Behold ‘Parks Madness,’ This Zany Alum’s National Parks Version of March Madness

April 3, 2024 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

Many of Darius Nabors’ endeavors are borne from nuggets of humor.

His name may be familiar to you. In 2022, Nabors was in the running for growing the most majestic mullet in the nation. (Some guy named Scott Salvadore took the crown, but that’s immaterial.)

The 2007 University of Virginia graduate is back with another out-there idea, and it’s perfect for just about everyone. It involves March Madness, but it also appeals to those who don’t care about college hoops; to those who love the United States’ national parks, and those who just like games.

Nabors is the social media backstop for the Parks Channel, founded in 2021 by Chris Hoelzl and Charles Poe, who both did video work for the Smithsonian Institution. Part of the channel’s mission is “to make it easier to discover amazing places and then actually go there.”

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Earlier this year, the three national parks devotees were batting around social media content ideas for March.

“We were like, ‘How funny would it be to do a March Madness bracket with all the national parks?'” Nabors said. “There’s 63 national parks and there’s 64 teams” in the main bracket of the NCAA basketball tournaments.

The following weekend, Nabors got to work on the bracket. The biggest question was how to populate the thing.

Because he was one park short of the traditional March Madness tournament of 64 teams, Nabors decided to give Yellowstone National Park a bye the first week. Then, he had to decide which parks to place on either side of the bracket. 

Going east from the Mississippi River was a no-go for the right side of the bracket because there were not enough parks to balance the sheet. So, Nabors kept moving his longitudinal line west until he found some semblance of balance.

“And that line was kind of like Colorado slash Arizona, where there were about 27 parks,” he said. “And then, I just added in the five from Utah so that we could get 32 on one side of the bracket and 31 on the other side of the bracket.” 

‘Parks Madness’

That’s right. Sometimes you don’t have to think too hard. Obvious rhyming can sometimes deliver the perfect name for brands dipping their toes into the frenzied public relations cycle churned by March Madness.

updated sweet sixteen bracket
2007 UVA graduate Darius Nabors populated the ballot. (Contributed photo)

So, the folks at the Parks Channel went with “Parks Madness.” It was the obvious choice, Nabors said.

The No. 1 seeds are Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia and Zion national parks.

Parks advance in the competition based upon a popular vote from readers, with parks squaring off in head-to-head balloting. Things quickly got hairy when Nabors, who has visited all 63 national parks, started to set up the pairings.

How, one gamer asked, could you pit Acadia National Park against Gateway National Recreational Area? “It feels like UConn verses Stetson,” they wrote. “It’s almost unfair to put them on the same court.”

There was similar outrage when it came to the matchup between Zion National Park and Indian Sand Dunes National Park. “It’s like Virginia playing UMBC in 2018,” the commenter said. “There’s no way a No. 1 seed can lose in the first round of 16!”

“That’s been kind of a fun thing, to read people’s creative responses,” Nabors said.

He had to share one more piece of trash talk.

“After cruising through the first round like a puffin on the breeze, Acadia is going to pound Carlsbad like the waves of a nor’easter pound the shore. See you in the Sweet 16,” one wag wrote.

That comment turned out to be on point. Maine’s Acadia National Park left New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the dust, capturing 73% of the vote.

Glacier and Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Zhenya Lindstrom shared her photo of Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve. Jennifer Tyler took this picture of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Contributed photo)

When the Parks Channel announced the round two winners on Wednesday, it thundered: 

“FOREST TOPPLES MOUNTAIN! No. 7 Redwood axed No. 2 Denali in one of the tightest results of the competition so far.”

The channel declared that Redwood beat Denali by “a leaf-thin 51-49% online margin,” with all the No. 1 seeds still alive.

Now, Parks Madness has moved on to the Sweet 16 round – and you can get in on the fun. 

You can submit your votes for the current pairings until Sunday, when the Elite Eight will be announced. The Final Four will be unveiled April 10 and a champion crowned April 13.

Nabors said he hopes to create a new Parks Madness next year, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications