Before You Go - May 2010
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Modern Communications
Fairfax County Park Authority Uses Podcasts to Reach Residents

By Deborah L. Vence

he Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia found an effective way to encourage residents to visit the county's 417 parks—through podcasts.

Podcasts, which are Web-based audio broadcasts via an RSS feed that are accessed by subscription over the Internet, have been growing in popularity since 2004. In fact, research shows that one in four Americans have downloaded and watched or listened to an audio or video podcast, according to data from a March 2009 webinar conducted by Somerville, N.J.-based Edison Research and Washington-based Association for Downloadable Media.

This year, the Fairfax County Park Authority embraced the podcasting trend by releasing a series of three podcasts, titled, Welcome to Your Parks, which introduces Fairfax County residents to the county parks and invites them to visit. The podcast series, which also serves as a guide for more information about recreational activities in the county, ended up winning a communications award through the National Association of Government Communicators 2010 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards program.

The podcasts can be heard online at

"The podcasts were designed to introduce people to their parks, and to let them know what's in the parks across town from them," said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority. "It's just another tool in the toolbox. It was another interesting way to entice people to our Web site."

The Park Authority sent out e-newsletters to residents to get the word out about the podcasts.

"We are doing a lot more on the Web in terms of marketing. We just developed a mass e-mail policy. Now, we send to as many as 12,000 households a monthly e-newsletter. This was one of the things we included, [information about the podcasts]," Pedersen said.

The idea for the podcasts was created, in part, by David Ochs, manager of stewardship communications for the resource management division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

"I came to the Park Authority from a broadcast journalism background. When I got here, the Park Authority wasn't doing anything in the line of podcasts. After a couple of years, I found out that someone bought podcasting equipment, but it wasn't being used. So, I thought that we should try and see what we could do," Ochs said.

The podcasts were designed to be informative for new residents or residents who already were living in the county, but had not been to all the parks.

"The 'Welcome to Your Parks' series would be a simple way to put up information about individual park sites and would be another way, along with the Web site, to tell people who haven't been to the parks what's in those parks," he said, adding that from a technical aspect, the podcasts are not complicated. "The software is inexpensive. There are software programs that can be downloaded for free from the Internet. And, it's not hard software to learn."