Funding comes for Hoover 2.0 by Gregory R. Norfleet · News · March 29, 2013
The Hoover Complex got $511,000 from a national park fund, but only plans to use part of it to add about 27 signs to the site, create a mobile app and remodel the Visitor Center.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Superintendent Pete Swisher said getting any of the money is a bit iffy right now with the $85 billion in cuts coming down from Washington, but the Hoover staff is upbeat about its chances.
“It’s kind of cool,” Swisher said about being able to add more signs to the park. “But we need to keep a balance. We don’t want to change the character of the park.”
The park initially submitted a plan for 40 “wayside” signs prior to Swisher’s appointment as superintendent; he cut it back to 27 because he feared the park looking more like a “classroom.”
The money comes from a special fund that takes in 20 percent of admission fees collected at national parks across the United States. Parks that charge admission keep 80 percent for themselves; parks that do not can tap into the fund. Hoover Park stopped collecting admission about three years ago.
Swisher said the Visitor Center remodel will include a tactile map for the visually impaired. The main desk will be replaced and the entrance will be designed so that exhibits “bleed out” into the lobby, drawing visitors to the exhibit hall.
“It will be like an extreme makeover of the Visitor Center,” he said.
The mobile application program will be designed to work with mobile phones and tablets and will use global positioning satellite data to show visitors what is nearby. Swisher said this option seemed more viable than having phones scan QR codes, since that technology already seems on the way out.
The app could be ready by June, he said, as the staff met with contractors last week.
He said Web site hits show 75 percent of visitors use mobile devices to find out about the Hoover Complex.
“This is our first dabble into apps,” Swisher said. “We want it to be easy to use without too many layers. And if it works out, we’ll do more.”
He foresees using apps for the Junior Ranger program, detailing the prairie and mapping out the buildings in downtown West Branch that are on the National Register of Historic Places, though the downtown app would need cooperation by the city.
“Hoover was allowed to leave the park,” Swisher said, saying Hoover Park can show visitors more than its own acreage. However, the National Park Service restricts the use of funding outside the park, so the park can show the city what it envisions, but the city would then have to take it from there.
The signs that would spread throughout the park vary in size from 6-by-12 inches to 2-by-3 feet to large billboards, like the ones inside shelter houses.
Swisher said the signs are meant to address the “So what?” question, explaining why people in modern times ought to care about Hoover’s history.
“You can spout data, but why should they care?” he said.
He said he does not know exactly how much of the $511,000 will be used.
“I’m sensitive to spending it just because it’s there,” he said. “If at the end of the day we only spend $200,000, then we have the ability to redistribute it to other parks. We should not spend it just because it’s there.”
Swisher said the park makeover is attractive to Washington because it comes as the NPS prepares for its 100th anniversary in 2016.