An interview with the official instagram of America’s Best Idea

red fox with its head stuck in the snow and tail in the air

Hoverfox is down

Don’t pet the fluffy cows. That likely doesn’t make sense at this very moment, but you’ll understand shortly. A surprising gem in the social media world is when you can find an account that entertains while it teaches. TSA is a great example, as seen in the 2018 Travel Issue. But another government agency that’s doing it right is @nationalparkservice aka the official Instagram of the NPS. Whalebone did not so much as slide but hiked into the NPS DMs to ask them how they pull off the whole teaching people without boring them trick they seem so apt at and of course when we can expect to see Whalebone National Park up and running. 

Whalebone: Can you sell us a national park?

@nationalparkservice: First off, national parks are priceless. Second, have you really thought about the budget and upkeep? It’s all fun and games until millions of guests who need food, shelter and care show up to spend a day, week or month. But seriously, national parks belong to the American public so you already “own” every national park, and we need your help in taking care of them so that you and others can continue to enjoy them for years to come. 

Two owls peering down at you from a tree
And not a single hoot was given that day. #RestingOwlFace

WB: What should you really do if you encounter a bear?

@nps: Seeing a bear in the wild is a special treat for any visitor. While it’s an exciting moment, it’s important to remember that bears are wild and can be dangerous. Assuming you have no friends around to push or family members you can outrun, stay calm and remember that most bears don’t want to attack. Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. (Tell them about your last workday before this vacation or about the passive-aggressive email Bob sent you about leftovers in the breakroom fridge.) If you are in a group, pick up any small children. Do this immediately … unless the child has been acting up and you’re trying to send a message. Remember, do NOT run. If a bear follows, stop, and hold your ground. Do NOT climb a tree either. Both grizzlies and black bears can climb trees. Also, when’s the last time you climbed a tree? If the bear is stationary, move away slowly and sideways; this allows you to keep an eye on the bear and avoid tripping. Oooh, you tripped. Awkward. As always, when you arrive in bear country, remember to check with the visitor center or backcountry office for the latest safety information. 

Assuming you have no friends around to push or family members you can outrun, stay calm and remember that most bears don’t want to attack.

WB: How can you tell what berries are safe to eat?

@nps: A bountiful harvest of berries can be found at many parks. For example, Denali National Park is well known for producing amazing berries in August and September—just ask any of the grizzly bears. Actually, don’t ask the bears. Let’s keep a safe distance, shall we? The best way to determine which berries are safe is to carry a plant identification guide when going to a new place. In general, stay away from berries on plants with spines, bitter smells, or milky sap. If you’re still unsure, show the berries to a park ranger. All rangers love a handful of berries shoved in their face. No, really. We’re here to help. 

WB: What is the importance of humor when getting people to care?

@nps: Our main goal is to communicate important information: Don’t pet the fluffy cows (bison), be aware of one’s surroundings, respect natural and cultural resources, as well as offer travel tips and park news. If we can get the message out using some humor, personality, or grab attention with a pop culture nod, we often see those posts garner much more engagement. People read an entire post, or better yet, make a connection that they’ll remember once they get to a park. Especially for a government agency—which people may think of as being a bit stuffy—the use of humor, and a bit of friendly snark (we’re all friends here), has brought in a lot of new followers, while maybe catching a few others by surprise. The National Park Service said what? We did. 

WB: Other government-run social media accounts that you admire?

@nps: There are so many amazing government-run accounts. Shout out to the Portland District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for their dam puns and posts. We also can’t forget about our pals over at U.S. Fish and Wildlife who share a similar love for all things wildlife infused with a bit of personality and fun. They also promote the Federal Duck Stamp Art Contest. C’mon. Waterfowl and stamps? 

ram with big horns looking at the camera.
Can you see me? Can you hear me? Carol, are you there?

WB: Explain fat bear week. How do you really know who is the chubbiest?

@nps: These questions are getting heavy. Fat Bear Week is a bracket-style competition in which Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve invites the world to compare photos of bears from the spring to photos of the same bears at the end of summer. The differences are often huge! Pun intended. At the end of the week, one bear is crowned the Titan of Tonnage! The winning bear seems thrilled. We assume. Interviews are tricky. 

So why focus on the fat? This week is all about body positivity. A fat bear is a healthy bear! Fattening up as winter approaches is a matter of life and death: Relying on stored fat for energy, bears can lose up to a third of their body fat during the winter. Fat Bear Week also brings up important questions about survival and how we’re studying and learning more about these amazing bears. 

How do we know how much they weigh? Well, it’s always been a bit of a challenge to weigh a bear. (We just can’t seem to get a volunteer to hold the scale steady.) For the competition, “chubbiest” bear is determined by public vote. However, more recently, terrestrial LiDAR scanning technology has also been utilized to measure bear volume. When the bears stand at the top of the falls or in the river waiting to catch a fish, they stand still enough for the technology to work. This is an exciting, new, noninvasive way to collect information about a bear’s weight and volume. Saves on volunteers, too. 

Fat Bear Week is a bracket-style competition in which Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve invites the world to compare photos of bears from the spring to photos of the same bears at the end of summer.

WB: If you could interview a California condor, what would you ask?

@nps: Why the long face? As the largest birds in North America, California condors are a spectacular sight as they soar overhead. An intensive recovery program brought them back from the brink of extinction and continues to boost their numbers. Today, hundreds of condors sail over parks like Pinnacles National Park in California and the Grand Canyon. Perhaps an interview could ask about their intensive parenting style. Or maybe find out what kind of frequent flyer miles they earn by sometimes traveling up to 200 miles in a single day. 

WB: Pick favorites: 5 most underrated parks.

@nps: Underrated? There are over 400 national parks out there. We’re more than a pretty face, we have real depth. Speaking of depth, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon preserves the deepest lake in the United States. South Carolina’s Congaree National Park may be a bit humid but it’s an amazing ecosystem complete with a critical firefly habitat. (254 mosquitoes also liked this recommendation.) Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico has long been considered by night sky enthusiasts to be one of the best places in America to stargaze. Hold onto your … brochure! Find out if dinosaurs really are on the tour at Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado/ Utah border. Like learning about hundreds of products made from peanuts? Explore the birthplace and childhood home of famed scientist, educator and humanitarian George Washington Carver at Missouri’s George Washington Carver National Monument. 

WB: The importance of recognizing indigenous lands and legendary figures?

@nps: The National Park Service has a unique and powerful role in telling a more complete American story through the places we preserve and protect. Beyond iconic landscapes, these stories include well-known figures, pivotal moments that helped define our nation, as well as the history and heritage of Indigenous groups that are found in all national parks. By working closely with tribal leaders, the National Park Service continues to strengthen Indigenous connections in parks across the country. 

Social media is another tool that allows us to share Indigenous stories and reiterate the importance of preserving important cultural resources found within the National Park System which helps the public build more meaningful connections with their public lands. 

WB: So we’re getting that park, right?

@nps: We’ll put in a good word. In the meantime, we’re still looking for volunteers to weigh bears this fall. Can we count you in? 

beaver chewing on branch in water with head sticking out

2:00pm: Gonna save the rest of this branch for later.
2:04pm: Time to finish this branch.

Who’s hungry? Did you know beavers are pure vegetarians, subsisting solely on woody and aquatic vegetation? They will eat leaves, twigs, stems and bark. Beavers will chew on any species of tree, but preferred species include alder, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, poplar and willow. Aquatic foodstuffs include cattails, water lilies, sedges and rushes. More leaves!