How to Make State Parks More Accessible With Brian Ketterer
Tyler Podcast Episode 54, Transcript
Our Tyler Technologies podcast explores a wide range of complex, timely, and important issues facing communities and the public sector. Expect approachable tech talk mixed with insights from subject matter experts and a bit of fun. Host and content marketing director Jeff Harrell – and other guest hosts – highlights the people, places, and technology making a difference. Give us listen today and subscribe.
June is Great Outdoors month, and coming out the pandemic, it seems peoples’ desire to get out and enjoy the outdoors has really exploded. And that includes visiting state parks. But often, there are barriers to access. In this episode, we learn about some of the barriers, and how California State Parks, with the help of Tyler’s NIC Outdoor + US eDirect, a market-leader for campground and outdoor recreation management, has recently launched some innovative programs to remove these barriers. Including ways to better serve underrepresented communities. In this episode, Bill Bryan, VP of North America of Tyler’s US eDirect, talks with Brian Ketterer, the Coastal Field Division Chief at California State Parks about these programs and how they align with Tyler’s message of diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation. Enjoy Bill Bryan’s conversation with Brian Ketterer.
Brian Ketterer: It's not just about the access to the park. It's gaining access to all the opportunities that are in that park. And I think that's really going to be one of the focus points for this team moving forward, is trying to figure out how do we make those connections.
Jeff Harrell: From Tyler Technologies, it's the Tyler Tech Podcast, where we talk about issues facing communities today. And highlight the people, places, and technology making a difference. My name is Jeff Harrell. I'm the director of content marketing for Tyler. And I'm so glad that you joined me. Well, June is great outdoors month. And coming out of the pandemic, it seems that people's desire to get out and enjoy the outdoors has really exploded. And that includes visiting state parks, but often there are barriers to access. Well, today we learn about some of those barriers and how the California State Parks, with the help of Tyler's NIC Outdoor and US eDirect ... which by the way, is a market leader for campground and outdoor recreation management. Has recently launched some innovative programs to remove these barriers, including ways to better serve underrepresented communities. Well, today, Bill Bryan, who is VP of North America at Tyler's US eDirect, talks with Brian Ketterer. Brian is the Coastal Field Division Chief at California State Parks, and they talk about how these programs align with Tyler's message of diversity, equity, and inclusion in outdoor recreation. Here's Bill Bryan's conversation with Brian Ketterer.
Bill Bryan: This is Bill Bryan. I'm with US eDirect, and part of the Tyler Technology family. Proud to be here with Brian Ketterer, who is the Field Division Chief for California State Parks, one of our partners in the outdoor industry. And we're going to talk to Brian today about access and inclusivity and diversity in our state parks. California's been a leader in this respect. And Brian, he sacrificed these idyllic summer days as a lifeguard, first. And I still think him as a lifeguard, but he's donned the ranger brown, and is now a leader for California State Parks and has done a lot to make their parks more accessible to everyone. When we talk about access to the outdoors in this context, what does that mean, Brian?
Brian Ketterer: Well, first thank you for that. I don't know that I deserve that much credit. But for me, access is really ... when we talk about access, it's how do we invite people of all backgrounds and cultures to the parks? And that's pretty much a broad definition, but I think it's easy. The tough part for us is finding, how are we going to do that? Somebody has clear and connect access to the parks straight from their front door, wherever that may be, not only into the park, but experiencing all the programming, all the opportunities. And then building upon those memories or that time they spent with us and getting them to explore more, whether it's their backyard community park, a state park, or a municipal or county park.
Bill Bryan: Yeah, that's great. I mean, that's part of what our parks are all about. I mean, it's this American idea of getting people outdoors makes us happier and healthier, right?
Brian Ketterer: Right. Yeah. We saw it through the introduction of the pandemic. And just look at what we did, or what the nation did with recreational equipment and purchasing it. And then all of a sudden, the explosion that happened into the outdoor communities, knowing that it was not only a place to remain healthy, but it was a respite from everything that was going on. And the information, or lack thereof that we were getting and trying to just understand what was happening throughout the world and in our small little pockets of communities.
Library Parks Pass
Bill Bryan: Yeah. If parks make us happier and healthier, let's make them available to everybody as easily as we can. And through our Recreation Dynamics Platform, partnering with Amazon Web Services, we've been able to help you with that challenge. And why don't you start out by telling us a little bit about your Library Parks Pass?
