From Grazing To Gazing

activities help nature lovers of all ages discover the remarkable world outdoors—from tiny insects to towering trees—and the role that each plays in maintaining a healthy environment.

Visitors love the fascinating bee observation hive inside the center, which includes a tunnel to the outside so visitors can watch up close the life cycles of the bees unfold.

Listening To Customers

Staff members at For-Mar provide about 1,000 programs, many of which are held at the visitor center and around the grounds, for adults and children annually. Hundreds of other presentations are part of a busy “For-Mar on the Road” outreach program that travels to nearby public schools and county parks; there are special-needs programs and a gardening-initiative program for children.

Approximately 35,000 people attend For-Mar’s programs each year. Topics are developed, in large part, in response to customer requests and surveys. Marketing staff members also monitor several social-media sites to see what people are saying about the programs. For example, when parents and caregivers asked for a nature program for small children, staff created “Knee-High Naturalists” for little ones 3 to 6 years old. It has been very successful, and as children who participated became older, staff developed a new series called “Wild Adventures” for children ages 7 to 12.

When the center noted that many children don’t know where their food comes from and have never grown a garden, staff members created the “Truck Farm”—a truck with a garden planted in the bed. The truck is driven to several locations to offer classes on urban agriculture and to demonstrate how easy it is to grow food in a small space.

When several visitors asked about honoring deceased loved ones at For-Mar, a quiet memorial area was created, containing a variety of trees purchased by individuals in memory of their loved ones.

All of this is accomplished with two full-time positions—a naturalist and a horticulturist—and a collection of seasonal staff.

Staying In Touch And Other Marketing Marvels

Being big believers in carefully crafted surveys, the staff uses the information to help develop programs in response to visitors’ interests. The surveys also are used to compile specific demographics for targeted email lists. The results are then partnered with focused CRMs, Facebook posts, the director’s blog, and a website to communicate frequently with visitors and partners.

Even the gift shop in For-mar’s center is a way of connecting with visitors. Many of the products relate to the programs enjoyed at For-Mar, such as butterfly nets and field guides. Locally made products such as honey from the beekeeper and maple syrup also help to further connect visitors to the community.

Bottom Line

Operational support for For-Mar comes from a variety of sources. The Merkley Trust covers approximately one-third of the budget, while funds received from a property-tax millage supply another 51 percent. Grants and partnerships provide an average of 22 percent.

While many of the educational programs are free, a small fee is charged for some, which also contributes to the revenue.

Hilda McShane is the marketing specialist for the Genesee County Parks. Reach her at hmcshane@gcparks.org.

————– Sidebar ——————

Create Effective Marketing Campaigns

Know your customers. Don’t make assumptions. Survey them! Ask for the ages of people coming to the park, ZIP codes, the best method to contact them. Then use that information to customize messages to visitors.

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