consensus Building Institute and PUP Director Jon Kohl were contracted by the National Park Service to facilitate the park’s long-range interpretation plan.
Last year the park completed its highly participatory General Management Plan and wanted its first subject matter plan to follow to continue with its public involvement. Thus, it hired CBI/PUP to combine the public and stakeholder engagement strength of CBI with the interpretive planning strength of PUP to facilitate the development of the long-range interpretive plan.
Superintendent Chris Soller writes in the plan’s forew ord, “The Fire Island National Seashore Visitor Experience Plan will play a key role in engaging partners in the cooperative stewardship of Seashore resources. Preparation of this plan came at a perfect time to test the ideals of the GMP, and implement a collaborative approach to communication, education, and resource stewardship. As a result, the Visitor Experience Plan reaches beyond the traditional format of identifying interpretive themes and goals, existing conditions, and desired visitor experiences.”
The National Park Service has a traditional format called the long-range interpretive plan, but the park wanted a model that was more participatory and collaborative and thus hired CBI/PUP. This team did far more facilitation and far less decision-making than traditional consultants. It helped the park to forge an inter-divisional Visitor Experience Team (VET) composed of people from various park divisions as well as the park’s principal partner, the non-profit Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society which manages the park’s most visited attraction, the 150-year-old lighthouse seen on the cover.
The VET will remain active in order to implement the plan and guide its evolution. According to CBI/PUP some innovations of this process and plan include:
- Identifying the plan as a visitor experience plan rather than just an interpretation plan, going beyond interpretation to include a more holistic understanding of visitor experience.
- It is version 1.0 as the intention is to emit a new version every year, achieving version 2.0 at the end of 2017 and 3.0 at the end of 2018.
- It employs a rotating five-year calendar that never expires. Every year that is completed (e.g., 2017) a new year will be added to the calendar (e.g., 2022). The calendar goes from highly detailed work plan in the first year to longer-range vision in later years, respecting that the farther one projects in the future, the more uncertain it becomes.
- The plan, while printable, uses mostly an interactive PDF format. The staff will edit and update a Word document which facilitates progression through future versions.
- The plan goes into much more detail about the recommendations or prescriptions than traditional long-range plans. This will help give park staff and partners a bigger jump into the implementation of each major idea.
- The plan ensured the strategic value of the recommendations by aligning them with particular park challenges and goals related to interpretation and recreation management.
- Perhaps most of all, the process worked to create a VET to implement the Visitor Experience Plan. For example, CBI/PUP worked with staff so that they could carry out some of their own workshops for the plan without CBI/PUP staff being present. The VET also did some writing and most of the editing; they played a far more active role in the plan’s creation than in traditional consultant-driven scenarios. The constitution of this team required mediating some intra- and inter-organizational challenges. Its continuance will prove essential to avoid the plan going out of date on the shelf.