Brian Ketterer: Yeah. So we have, it's a rather new statewide pass, it's called the Library Parks Pass. And it says it all in its name. So we basically ... this was born from ... the history of it is we had been doing a small little pilot. And when I say pilot, I think we'd been doing it for about seven years. We were giving seven passes to a local library in the San Francisco Bay Area, trying to get those that had a need and needed accessibility, out to our parks in a very big city atmosphere and trying to get them outdoors. And so we had done that for a number of years. The first partner and the governor's office got wind of it when they came into the governor's house. And they basically made it one of their trident priorities, is to get this partnership with libraries and with state parks together. And so what you saw last ... well, I guess it's this year. The end of our fourth quarter, is we deployed 5,000 passes. With a great outpouring from the legislature to make sure that both sides were taken care of financially and no one was losing anything. No revenue or no expenses were being lost out of my operational budget. But 5,000 Explorer passes, which is our annual day-use pass, good at almost all of our 279 parks, were deployed to libraries throughout the state. And it's as easy as obtaining your library card. Going down and just like you would check out a book, you check out an annual pass or an Explorer pass and you get it for an extended few days. It can be anywhere from three to seven days, and then you turn it back in. And again, it just works like your traditional library book system would.
Bill Bryan: That's awesome. I mean, that's breaking down one of the barriers that prevents people from getting to parks, is to be able to buy a pass. And so this is a really innovative way to do that. And I think the Outdoor for All Access Initiative by first partner, Jennifer Newsom, is outstanding. And you guys have found a way to convert that and make it accessible to people and encourage people to go to the library. So that's cool. How is this all tied together? You've got other kinds of passes as well, that are designed to help different people make it to parks.
Brian Ketterer: Yeah. This is actually one of 18 passes that the department actually deploys. We have various passes. Again, the Explorer pass is an annual day-use pass, it can be purchased by anybody for $195. And it gives you access every day, 365 days a year to, again, almost all of our 279 parks. We also have a Poppy pass that is good for ... it's an annual day-use pass that's good for most of Northern California, not so much our busier Southern region. And then we have some amazing discount programs that we offer. One for senior citizens. We have another one for low income. And then we have our veterans pass, as well as our disabled discount pass. All of them have great benefits. They're all a little bit different, but you can go to our website, californiaparks.com and check out the passes. I think that the one thing that we're going to have to look for in the future is how do we diminish the complexities of having 18 passes, and make it more simple for our users and those that want to access parks to direct them to the right pass. And I think we'll talk about it using our Reservation Dynamics Platform. And the way that we've built family profiles within the system, I think there's some opportunities to make it less complex and simplify the process for the end user.
Bill Bryan: Oh, that'll be great. And using that profile feature allows you to take care of families and understand and anticipate those needs. And that's one other thing. I mean, you can put a library pass on a shelf, but without the technology, do you have visibility into who's using passes and when they're using them and where they're going?
Brian Ketterer: Yeah. I think right now we're using the very tip of the iceberg, if you will. So for right now, it's basically a commodity-based service. What the library pass program does is it provides us with a place where the pass was checked out, so we can actually see what library was checked out from. It might provide us some zip code opportunities. And really that's what we're looking for, is we're looking for any piece that's not confidential. That a person ... I wouldn't be upset if somebody knew that I came from a certain zip code. So that we can start building and tailoring parks to our end users. And that changes, again, every day with every generation, with every recreational opportunity. But as far as us using it right now, the simplicity of it is you basically get the pass, you come through, again, using our point of sale system, our Reservation Dynamics point of sale system. The barcode or the QR code is read. It goes in as a no sale. And you guys get to recreate as quickly as possible. We are doing things on future development where we're going to have what we call license plate readers. And basically all it's doing is connecting your license plate to your profile in the Recreation Dynamics system, and giving you a green light to come through if you have a pass that allows you to do that.
Brian Ketterer: Our goal and our job, and especially where I work in Southern California, is to expedite that entry into the park. I don't want to hold you up unless you have questions or you need some information from us, but I want you to get out there and explore and play in the parks as quickly as possible. And our entry into that park should be seamless. Again, we want you to enjoy the parks, not sit in the line of traffic trying to wait to get in.
Bill Bryan: Right. I mean, a day in the park doesn't mean sitting in line. It's about enjoying the resource and having that experience. And it's great for public safety too, to get people off the road and into the park as quickly as possible.
