Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources

In order to attract residents and visitors to Minnesota’s parks and recreational areas, the Department of Natural Resources created interactive kiosks using 32" NEC displays.

Quick Facts

  • Facility: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
  • Location: Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area
  • Challenge: Draw new visitors to Minnesota ’s extensive systems of state parks and recreational areas by creating an interactive video experience
  • Solution: 32” NEC MultiSync® LCD3210

In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv cites research that shows how a lack of exposure to nature has a direct effect on many current childhood issues. Among those he cites are increasing incidents of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression.

It's a concern the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has taken to heart. In an effort to reverse the trend of declining participation in outdoor recreation, the Minnesota DNR decided it was time to capture the attention of its residents, especially families, and bring them back to nature by showing them all the great outdoor opportunities the state has to offer.

The Minnesota DNR’s state park system includes 66 state parks along with seven recreation areas, eight waysides, 21 state trails (including more than 1255 total miles, approximately half of which are paved), and 56 state forest campgrounds and day-use areas. In all, the agency manages more than 300,000 acres of public land throughout the state. In 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, the system hosted 8,971,880 visitors, most of whom were day use.

While the usage numbers may seem impressive at first, the average age of park visitors has been creeping up every year, and the DNR knows it needs to attract the Next Generation, especially families with young children, to sustain the system long term, according to Amy Barrett, public information officer for the DNR’s Division of Parks and Trails.

“If people aren’t getting out and using the parks, then who is going to care for the resources and vote for funding in the future?” she said.

Of particular concern was falling usage among the younger generations, especially families with small children. With computers and ubiquitous Internet access, satellite and cable TV, video games, smart phones/texting and more at their disposal, getting out and enjoying parks and trails didn’t seem to be on their radar.

In 2010, money became available to DNR for outreach to Minnesota residents to try to reverse the trend. Although there is a lot of information available on the Minnesota DNR’s website, it was being visited primarily by people who already use the parks system. What was needed was a way to bring the information to a new audience instead.

Calling upon her past experience, Barrett suggested creating touchscreen kiosks that could be placed strategically in high-traffic areas, such as shopping malls, the airport, downtown office buildings and other locations – anywhere young families were likely to congregate in large numbers. That would take care of making the information convenient to view. But a second challenge remained – how to attract their attention to the kiosks.

Many kiosks, especially those in shopping malls, go unused for long periods of time because they blend in with their surroundings. To make the program successful, the Minnesota DNR needed the kiosks to engage passersby from a distance, draw them into the information and encourage them to interact with it.

“The audience we’re targeting is pretty tech-savvy,” Barrett said. “They’re used to seeing high-quality, brightly colored pictures presented in a large format in their personal and professional lives. We really needed whatever we did to interrupt whatever mission they were on at the time and give them an experience that made them think, ‘Wow, that’s cool. Instead of staying around the house, we need to head out to a park or trail this weekend.’”

As a government agency, the Minnesota DNR was required to issue an RFP for the project. After reviewing nearly a dozen proposals, however, one stood out – not only for its technical quality but for the creativity it showed in both the creation of the kiosks and the recommended placements.

The winning bid came from AlivePromo, a Minneapolis-based company that specializes in unique digital projects. For the Minnesota DNR, AlivePromo recommended an approach that combined the beauty of nature with the latest technology.

“The kiosks themselves are designed to resemble something you would find at a state park,” said Sam Rogers, president and co-founder of AlivePromo. “They incorporate rocks, wood and other materials that are native to Minnesota. They are so beautifully designed, and so out of place in the steel-and-glass world of the big city, that you almost have to walk up to them to find out what in the world something like that is doing there.”

In fact, Rogers’s goal was to create a structure that would be viewed as a work of art rather than a typical kiosk, while being durable enough to withstand rough handling, particularly by young children. It also had to be portable enough to move from location to location as needed.

The Minnesota DNR was impressed with AlivePromo’s well thought-out plan. AlivePromo made specific recommendations on how to make the kiosks accessible to people with disabilities and people who don’t speak English.  They also recommended locations for the kiosks that clearly demonstrated the company’s understanding of the DNR’s goals. The fact that AlivePromo had already created and installed a kiosk at one of the target locations gave the Minnesota DNR even more confidence.

A big part of the plan was selecting the right display. It had to be bright in all lighting conditions, and had to display the photos of the parks and other graphics in striking detail. It also had to be capable of running 24/7. For that, Rogers said AlivePromo recommended NEC’s MultiSync LCD3210 display, which would be integrated with a third-party touchscreen system. The size of the screen and depth of its colors would create a user experience that was at once enjoyable and informative, while also meeting requirements for use by visitors with disabilities. The operation itself is simple.

LCD3210 displays contain NEC’s exclusive Digital Signage Technology Suite (DSTS), a set of more than 20 features and functions developed specifically for the digital signage market. Superior screen performance, lower total cost of ownership and enhanced display management are just some of the benefits. The displays also feature 1366 x 768 native resolution and 600:1 contrast ratio.

“The kiosk has a motion-sensing window,” said Barrett. “When visitors first walk up, they see a waterfall. Then buttons appear so they can interact with it. They can pull up a parks map, touch one of the dots and get more information. If they want to continue at home, they can enter their email address and pick up the session right where they left off. Alternatively, visitors can have information mailed to them.”

The primary goal of creating a presence for the Minnesota DNR in high-traffic areas has definitely been achieved. Kiosks are currently placed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the Rosedale Center (Minnesota’s third busiest mall), the IDS Center and the Minneapolis Zoo. A traveling kiosk was at the Minnesota State Fair in late August/early September and will be in the State Capitol when the state legislature resumes in January. It will also travel to sports shows and special events throughout the year.

Immediately after the kiosks went live, they began drawing hundreds of hits as busy Minnesotans virtually “hiked out” of the city for a few minutes to learn about the state’s parks, trails and recreational areas. Tracking software is helping the Minnesota DNR gather information on which parts of their offerings are attracting the most attention initially, which ones kiosk users are staying with longer, and how well the different locations are performing overall.

“Being able to track usage is very important to us,” Barrett says. “We need that information to justify the expense in creating the kiosks as well as the cost of the lease for each location. We can use the information to learn what people are most interested in. If one kiosk isn’t being used as much as the others, we might decide to move it.”

Of course, usage numbers that really matter are the ones at the parks and other areas.

“It’s too soon to tell what impact the kiosks are having,” Barrett says. “But we believe we’re going to see more people, and especially more new people, using our parks and trails. If we can get more of today’s techno-oriented families to rediscover the beauty of nature, the impact will be profound and a long-term benefit to both themselves and society as a whole. That’s a pretty good return on investment.”