Parks don’t move. This is obvious, but when your goal is to bring the majesty of the Golden Gate or the Santa Monica Mountains to more people, the static nature of trails, trees and ocean views can pose a challenge. This is especially true today, because even as America’s diversity is increasing, our state, regional and national parks struggle to attract minorities .
Enter the Roving Rangers. These two bright and beautiful mobile park ranger stations made from retrofitted bread trucks are currently serving communities in California, one in the Bay Area, the other in Los Angeles. They’re a thrifty, flexible and non-traditional approach to bringing parks to people—and encouraging more people to come to parks.
Why Roving Rangers?
In 2011 the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy had a problem: despite numerous recently completed projects and new programs within the Park, they did not feel that they were adequately informing and involving the diverse communities within their parkshed. They were eager to find a way to connect to their community, increase the diversity of visitors, and learn from the community about how the Park could best serve their needs.
This problem isn’t exclusive to the Bay Area—it’s part of a national trend. According to the New York Times, although the population of the US is continuing to become more diverse, that diversity is not reflected in our national parks. As of 2011, 22 percent of national park visitors were minorities, compared with 37 percent of the population .
Roving Rangers bridge this gap by bringing parks to people who may not otherwise seek them out. The design team quickly recognized the need for a mobile approach to engagement. A static booth or visitors’ center at the Park would only reach people who were already Park visitors. But by taking the Park’s rangers, resources and programs into the community, we could directly reach students in schools, seniors in senior centers, parents in playgrounds, and many other people in many other places.
Since the original Roving Ranger’s 2013 debut, we’ve designed and built another for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Called the LA Ranger Troca, it hit the streets in December 2015, just in time for its cameo in the Rose Bowl Parade.
The Design: Fun and Engaging (and Practical, too)
Bright and fun, the food-truck-inspired exterior of the Roving Rangers is designed to grab people’s attention and draw them toward the activity. Their custom-designed vehicle wraps feature bold colors and emblems of the local landscape, such as a spotted owl for the Bay Area and a mountain lion for LA. To keep step with their social media presence, the LA Ranger Troca’s online alias, @larangertroca, is prominently displayed on the side.
In the spirit of the parks themselves, most of the interaction between rangers and their audiences takes place outside. We designed the Roving Rangers to gather around rather than in.
The Rangers feature large concession windows that open up the space and allow rangers to interact easily with the crowd. On the inside of the back doors are large whiteboards where rangers can post information for attendees. The trucks are also fitted with speaker systems for playing music or making announcements, iPads for sharing information or administering surveys, and a canopy to provide a bit of shelter from the sun or the rain.
Each Roving Ranger features interactive elements, too. A chalkboard A-frame to create custom signs, a Polaroid camera to take analog Instagrams, a bike service station, and a dog water bowl are some of the elements that up the engagement factor.
At a Roving Ranger event, rangers may be outside the truck, greeting people and giving general information about the park. They could be at a school, giving a talk about local animals or the region’s topography. Or perhaps they’re conducting a survey, trying to engage as many community members as possible on how best to improve the parks.
No matter the activity, with its ample storage space, the Roving Ranger is organized to carry it out. Cubbies, cabinets, drawers, and shelves allow Park rangers to bring the necessary tools for whatever outreach event or activity the Roving Ranger might be attending.
Making it Meaningful: Art and Artifacts
Both of the Rangers incorporate stories and physical objects from the local environment and history to tell the story of the parks within the community. For the Bay Area’s Roving Ranger, we made a coat rack using antique drill bits, a cabinet from an autoclave from San Francisco’s Presidio hospital, and desks and cabinetry from milled wood from a windfall cypress tree.
For the exterior artwork, provided by the clients’ graphic design teams, the Parks Conservancy integrated line drawings of local wildlife that were left to the organization by Ryan, a former intern who was killed by a drunk driver. Everybody knew Ryan and how much he loved drawing plants and animals. Now people around the Bay Area can enjoy his beautiful artworks as they learn about and engage with an organization he cared for.
For the LA Ranger Troca, the graphic design is an interpretation of the local geography, which helps providing wayfinding within the park and a unique perspective on the region.
Compared with the cost of designing and building a small permanent ranger station, Roving Rangers make sense. Their charismatic disposition, handsome looks, track record of success and predictable costs make them attractive to donors. The capital costs for both Rangers were funded completely by project-specific donors. From an operational standpoint, insurance, maintenance, and driver education are easily integrated into existing programs at minimal inconvenience and cost.
Their cost-effectiveness makes them a great solution for any organization looking to reach more people affordably.
The Next Generation of Park Stewards
The original Roving Ranger reached more than 9,000 people and attended 68 events in its first year of outreach, with even more people reached and events each year since. As envisioned, the Ranger has helped engage new audiences, especially people who find it difficult to visit parks due to distance, limited transit options, or a feeling that they are unwelcome in the parks.
With two more Roving Rangers planned for 2016, we hope to double the number of parks that can reach out to their communities. Parks still don’t move, but Roving Rangers allow parks to build their relationship with the next generation of visitors and stewards by bringing the awe and beauty of nature to them.
 “Why Are Our Parks So White?” by Glenn Nelson, New York Times, July 10, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/opinion/sunday/diversify-our-national-parks.html?_r=0
Design + Build:
Exterior Graphic Design:
LA RANGER TROCA
Design + Build:
Exterior Graphic Design: