by Steve Peterson
“When you are outreaching to the community, you have to reach out in the way they want to be reached out to,” Plymouth County Conservation Board Community Outreach Coordinator Molly Wilmes told Plymouth County supervisors. “ This is the technological age. Everyone is on the Internet.”
“A lot of people believe if you’re not on the Internet, if they can’t Google you, if they can’t Facebook you, you’re not out there,” she said. “You can either bury your head in the sand and ignore it, or you can embrace (technology) and use it to your benefit.”
“That’s what we’ve done at Plymouth County Conservation,” said Wilmes, who was hired in July.
“There are three systems we use: Facebook, Pinterest and mycountyparks.com,” said Wilmes at the supervisors’ Dec. 18 meeting.
“Mycountyparks.com (which hosts the Conservation Board’s Web site) is by far our largest spot for information,” she said. “This is our biggest database. You can get information on everything we do, our openings, our hunting areas and their locations and what you can do in the hunting areas, rental forms.”
“You can get all the information that you will ever need on that Web site, including all our contact information,” said Wilmes. “It is very user friendly and fairly easy to print out information. There is no account necessary.”
“When you use Facebook or Pinterest, you have to have an account, so you can check us out on Facebook,” she explained. “On mycountyparks, you can have an account, but you don’t have to and you can get the exact information.”
“Mycountyparks.com does their own advertising from anywhere in Iowa and also from Plymouth County,” she said.
“That makes it very easy to upkeep,” said Wilmes. “We have someone to call if there are problems. It’s around $35 a year and is very inexpensive.”
“It also saves employee time,” she said. “In the past, when people call for a request to rent a facility or with questions, or a request for photographs of the Center for Outdoor Learning, I would have to get on my personal e-mail, go find the pictures and upload to them as an example. Now we can say, ‘go to our Web site.’ It’s great for us and gets people to the Web site.”
“It also saves postage costs as we have almost all of our rental forms on the Web site,” said Wilmes. “They’re all online. Before, if someone wanted to rent out a facility, we had to print out the form, mail it to them, they sent it back, we put our codes on it and mailed it back to them again. Now we say go to the Web site, print out the form (unless they don’t have Internet, and we’ll do that for them in that case), you fill it out, mail or e-mail it to us, and we’ll e-mail or mail it back to you. It cuts the postage in half or it completely eliminates it.”
As the introduction on the Web site states, “Plymouth County Conservation manages over 2,200 acres of recreational and natural lands (15 individual areas) including native and restored prairies, upland forests and river bottom woodlands. Natural areas for picnicking, camping, fishing, hunting, Winter sports, bird watching, hiking and equestrian trails are provided in parks throughout the county. Other areas are preserves, as close to their natural state as possible, for many generations to enjoy forever.”
Plymouth County Conservation Board offices are at Hillview Recreation Area near Hinton. Staff includes Director Dennis Sohl; Park Rangers Nick Beeck and Derek Christoffel; Resource Manager Nick McKee; Naturalist Victoria De Vos and Wilmes.
“The Facebook and Pinterest are direct links. You click on one of these and it takes you to where you want to be. We have e-mails and lets us know they are coming from the Web site. There is a brief explanation of activities we have coming in the county and related items, with maps people find useful, or legal hunting areas in Hillview. All parks are listed, as well as activities you can do, pictures of the park, map locations from Google,” said Wilmes.
“Every bit of information is there and you can always call us. Projects that we’re working on are things the public has knowledge of. One can find out about murals for the lobby of the Center for Outdoor Learning; buying a new elk; and River’s Bend Wildlife area, our new park (near Akron) is included,” said Wilmes.
“The education link is set up for De Vos’s programs list, a schedule and Pinterest. Cost and rental information is included as well as how to donate via the Friends’ group, volunteer forms; facilities from the Center for Outdoor Learning, the tubing hill; it’s all on there. The news section includes articles more than just programs coming up as well as the quarterly newsletters. We also have FAQs, (Frequently Asked Questions) more than twice-asked questions, for a quick reference.
“Facebook, everyone is on Facebook. It’s an extremely large reach, easy to get around. Our followers are growing every day. People are trying to find out what is going on in Plymouth County. It’s easy to update. I spend a half-hour a day on Facebook, including new trivia questions, events, what is happening.”
“It is extremely interactive, to right on their cell phones. We can interact with people very quickly and very conveniently and it’s free,” said Wilmes.
“On the Plymouth County Conservation Board Facebook page, a photograph of a bull elk was shown. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is a great example of a great use of Facebook, with tons of followers and friends and the reason is they are statewide and extremely interactive.
Before we were only posting for events, not very often, like a sign at the grocery store. With the success the DNR has had, we decided to go that way with trivia, and it’s fun and they get involved and they check our page often,” said Wilmes.
“You can see how people respond with their comments and they really get involved and excited. I post the trivia question one day and then give an answer.
“Pinterest is basically a corkboard and a giant printout of everything that you like, what you want to do in categories. It’s a way to organize. Pinterest came on through the quarterly newsletter, and parents and caregivers wanted to find an area for activities and crafts.
“We talked about doing a blog but it took a lot of time so we decided to go with Pinterest, which takes 15 to 30 seconds. It’s organized, it’s quick, it’s easy and very interactive.
It creates interest in Plymouth County Conservation in a place where it might not have been before. This is a place they can hop on and find a fun thing to do with their kids without coming to Hillview every Saturday. It meets our education goals.
We’re trying to reach everyone and this is a good way to do it. You can reach out to more people; it’s all free,” said Wilmes, who explained the Conservation Board’s Pinterest site and said it has 22 followers.
“It does not take long to get a lot of followers on Pinterest. Our board is listed by activities by seasons. It’s important to get kids excited,” said Wilmes.
“With our technology if we continue what we’re doing, we will accomplish our goals: increase the awareness of Plymouth County Conservation Board,” she said. “I am surprised as I go to different groups in the county how few people know who we are and what we do. It’s slim to none in some meetings.”
“We have to get that changed. Just being out there, being active, gets people to know who we are and what we do,” said Wilmes.
“If we’re out there, and did a fun activity from Pinterest with their kids, they may not exactly know who we are yet but when they hear Plymouth County Conservation, there will be a connection,” she said. “Also, positive name recognition gets people active and involved.”
“It’s everyone’s Plymouth County Conservation Board; everyone who lives in Plymouth County and pays taxes. This is their Plymouth County Conservation Board. We want them involved, excited and to help us make decisions, coming out to our parks, going to our events, and we will always be increasing our reach if we continue the way we are. We’ll never reach everyone in Plymouth County but we need to keep trying to reach out to more people everyday.”
“If we meet our goals we will increase donations, volunteers and increase our revenue by people using our facility and with increased conservation; that’s why we’re here,” said Wilmes.