YANKTON, S.D. — Thanks to a multi-faceted approach to increase its exposure to the public, the Missouri National Recreational River (MNRR) has seen a dramatic increase of visitors to its website this year.
The park's website, www.nps.gov/mnrr, has had more than 69,000 visits in 2012, an increase in 143 percent compared to the 28,500 visits it received all of last year, according to the park's staff.
Chris Wilkinson, chief of interpretation and education for the MNRR, attributed most of the increase to the park's recently revamped website.
"We overhauled it and put all kinds of new content on it," he said.
Among the improvements are a redesigned home page, more than 50 pages of new content and the addition of multimedia podcasts. The latest updates include video footage from a helicopter flyover of the entire park corridor done last month, which can be viewed at www.nps.gov/mnrr/photosmultimedia/mnrr-from-the-air.htm.
Wilkinson said the park chose to overhaul the website because as the main contact point with the public, it plays a vital role for the organization.
"It's the number one place where people come to find out the information they need to come visit the park," he said.
In addition to modifications to the website, the MNRR also has placed a greater emphasis on social media, Wilkinson said, which he believes has also helped drive the increase in website visitors.
The park's Facebook page features daily posts about breaking news along the MNRR corridor, including removal of invasive species, drought conditions and future flow levels from both Gavins Point and Fort Randall dams. The park also has a Twitter account and a site on YouTube, which features nine different podcasts on a variety of subjects, such as the free-flowing stretches of the Wild and Scenic River, the history of Spirit Mound and the reclamation of the Missouri River seed bank following the 2011 flood. Videos can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/crwygh4.
"People are looking for interactive content," Wilkinson said. "Many people who come to the website might not actually visit the park, so this is a different way of visiting through cyberspace."
He said the park has also increased its signage up and down the river corridor and has been involved in more outreach programs with schools.
"We're trying to just get our name out there as much as possible, and make sure people know this is eastern South Dakota's only national park," he said. "I think when people think of the national parks in South Dakota, they definitely think of Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands, but they don't think of us over here. That's something we're hoping to change, because the Missouri River has everything to do with the settlement and the history of South Dakota."
When tracking the MNRR site's visitors, Wilkinson said "Photos and Multimedia" and the "Plan Your Visit" sections of the website are two of the most visited.
"Seven of the top nine pages viewed are in the "Plan Your Visit" sections, whether its maps, canoeing and kayaking, directions, things to do, things such as that," he said.
Also popular are the paddling guides to the 39- and 59-mile districts of the park, he said.
Along with monitoring the website visits by section, the park has also taken note of the location of the site's visitors, Wilkinson said. The number of visitors ranked by state are Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, California and Illinois.
"We're a little bit surprised about Missouri, but since we're still trying to build awareness, a lot of people might think that, because of its name, the park is actually down in Missouri," he said. "The other surprising one is number four on the list is California. We don't know why that is."
Wilkinson encourages everyone to visit the MNRR website, as well as provide feedback through the site's "Contact Us" link.
"We're going to continue to add content to it," he said. "Come check it out."
Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/