Brian Ketterer: Think of that now, too, our recreational opportunities. Again, in Southern California, I could be surfing in the morning, to a mountain bike ride in the afternoon, to a sunset hike with my wife. They may be three different parks, that might be three different entry levels. And so anytime that we can expedite that using technology is always good.
Bill Bryan: Now you're going to make people jealous. That sounds like a great day. But we're glad to be able to help just a tiny bit with that. And one of the other things that I ... there are lots of barriers that keep people from going out. And it's not just, how do I get a pass, can I afford a pass, or how do I get one? But it's also, I know that in California, a lot of families speak Spanish at home. So what are your plans? What are you working on to help there?
Brian Ketterer: Yeah. So we are working with Recreation Dynamics on building a bilingual platform for our reservation system. Our websites for government are placed into that system, where we will have a bilingual opportunity. I think the challenge for California ... and if you think about it, I think in LA County ... I taught school there for a little bit. But I think in LA county alone, we have 117 different languages that are spoken within the LA Unified School District. So getting this bilingual opportunity out for Spanish is going to be great, but then we need to focus on who else do we need to touch? And what other languages do we need to focus on so that everybody feels comfortable and doesn't have to feel ashamed or doesn't have to feel like they're not getting heard, or they can't find the information they want? And that's part of our ... we talked about it earlier. What does access mean? What does diversity mean? That's one of those challenges, is from start to finish, making everybody feel that they're inclusive. And that starts right at that webpage. And it's going to be more important as we move into the social media, and we come out of the dark ages from a recreational standpoint, of using the media and social media platforms to get our message out.
Pay by Phone
Bill Bryan: We're launching that this fall. And we're excited about that. And hope that it translates into increased access and people feeling more comfortable in knowing that when they go to book a visit, it's a little simpler too, a little easier to do. And in addition to bilingualism and the barrier to get a pass, what other kinds of things are you looking at that you can do with Recreation Dynamics potentially, to help people access parks?
Brian Ketterer: I think that the most exciting part for me, having been in this space for 30 years and trying to use technology to our advantage to get people to parks, I think that the specifics with Recreation Dynamics and with the Tyler family is really starting to explore, pay-by-phone options. Using your iOS device, your Android device, to download multi-day passes. To have other opportunities to provide passes. And really putting parks at the fingertips of the individual, the user that wants to get in. Again, we're deploying some LPR readers, we're deploying some self check-in. So all you have to do is show a barcode or your QR code from your phone or from your current pass. And the one thing that I've really been focusing over the last, I'd say eight to nine months, is a virtual wallet option. So that whatever you have, be it your reservation, be it a multi-day or an annual pass, all of those things will be in a wallet type platform on your phone and be offered up so we're no longer ruining the environment with plastic hang tags. You're not having to fumble for a hang tag or forgot it in the other car. It's right in your phone, always available to you. And I think those are the types of things that our partnership with Recreation Dynamics and US eDirect have really gotten us to a point over the last few years of, look what else is out there. And we're starting to take advantage of that.
Bill Bryan: Wow. That's great to hear, Brian. And I'm pleased with that too. And you guys are really forward thinking. Your campers, your park users are consumers of a digital economy. And I think that you're right, we've got to provide some opportunities for them that make it easy. That when they want to go to the park, it should be a walk in the park. It shouldn't be a challenge to do that, right? So I think those are great. We look forward to partnering with you on all of those things.
Bill Bryan: Now, have you been able to learn much yet from your visitors about how they're accessing your parks through Recreation Dynamics? Have you heard much from them?
Brian Ketterer: I think, we of course, had our bumps in the road when we took off and launched as a partnership, but we have heard great things. There's far less complaints. I think that we both, as a team, figured out our end user group, made the tweaks within the system so that everybody feels comfortable. We're always going to have the issue of not enough inventory, right? I explain to people ... I get calls constantly that, I can't get a reservation. Why can't I get a reservation? And it's like playing the lottery. You think about it, I think we have 2,800 plus pieces of inventory. And 3.3 million people are trying to get a buy at that, particularly in the busier times of the year. So it's really about making sure that we're providing that. We're upfront with, hey, we're offering a reservation system, the reservation system needs to work well. And then we need to just, again, start looking at opportunities, not only in California, but elsewhere of, how do we provide more inventory for these recreational outputs that the public wants to have? And they're getting greater. And again, the pandemic really showed how much people had learned or relearned or refocused on, I need open space and I need to get out there to maintain my mental and physical health. And I think that's great, but we just need to focus on that.
