Flooding in Patapsco Valley State Park: Recommendations for Signage and Communication Materials


Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) and its surrounding areas have been subject to increased flooding in recent years. In 2016 and 2018, the area experienced two 1,000-year floods (Halverson, 2018) that significantly damaged the park. Flooding events of this severity and magnitude are expected to be exacerbated in the future due to rapidly increasing impacts from climate change (Denchak, 2019). The park has found it challenging to communicate flood risks to visitors. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which manages PVSP, is concerned that visitors don’t plan ahead when they attend the park, and don’t know the risks involved in hiking through the park, which puts them at a greater risk of harm in the event of a flood. Additionally, many PVSP visitors don’t speak or read English, which creates a significant communication gap between visitors and the park to convey safety messages about flooding. This project aims to determine the most effective language for signage and communication materials to communicate flood risks and what to do if a flood occurs. The group reviewed academic and non-academic literature on the best ways to communicate risk, the best ways to educate youth, strategies used by other parks to communicate risk, as well as information about the Ellicott City area. The research and final deliverables aim to determine the most effective language for signs within PVSP, and the best education and communication materials to distribute to park visitors. The project began with a client meeting to define expectations for the project. We determined three major aspects: creating safety signage, creating educational materials, and creating a video to be shown at the PVSP mobile ranger station. We also discussed the importance of improving communication with Spanish-speaking visitors. Following this meeting, the group researched flood-risk education, risk communication in parks, risk communication with Spanish speakers, and best practices for park signage. A site visit gave the team a better understanding of the client’s expectations. After this visit, the group divided into three teams; the first team was tasked with editing existing park signs, the second team was tasked with developing educational materials, and the third team was tasked with writing a detailed video script for use throughout the park and at the mobile ranger station. Each team conducted additional relevant research. The result was three deliverables: recommendations and mock-ups of effective safety signage, educational pamphlets that inform park visitors about flooding risks, and a script for an educational video on flooding. We hope this work can contribute to DNR’s goal of providing accessible and appropriate flood communication materials for all park visitors.


Final project for ENSP400: Capstone in Environmental Science and Policy (Spring 2020). University of Maryland, College Park.