Save the Park – Volunteering in the National Parks

Save the Park Game in Action

Games for Change has developed a game for your iPhone or iPad that is designed to get you and your friends to  volunteer in national parks. “Save the Park” is available for free via the app store.  It was created through a $250,000 grant from American Express.  If nothing else,  you should download the app and try it out because the American Express Foundation will make a $1 donation to the National Parks Foundation for each download of the game before December 31, 2016, up to $50,000. The donation will support the National Park Foundation’s park conservation and stewardship work.

Save The Park GamePlaying the Game

Playing the game is fairly simple.  I tried it on my iPhone 4 and it was pretty slow and crashed a few times, but I suspect it will run better on newer devices.



AndreTo start, you choose one of four characters Nei, Luna, Ben or Andre.  These represent volunteers and come with a student to help them in their tasks.  Each volunteer has a back story.  For example, “Andre is a 26 year old graphic designer who has been volunteering in the parks since he was a child growing up in Brooklyn, New York.  One of his fondest childhood memories is a class trip to the Stature of Liberty.  Andre volunteers to help park staff with interpretive events and guest services to ensure visitors have an incredible day in the park.”

His helper is Simone, “a fourth grader and a Junior Ranger since the age of five. Simone takes the Junior Ranger motto “Explore, Learn, and Protect” very seriously and that’s why she’s eager to lend a hand to help.”  Oh, and Andre has a special power: he can power though obstacles.

That’s Simone with the head band in the top photo.  In the same photo you can see Andre helping a park visitor while Simone ignores one – if my game skills were better they would both be helping a visitor.

Upon choosing and unlocking your volunteer, you must guide your volunteer and assistant to complete certain tasks.  One initial task is to post signs on sign boards (i.e. run into sign boards) while avoiding other obstacles.  During the game the two characters move steady across the screen from left to right as they encounter the signs they are supposed to hit and obstacles they are supposed to avoid.  You control them with your thumbs by moving them up or down along their journey.  Your right thumb controls your volunteer, while your left thumb controls your assistant.  When both characters complete a task (i.e. hit a sign) at the same time, you score a combo that is worth more points than completing a task individually.  Along the way,  your accumulation of points earns you stars that open new game levels and your volunteer’s special power grows stronger.  If your characters run into an obstacle they are not able to earn points for awhile.


Between Levels


Between game levels,  you are invited to find real volunteer opportunities in your area.  If you choose to really volunteer,  the game takes you to the Volunteers-In-Parks page of the National Park Service’s website where you can learn more about volunteering and proceed to find a volunteer opportunity that meets your needs.  This does quit the game, but on your return you can continue from where you left.


Starting a New Level


Starting a New Level

At the start of a new level,  you can select another volunteer, if you have earned enough points to unlock them.  You can  also choose from one to four different tasks (the number depends upon the number of points you have earned) and a park to explore (Forest, Desert, or Coast).  ‘Forest’ seems to be always available, but it takes some points before you can unlock the other parks.

One concept wasn’t entirely clear – how to start the next level.  As it turns out,  when you select the task, a screen displays the objects you must hit and those you must avoid.  It also provides you with your current score and a button to start play.




Settings are accessed from the home page,  You can disable the repetitive music, disable special effects or reset the data.  The latter lets you return the game to it’s initial state if you want to start over from the beginning.

Other Features

As you wait for new levels to load,  you are presenting with “Did you Know?” factoids like:


Did you know?

Native Americans call Mt Rainier National Park’s mountain Tahoma, Tacoma or Talal from a Lushootseed word meaning “mother of waters” and a Skagit word “meaning great white mountain.”

Challenges offer another way to earn stars.  For each completed challenge you get a star. Challenges include:

  • Viewing your challenges in “My Impact.”
  • Visiting the National Park’s volunteer website.
  • Finishing a level without hitting any obstacles.

Postcards are provided if you hit a golden egg as you play.  They are actual photos of various park scenes and you can share them with others in various ways.

“My Impact” enumerates the things you have accomplished, like the number of visitors you have helped or the number of signs you have posted.  It also gives you access to your postcards.

Postcard from a Virtual National Park

I’m not much of a game player, but I was able to pick up this came and found it enjoyable.  It’s easy enough to play yet it is clear that one can continually improve. That and the various rewards will probably keep some people involved in the game for awhile.  The clever combination of park facts and encouragement to visit the volunteer website (and a reward for doing so) may actually lead some people to sign up.  It would be interesting to see the results of the game after it is available for awhile.


National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis has said: “Volunteering is one of the best ways to get up, get out and find your park.  With more than 400 parks across the country that protect and preserve America’s landscapes, culture and history, we can’t do it alone, and volunteers serve important roles in many of our national parks. We thank American Express and Games for Change for supporting our efforts to inspire a new generation to serve our parks.”

You can learn more about “Save the Park” and download it at iTunes.

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