Brian Ketterer: And I think that, again, utilizing the technology to give them those outlets is awesome. To make sure that whenever they go on and try to make a reservation or try to purchase some type of pass or one-day, multi-day item, that it works for them. And I think we've come a long way from where we started on day one. And again, I think the end user is happy with the changes we've made and the changes that we've suggested that we're going to make over the next two or three quarters.
Bill Bryan: Do you think that it is easier today for people to get into parks?
Brian Ketterer: I do. I think that we, again, as a government entity, and one that is very steeped in tradition, we have been slow to utilize technology, but I do think that it gets easier. You look at social media and the ability to do photo wall boards and to really show off my personal interests and what I've done over my weekend or my day off, it's pretty amazing. And I think the answer is yes, that we are making it more accessible. I think, again, the challenge ... and we'll probably discuss it a little bit more in this podcast. But I think the challenge is really, if we can get them to the door, to that edge of state parks, what are we going to do inside to make sure that everybody feels comfortable? That they walk away, again, with that memory and that idea that I need to go explore more?
Bill Bryan: Oh, man. That was really well put. Getting them there is part of the challenge. And we feel in the business that when we get somebody to a park, they'll enjoy it. But the reality is that when you and I started in this business, we were writing things down on index cards and backs of envelopes, and everybody looked the same. And that's not the future of state parks.
Brian Ketterer: No, you're absolutely right. We have to diversify, we have to understand what people want. And you think about a park system that just celebrated not too long ago, their 150th anniversary, it's challenging. Because I have parks in my system, in my division that we purchased and we created in the 1950s. And without even telling you a name of a park or even giving you an overall theme of the park, I can tell you since 1950, our demographics are changed, the way that people want to use the parks have changed, and that park hasn't changed at all. And again, it's because of tradition. And we really need to focus, I think moving forward, not only finding available resources or properties that we can purchase and make into state parks or county parks, but we also need to rethink and reimagine what those iconic parks may look like. Or the concessions and opportunities that they're going to provide in the future as our generational thoughts change, as our demographics change.
Bill Bryan: Brian, what are some ... do you see any areas for opportunities, for improvement in what we're doing so far for access? You talked about the digital wallet, are there other things you think we can work on together?
Brian Ketterer: I do. We're having some success, again, with multi-day passes. I think creating a store, a virtual store where people can go and find those passes. And again, making it ... simplifying the process of, I don't know what pass I need. I don't know what pass I'm eligible for. That all needs to come to the forefront. And I think that's something that the Tyler family, US eDirect, and us will have to work on. I think the other one is that dream or thought process that we had at the beginning of our adventure together in state parks with US eDirect was, how do we start connecting the concessions and the opportunities within parks? That this shouldn't just be a commodity, or it shouldn't just be a reservation. Great, you got three nights of camping. But look what else that your family can participate in, whether it's inside the park or around in the adjacent areas. What restaurants may be available, or do you want to do horseback riding? Would you like to have a surf lesson? Would you like to go mountain climbing with an instructor? Kayaking? All of those things and tying in those ... making those connections. So that, again, it's not just about the access to the park. It's gaining access to all the opportunities that are in that park. And I think that's really going to be one of the focus points for this team moving forward, is trying to figure out how do we make those connections?
It's not just about the access to the park. It's gaining access to all the opportunities that are in that park.
Coastal Field Division Chief at California State Parks
Bill Bryan: You raised another barrier. I mean, people can get to the park and they may not have the experience to know what to do. I remember when I was a young ranger and we took a group of kids out from the Midwest, and we took a group of kids to the American Royal. And we looked at ... we were admiring a big bowl. And one of the little boys asked me if it had sharp pointy teeth. And so people get out there, they may not know. And so having that ability to connect, to get a surf lesson, that's somebody's dream is to learn how to surf, right? What about rental equipment, if they don't have the equipment? I know you're looking at some things there too.
