WASHINGTON – You don’t need to come to the Tidal Basin at the Jefferson Memorial to get a look at the cherry blossoms.
You can see virtual blossoms (but not smell them!) by heading to the National Park Service’s home page on the World Wide Web.
By clicking on the photo featured on the home page, (at http://www.nps.gov/), you also can get the latest information on the Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs this year from March 30 to April 13.
The cherry blossom information is just one piece of the Web site, which lists directions, featured activities and operating hours for the 374 national parks. The site also includes tour information for Civil War buffs, tax credit information for homeowners interested in historic preservation and an interactive “coloring book” for children.
The Park Service site, on the Internet since 1994, is not flashy. “We’re about American heritage. We’re not about cool things on the Web,” said Web project manager Paul Handly, 31, a D.C. resident and Park Service employee for eight years.
The parchment-paper color used for background helps give a woodsy feel to the site, said site designer John Miller, of San Francisco.
About 12,000 people visit the site each day, Handly said.
If you want to plan a visit to a national park, it’s easy to locate the one you are interested in. They are listed by name, state, region and theme.
If you want to see migrating gray whales at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, Calif., check its home page before you set out. It will tell you how to get there, (the park is north of San Francisco), when to come, (in January the whales are heading south, in March they’re heading north), where to stay (there are campgrounds in the park and bed-and-breakfast inns nearby) and what to wear (dress in layers).
Staffers at several national parks have enhanced their home pages with “visitor centers.”
For instance, at Canyonlands National Park in Utah, two employees from a reservation office added back-country and campsite reservation information and details on the area’s geology and its natural and cultural histories. Co-creator Julie Gillum, 30, said she hoped that by putting information on the Internet she will have fewer phone calls from tourists.
“It’s good for [the visitors] and it’s good for us,” said Canyonlands National Park Superintendent Walt Dabney.
The Park Service Web site also has fun for kids.
Click on the “Great American Landmarks Adventure” on the home page and it will take you to sketches of sites such as the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Baltimore’s Shot Tower and the train station in Ellicott City, Md.
Children can print out and color the sketches and mail them to the National Park Service, which “hangs” them on its Web site’s virtual “gallery.”
Handly said he maintains the Web site from an office in Washington with the help of Steve Pittleman, 44, a 17-year veteran of the agency. Their tasks are varied and unpredictable. “That’s the beauty of the job,” Handly says.
Both have other responsibilities at the agency and no formal computer training. Sixteen other employees from throughout the agency contribute to the project, which had a budget this year of $48,000.
Handly said on any given day, he could be helping to create a Web site visitor center, solving an on-line problem or telling a Park Service employee how to get on the internet.
Pittleman said he mainly answers the e-mail the site receives.
Some queries are difficult to answer. Recently, someone sent Pittleman a message from Japan. Why, the person asked, hadn’t the postcard mailed last summer from Yellowstone arrived in Japan? -30-