Tuesday, August 21, 2007

POLL: Fair Play?

Please read the following then answer the four poll questions at the right side of the blog. The poll is explained at the end of the post. Your answers will help me propose changes to the state letterboxing policy.

Limits on duration
The Missouri State Park system currently has a one-year limit on the permit before a permitted letterbox or geocache has to be relocated or removed.
Two main reasons for the time limit on the permit:
a) to help limit or prevent damage or other negative impact to the area (erosion, new trails being made, etc) by not allowing boxes to remain long-term.
b) If boxes were allowed to remain permanently, then once a park reached its limit of permits allowed, then no new boxes (or geocaches) would be allowed until someone decides to retire their permit.
Limits on quantity.
Currently the limits on the number of permits is one permit for every 200 acres. For example, Rock Bridge State Park has 2273 acres, and can issue a maximum of 11 permits. Please note that this maximum is the combined total of letterboxes and geocaches. One person is limited to two permits at a time.

Reasons for limits on quantity:
1) National parks won’t allow any. Missouri state parks decided to allow some, but impose a limit as when the policy was written, both letterboxing and geocaching were fairly new in the area and no one knew the potential impact.
Letterboxing and geocaching essentially violate the “Leave No Trace” philosophy. Containers, even when hidden so no part is visible, are still left behind in the parks and can becomes litter, especially when they not maintained or are dragged out of their hiding spot by animals, vandals or forces of nature.
Three state parks already have an incredible amount of paperwork, and not having a limit on the number of permits would be a huge headache.
4) Imposing a two-pemits-per-person limit allows for variety in boxes placed.

If you could re-write the state parks letterboxing / geocaching policy:
1) How long would you allow a box to remain in place? One year, two years, two years with option to renew each year thereafter, five years, permanently, or other?
2) Would you rather see boxes and geocaches remain long-term, even if it meant not having new ones in the area for a long time, or would you rather have boxes forced to retire after a certain period of time so that new ones can move in?
3) What would you see as a fair number of permits allowed in an area so that a) the area does not become over-saturated and b) so that the state agency is not overwhelmed with paperwork?
4) How many permits / boxes should one person be allowed to have in any state park?

These are seemingly simple questions, but keep in mind that there are 83 Missouri State parks and historic sites which represents an incredible variety of resources, and the policy has to be able to be fair and applicable throughout the entire state park system for both letterboxes and geocaches.

1 comment:

ahistory said...

I answered the poll, but I do not feel that the available choices adequately fit with what I would have preferred to say. So before I begin, let me warn you. I am a policy wonk and so bureaucracy is my game and this is what I would envision as an ideal policy.

First, I do feel that a permit system is necessary. Park owners need to be aware of the general location of publicly posted boxes for reasons of public safety and to monitor for issues resulting from boxing activity (erosion, side trails, sensitive areas, etc.). I do not think that setting specific arbitrary limits are a good way to go. A wide spread policy with specific restrictions does not meld itself well the diverse nature of the state park and their amount of resources and LB usage. It also alienates some boxers who subvert the rules and plant anyway. I feel a more adaptive and inclusive policy would allow as many boxes as the park manager would feels are acceptable as long as they are placed responsibly and well maintained.

I completely understand the limits faced by our state agencies, and there is no way state parks could effectively manage a permit system under current budget and manpower constraints.

I also feel that you need to honor age old boxes while allowing new blood to come in and plant. Limits create a dichotomy pitting the old against the new. A more inclusive over arching policy at the state level would be more general policy with few specific restrictions (ie i box per so many acres, etc). This would allow park officials who know their resources best, to use their own discretion and interpret the state guidelines while tailoring their specific policies. Such tailoring could allow for cooperative arrangements that leverage community resources and build upon a proven model to alleviate staff workload.

As you know, many state parks rely on the actions of volunteers to staff some of their programs and activities like trail maintenance. I see a way that parks can leverage this volunteer relationship to better enable them to more effectively and efficiently process more permits, while managing a larger number of existing boxes.

Here is an example of how it could go. There would be an up front investment from the park staff, but management of the permitting system would be handled by volunteers.

The parks would design their own specific guidelines concerning where not to place boxes. They could design a small evaluation form by which a volunteer reviewer could rate the hunt according to environmental, historic, and cultural impact and other issues of concern such as over saturation. Working closely with this volunteer group (say a Friends of Rock Bridge LB club or some sort), the park staff could provide training to the volunteers to clearly delineate their policy and concerns and demonstrate what concerns they are looking for and how to complete the form.

An initial permit (designed by the park) would filed by the planter with the volunteer organization when a new box is placed. A trained volunteer would go on the hunt and fill out the evaluation form noting any issue that may conflict with the park's tailored policy. You could even have them take a photo of the outside of the box and its hiding spot when covered. They would return the form, permit, and any required photos to the park manager along with a recommendation. The manager could then make a very informed decision about whether to approve the permit.

The volunteer group would also routinely patrol boxes to make sure they are being maintained properly (and properly hidden) and report any problems (side trails, erosion, etc) that are identified so the park staff could then notify the owner and take appropriate action.

This system of course is only as good as its volunteers and the trust the park manager and staff has in their work. In some communities, such as ours, it could flourish and seems like a win-win for both the parks and the LB community. But an over-arching and unadaptable state policy does not allow for this kind of innovative program because of the arbitrary limits.

I could go on for much longer but I won't bore you anymore with bureaucracy and program development talk.

Fox-fyr, if you or anyone would like to talk about this more specifically sometime. I'd be happy to meet you at the Artisan anytime.