Brian Ketterer: Yeah. Same thing. It's, again, access is covering everything. And again, we'll keep harping on it, but it's that access. And then how do we get them to enjoy the park and find those things and items that they want to do? Whether it be a kayak rental, whether it be, I don't have the right camping equipment. I've never been in a tent before, providing those overnight accommodation alternatives and tying them in with a partner of ours, a business partner with ours. The other side of that is ... and this will take some brain trust. But I think we get there, is how do we develop and ensure that we are providing programming that's easily accessible? I know that we are really focused, coming out of the pandemic, on getting all of our daily campfire programs and junior ranger programs. These are all now virtual. So I'd say 80% of the time, we have a camera that's going out live and feeding that live. But it's really going out to the YouTube channels and some other channels, so there's no one conglomerate or one organized space that somebody can click on and say, I wonder what programming is going on at that park, on this day.
Brian Ketterer: We just celebrated our first annual Parks Week in California, where we had ... for seven straight days, we had a different theme. And we did it in concert with our nonprofit partners. Which is a whole other discussion of, how do we get them on board with all the great things that they're doing in parks and offering those outlets for those that want to volunteer or the program they're providing? But it'd be very interesting to see if we could actually organize ourselves to see how many more people would've taken part in Parks Week, and putting that in a centralized area. One place that people know they can go to and get that information.
Advice for Other States
Bill Bryan: Brian, you've been very generous with your time and you've shared a lot of thought leadership with us. What advice can you give to other states who are ... this is a frontier in our state park movement in America. What advice can you give to other states about how they can perhaps use technology to engage people and get access?
Brian Ketterer: I think the one thing I would say is that we need to keep talking. We did, I think we came together collectively as parks, not only in California, but I know in the Southwest region when the pandemic hit, just trying to figure out how to deal with the increase in visitation and all the operational headaches that come with it. I think that we need to take those relationships that were built or strengthened during that time, and really sit down and start talking about what does it mean to operate parks for the public now, and in the next 25 years? And how does technology play into that? I can remember the first time that we installed automated pay machines, which seems like, it's got to be 15 years ago. And going on tour and talking about all the great things of what this electronic box could do for everybody's days and camping. And here we are 10, 15 years later, and again, we can put that into the hands of somebody through a phone device, through an application. And I think that's ... we need to start talking about, okay, this is good. And this is today, but what does a future hold? Not only for our park managers and our park employees, but for our end users. And how does that simplify their relationship, and only embolden them to want and go and explore more?
Bill Bryan: Great thought provoking leadership from California state parks. Brian, I've got to ask you this as part of Great Outdoors Month. I'm going to ask you a little twist on that question you don't want to answer. You don't want to tell me what are your favorite state parks. So I'll ask you, what are the things, if we visit Southern California, what do we have to do? What do we have to do when it comes to state parks?
Brian Ketterer: Oh my gosh. Southern California is just, it's a gold mine. It's a treasure. You think about all the things that there are to do in Southern California. And I'm going to tell you're going to have to come back and visit again. From the sandy shoreline, every beach is unique. Going out to Anza-Barrego State Park to see the bighorn sheep, to explore at a desert wonderland that's larger than the state of Rhode Island, is amazing. Historical parks like Hurst Castle and Bodie. I think all of those are things ... I could probably name off half the state parks that are my favorite. But it's really about getting out there and really thinking about state parks, having a passport. And you want to get all 279 stamps in your passport because they are all different and unique. And there's a reason why they've been championed and they've been managed by state parks.
Bill Bryan: You're a true ambassador for California state parks, and a diplomat too. I've been to a few of those places and I want to go to all of them. I thank you for your time. And we at Tyler and US eDirect appreciate your service and your partnership. So you've highlighted these great opportunities for experiences across the state, across the whole state park system. If I'm coming to Southern California for the first time, where do I go to learn more?
Brian Ketterer: Well, the first place you can go is our state parks website. It's www.parks.ca.gov. Tons of information. You can click on any park or any region. Click on your favorite park or the park that you're interested in seeing, get a very nice bio of the park and the opportunities and amenities that are there.
Bill Bryan: Sounds great. And of course, don't forget, reservecalifornia.com to make your booking and enjoy your stay. Brian, thanks for your service. Thanks for your time today. Great talking with you. Thanks a lot.
Brian Ketterer: It's great talking with you. Thank you.
Jeff Harrell: Well, thank you, Bill and Brian for helping our California state parks become more accessible for all. And it is the summer, lots of traveling happening, and California state parks would be an awesome destination. Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. We drop new podcast episodes all the time. We've got lots of great plans for 2022, the rest of the summer and fall. So please subscribe, leave us a review. We'd love that as well. Well, again, my name is Jeff Harrell. This is the Tyler Tech Podcast. Really appreciate you joining me. We'll talk to you soon.