A saguaro at Saguaro National Park.
Photo by Kenzie Hawley
By Kenzie Hawley

The Saguaro National Park is trying to attract more visitors by renovating the visitor center, exhibits and appealing to families. 

Officials at Saguaro National Park East, which is named after the towering vibrant green cactus, are struggling to attract new visitors to explore the desert preserve. “The number of visitors (to the park) has plateaued in the past few years,” said Fisher.

Park rangers are trying to increase the number of visitors by creating family- friendly activities. Attendance drops when it gets into the hotter summer months Park rangers are trying to increase the number of visitors by creating family friendly activities.  Attendance decreases during summer and fall because of the heat. and increases during the cooler months of January through April. 

Andy Fisher, Branch Chief of Interpretation, says theThe park doesn’t have a marketing budgetadvertise  and relies on word of mouth recommendations and social media to attract new visitors, said Andy Fisher, the park’s branch chief of . interpretation. Between 600,000 and 700,000 people visit the park each year. 

The only tangible advertising used by the park is “the old-fashioned brown board,” Fisher said referring to the highway signs that direct visitors to the park. “Most of the visitors we get are of the older generation,” said Fisher.

Virginia and Wayne McRee, retirees from Georgia, said that Saguaro National Park was on their bucket list. 

“ I am interested in the West because when I was younger I would watch all of the Western movies,” Wayne McRee said. “We love the West.” 

From the visitor center window, the McRees were excited to see a herd of six adult javelinas and three babies. A young boy standing nearby didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic about the creatures. 

The park is building a new visitor center funded by park fees and donations from Friends of Saguaro National Park, a non-profit organization that provides additional funding for upkeep. Renovation is costing $250,000; Friends of Saguaro National Park are donating $80,000 and $170,000 is coming from park fees. 

The visitor center will be finished by the end of summer, according to Park Superintendent Darla Sidles. Exhibit renovation will be completed by 2014. 

Park rangers have created activities to attract younger visitors. Rangers go to multiple schools over the academic year and teach students how to prepare for camping and hiking. In the summer, rangers host three-day-long camps for second- and third-graders. Young campers hike, learn about desert communities, ecology and history of the park. 

Throughout June, Sabino High School students will monitor cactus life at the park. Later in the summer the students will harvest saguaro fruit. Saguaro fruit is harvested using a long pole to reach the fruit. The fruit is then made into jams and fruit bars. According to Sidles, visitors are able to buy the jams and fruit bars at the Saguaro National Park visitor center. 


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