Thursday, Mar 7, 2013
Like most national parks, Yosemite National Park receives hundreds of letters per year from park visitors seeking maps, brochures, and information about the park. However, a letter sent to the park about a year ago warranted more attention.
The letter, written by a young girl and Yosemite Junior Ranger, told the story of how she had collected two sticks on her visit to the park the previous summer and took them home.. She went on to say that she knows that nothing should be removed from the park and that she was horrified that she inadvertently took the sticks. She asked that the park return the sticks to nature, which she included in the letter.
Matt Holly works as a public information clerk for Yosemite and posted the letter in the office, which is located in the park administration building in Yosemite Valley. He thought it sent a worthwhile and inspiring message and park employees and visitors would like to see it. A few weeks ago, he thought it would send a good message by posting the letter on the park's Facebook page and on the internet. He contacted Evie's (the author) parents and sought their permission. They, too, liked the idea and authorized Matt to post the letter and a description of the story (her address and last name were omitted, though, for privacy),
The reaction was virtually instantaneous and the post started appearing on websites worldwide. To say it went viral is an understatement. Once websites started picking it up, the park started hearing interest in the story from the news media. Matt, in working with the park's Public Affairs Office, started conducting interviews, and the media interest continued to grow. Matt conducted interviews with CNN, ABC News’ Good Morning America, NBC's Today Show, the New York Daily News, and many other media outlets. In addition to the stories that were generated in the interviews, the story has appeared on websites and publications such as NBC News with Brian Williams, MSN.com, ABC news.com, The Huffington Post and local papers throughout the country.
"The most gratifying part of this whole thing is seeing how much the public shares our values and loves our national parks", said Holly. "It’s great to see that everybody saw it in the same light as we did and thought it was such a wonderful story".
Matt thought the posting may receive some media attention, but he had no idea how big it would become.
"The reaction from the news media surprised me, and I had no idea it would get so big,” he said. “However, based on the letter and what it represented, I'm very happy about all of the media attention."
Matt has been in contact with the girl’s parents (they are not doing interviews) and, they, too, are pleased with the coverage. The family is planning a trip up to the park to "reunite the sticks" with nature. Matt is talking with them about joining them on their hike.
In addition to the media attention, the park's Facebook page is receiving a lot of attention. The park initially created the page to provide an official NPS presence in response to the more than 12 Facebook pages purported to represent the park. Users that "like" the official Yosemite page on Facebook receive a variety of park news, conditions, reports, videos, and other relevant updates. Fans can also post questions and comments that the park staff respond to in a timely manner. The recent post about the letter received over 1,100 comments and 7,000 shares, appeared on 1.3 million news feeds, and was clicked on nearly 200,000 times.
The interactive nature of the page and fans' ability to contribute photos, stories and more have helped to grow the pages following from a a handful of park staff and their friends to over 100,000 in two years.