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Subpar Parks takes you on a hilarious tour of national parks through the lens of 1-star reviews

Designer Amber Share's popular Instagram page is comic relief in strange times.

Some of Amber Share's Subpar Parks art.
Some of Amber Share's Subpar Parks art.Amber Share

Acadia National Park — a seemingly endless expanse of emerald crowned by the majestic Cadillac Mountain and punctuated by the dramatic and rugged Atlantic coast — is close to perfect, save for one fatal flaw.

“The water is ice cold.”

This, at least, according to one unsatisfied patron whose less-than-glowing review was given the postcard treatment on designer Amber Share’s wildly popular Instagram page, Subpar Parks.

A self-professed lover of the National Park Service, the North Carolina-based Share sets one-star reviews of America’s best idea against stunning digital illustrations of the most striking vistas the park system has to offer.

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The results are hilarious. Some are an exercise in understatement — Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park is reduced to “basically a desert with some dead trees” — while others are a reminder that there are some people you just can’t satisfy.

Share remembered stumbling on a one-star review of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, whose last eruption in 2018 incinerated more than 700 homes, with the writer complaining that they “didn’t even get to touch lava.”

Amber Share

“When I saw that review, I thought, ‘This is definitely a joke,’ but apparently it’s a thing in the park [for visitors] to poke hot lava with objects sometimes,” Share said. “So I guess they were upset they didn’t get to do that.”

Of course, bad reviews are the outliers, but Share suspects they might have something to say about what many Americans expect from the National Park System.

“I think a lot of people really expect national parks to be more like amusement parks,” Share said. “A lot of them think it’s like a curated experience rather than the uncontrolled wilderness that it generally is.”

Amber Share

Since Share posted her first illustration last December, Subpar Parks has proved an immediate hit, boasting an impressive 220,000 followers and tens of thousands of likes per post.

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Share’s highlight, however, has been the overwhelmingly positive response from park workers and others in the tourism, restaurant, and retail industries, for whom Subpar Parks has proved a cathartic experience.

Amber Share

“They’ve said that [the account] has totally changed their outlook on their job, like they don’t have to let that customer negativity get to them, and it’s taught them laugh at it a little bit,” Share said. “It has this staying power outside of being about the parks that I really didn’t anticipate.”

As of press time, Share has covered 54 of America’s 62 national parks. Once she finishes, the designer plans to go international.

“I get a lot of requests for Canada and the UK, particularly Scotland, and Australia as well,” Share said. “So I might do like a limited series in each of those places and then tackle some of the other US Park units because we have so many other great public lands that aren’t just officially national parks.”

Amber Share