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Channel Islands Now Reachable by Surfing the Net

May 30, 1996|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — As a maintenance supervisor for Channel Islands National Park, Kent Bullard knows how rarely the faint-of-stomach brave the choppy ocean crossing to reach the islands.

So the inveterate tinkerer and handyman has developed a seasickness-free way to tour the park: through a new home page on the World Wide Web.

Sure, it's only a virtual visit to the islands, renowned for their dramatic cliffs, nesting sea birds and lolling sea lions. But as Bullard sees it, cybertourism may be the only opportunity for some people to experience the five islands that make up one of the least-visited national parks in America.

"It's a weird little hidden park that is hard to get to," said Bullard, sitting in the park's visitor center at the Ventura Harbor. "We have people who won't get out of their Winnebagos. Putting out a home page lets us reach out and touch people who wouldn't otherwise know about the islands."

With a few clicks, virtual tourists can see maps and photos of Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands.

They can learn about airplane rides, hiking trails and overnight camping, and take in the sights: One page details the discovery of a pygmy mammoth skeleton on Santa Rosa, a second gives a tour of the recently renovated historic lighthouse on Anacapa and a third shows a sketch of Anacapa done by American artist James Whistler before he painted his mother.

The home page offers side excursions, too.

For instance, a visitor can glance at nearby Santa Catalina Island, which is outside the park boundaries.

Or someone can take a whimsical stroll and click over to the fictional Gilligan's Island. "We recommend the one-hour tour," park officials suggest helpfully.

Besides such touches of humor, Bullard hopes to keep the home page current with updates on new activities and new attractions in the park. He now has translators working on Spanish- and German-language versions.

Other national parks also have home pages, most of them coordinated through the National Park Service in Washington. But few of them are as elaborate or ambitious as the one that Bullard has put together for Channel Islands.

Bullard took an interest in developing a Channel Islands home page in December when he was furloughed for three weeks during the federal budget stalemate.

At the time, Bullard said, he was a computer novice. So he buried himself in books on how to navigate the Internet, write computer software programs and construct a home page.

When Bullard presented his idea to park managers, they agreed to give the ruddy-faced maintenance worker three weeks to put the page together.

"It was something we had wanted to do, but there was no one who had the extra time and knowledge to do it until Kent came along," said Carol Spears, the park's chief interpreter and spokeswoman.

Bullard continues to tinker with the page in his spare time, adding features and writing more explanations of the park's natural attractions.

His colleagues often see him tapping away on a laptop computer in the evenings on San Miguel Island, where he is now in the process of installing a solar- and wind-power unit.

"I'm cautious not to do any cyberloafing," Bullard said. "I've been working on it on my weekends and my days off."

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National Park Service Web Sites

Here are Internet addresses for some National Park Service sites:

* Channel Islands National Park Internet Information Center: http://www.nps.gov/chis/

* Grand Canyon National Park: http://www.nps.gov/grac/

* Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: http://www.nps.gov/samo/

Other park service web sites can be located through the National Park Service Park Net at http://www.nps.gov/

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