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Hands-on History at Biscayne National Park’s Family Fun Fest

March 27, 2013 in Connecting People to Parks

Family Fun Fest is an award-winning free public program held on the second Sunday of every month from December through April since 2001. Each month, a different aspect of the park’s diverse resources is highlighted at five hands-on activity stations located around the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point headquarters. At least one Family Fun Fest program each year ties primarily into Biscayne’s history and includes themes such as shipwrecks and maritime history, the Jones family, wreckers, pirates, Native Americans, and pioneer settlers.

In years where we did not have an entire event about history, we incorporated into other themes, which predominantly concentrated on fostering understanding of and connections with the National Park Service and its mission. Examples of these themed activities include America’s Best Idea (2010), This Land is Your Land (2007), and Experience Your America (2004).

Biscayne National Park also routinely ties historically-themed programs into offsite opportunities such as Dade Heritage Days, which successfully reach out to new audiences.

For more information and to see how you can get involved, visit the Family Fun Fest page on the BISC website:


Unleashing Citizen Science

September 19, 2012 in Connecting People to Parks

In an address to the national park community at the University of Texas at Austin in October 2007, Dr. John Fitzpatrick, the director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, spoke about the power of using citizen science to better interpret and conserve the earth’s biological diversity. Dr. Fitzpatrick shared technological innovations that allowed his Lab to take data submitted by an army of thousands and thousands of people and turn it into graphical representations of nature unfolding on a global scale. Although people of all generations and backgrounds may find excitement in exploring their own backyards, the true promise of citizen science may be in fostering curiosity and engagement in youth. As Dr. Fitzpatrick noted, “six year olds love asking questions. They can actually help answer them now.”

In recent years, citizen science has found eager practitioners in the National Park Service – and partners have been integral to its success. The annual BioBlitz is a robust partnership from the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, engaging thousands of students in a 24 hour investigation that captures a park’s biodiversity in a moment in time. At last year’s Bioblitz in Saguaro National Park, the Friends of Saguaro National Park raised nearly $120,000 to improve the park’s communications, transportation and equipment to prepare for and conduct the event. Every Board member participated by leading hikes and volunteering on wilderness experiences with participating middle school and high school students. The National Park Foundation’s Parks Climate Challenge program recently funded a program by the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont where teachers learned about opportunities to engage students in citizen science projects in the park and in their own backyard. A sixth grade glass from Gatlinburg, Tennessee participated in a project monitoring salamander diversity at Great Smoky Mountains and then developed a project to monitor 22 trees on their school grounds.

With opportunities building, the NPS laid a marker in the release of A Call to Action and recognized the importance of creating “a new generation of citizen scientists and future stewards of our parks by conducting fun, engaging, and educational biodiversity discovery activities in at least 100 national parks, including at least five urban parks.”

As the NPS and its partners continue to collaborate on growing citizen science projects within individual parks, they may also begin to think about how to use citizen science to achieve others goals related to technology and large landscape conservation. How might increases in web-based park technology increase opportunities for young park visitors to add to our scientific knowledge of the parks? How can NPS and partner efforts to preserve large landscapes be informed by citizen science that works inside and outside of park boundaries to inform the choices made by managers?