Monthly Archives: September 2014

Resource Protection vs. Adventure Recreation

by Cindy Carpenter

When you can’t beat them do you join them?

This is a question that I can’t get out of my mind when thinking of a recreational experience I had this past summer. It was in a place I have visited and enjoyed since I was a kid, a private resort in the Pennsylvania Poconos where my grandfather built a cottage in the 1920’s. When most people were on the golf course or playing tennis my siblings and I were in the woods. A favorite walk is still to a trio of waterfalls, none more than 20 feet high or so, but collectively an impressive scene of cascades and trout pools in a steep-sided gorge. Often we’d be the only ones there and pretend that it was ours alone. I truly love the place.

Toaster at Waterfall RambleA few times, when the volume of water was low enough that we felt the right mixture of confidence, cautiousness and adventure, we would cross the stream on large rocks and ease along the bottom of the lowest pool’s rock edge with plenty of foot and hand holds. We could find more foot and hand holds in the next series of rocks far enough from the stream to not be slippery to get to the edge of the middle pool. Here we could enjoy the sight and sound of the waterfall above and the one below. I don’t remember ever climbing up to the highest falls. Was it risky? Maybe, but we knew the limits of our bravery and had respect for rocks and water.

I confess I don’t feel confident to do the same now, decades later. So last summer when my sister suggested we go on the property’s new “waterfall ramble” up these falls I was ready for the adventure. The ramble is a series of ropes tied to trees up the steep wooded side slope that takes the hiker to the upper pools without picking one’s way up the large rocks. But at the first sight of it I was appalled. Across the stream was a gully along the mountainside with the first white and red striped rope lying there, ready to support more feet scrambling up the steep slope. In recent years I had witnessed this slope showing signs of climbers, but never had the damage looked so severe.

Well, we went. My sister said it was very slippery the last time she climbed it when the weather had been rainy. Most of the ropes were helpful even in the dryer conditions to scramble up the slopes, tier after tier, with short walks in between. Each segment has a label attached to a tree, such as “Electric Slide” or “The Tug of War.” Boulders lie everywhere in the woods. In one section we had to squeeze between two flat-sided boulders in a place labeled “The Toaster.” There are a couple other imaginatively labeled features along the way. One sign interpreted the glacial history of the area by an upper pool where I had never stood before.

Waterfall ramble photo

“Across the stream was a gully along the mountainside with the first white and red striped rope lying there, ready to support more feet scrambling up the steep slope. “

I admit I had fun. I felt I had gotten some exercise, seen lovely sites, and was entertained also. But I am still haunted by that question. I did not have the opportunity to query the property’s current management about the origin of the ramble, but I know interpretive nature-oriented experiences are being de-emphasized. More energy is being put into fee-based adventure recreation, though there is no fee for this ramble.

Is there a problem being solved here? Did they fear for the safety of the increased urban clientele around the waterfall? Seeing the user-made trail getting more and more obvious, did they throw up their hands and decide they may as well make it safer with ropes? Did they weigh this against the resource damage? Are they thinking of the sustainability of this outdoor adventure? How deep will the gully be when I next visit this waterfall, this place in my heart? What will it look like in a few more summers after more and more feet have scrambled up and down? Have you, oh blog reader, heard of a situation like this? Are waterfall rambles a trend? And then the question to myself, will I go on the ramble again?

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Nature in the City

Our 21st century is proving to be an era of rapid change. Thresholds are being crossed at lightning speeds and are having significant impacts on our world. One example, is that for the first time in history, more people are living in urban areas (nationally and globally) than in rural places. We don’t know the consequences of this yet, but as Richard Louv points out, people are more disconnected from nature than ever before. While many of us fondly remember building tree houses in local woodlots, catching fireflies, or roaming the grasslands; a surprising number of children no longer have access to these areas. As a result, having natural places in urban areas may be more important than we realize. To answer this call natural play areas in schools and parks have grown in popularity. Nature play, as opposed to constructed swings and play equipment, incorporates natural elements for recreational use. Climbing on logs, playing in streams and mud puddles, and digging in sand—while these are seemingly simple acts—connect children back to nature. Yes, there is more risk with natural play elements than conventional play equipment– because you can fall from a log, get a splinter in a finger, or (heaven forbid) get your clothes dirty; this type of ‘safe risk’ teaches children about being careful. It also promotes creativity and help to develop problem solving skills. Natural play areas in urban environments also provides for a better social equity. Lower income families are often unable to travel to state or federal parks for recreation, and free admission for places close to home are key. We do need safe play equipment in our schools and parks, but let’s not forget to leave a small wild area for unstructured play. For more information on nature play or how to create one, see the National Wildlife Federation’s website at

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The Aggressive Visitor: Why Are You Yelling at Me?

Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen Courtesy

Study on perceived locations of emotion response: Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen Courtesy

This is where things go wrong.
You’ve got a visitor,- a guest, a patron, one of the reasons you got into interpretation – in your face and becoming unhinged. You might know what the trigger was, you might not. You’re trying to respond calmly while assessing the need for security intervention. Emotionally, you may be at odds with yourself. You want to shout back. You want to walk away. You want to assure the watching bystanders that everything is ok. You want to engage the visitor in some productive way that will turn this situation around. You want to ease their minds. You want to punch them in the face.
The first thing to bring up is that, yes, if there is any chance that this aggressive visitor is threatening or putting you or others in danger, call in security. Err on the side of caution any way you go and use your very best judgement. Be aware of your site’s policies and emergency procedures. Have a plan in place before this situation happens so you don’t have to scramble for what to do in the moment. Confer with your bosses on it. Make sure your coworkers are also prepared. The realities of working in any sort of public setting makes this an absolute necessity. It sounds obvious, but I remember several times where seasonal staff or volunteers weren’t kept up to speed on these rare situations in the midst of other pressing needs. 

Anger – Hans-Siebert von Heister 1920

That done, let’s talk about the non-violent aggressive visitor. During an NAI workshop on facilitated dialogue, one interpreter related a situation where he was screamed at by a visitor and found himself freezing up, unable to think at that moment what his next steps should be. This was after the tragic deaths of several firefighters in Arizona, and the visitor was demanding to know what the government was going to do to punish whoever was accountable and prevent this from happening again. The event being held had nothing to do with firefighting or the people involved in the deaths, but this visitor appeared to have attended just to get into it with someone over the subject. He was literally screaming in the interpreter’s face and not stopping for a response. Months later we were asked what he could have, should have done. It’s a difficult situation to manage: was this visitor actually looking for answers and didn’t know a better way to go about getting them? Was it more about the need to grieve and vent painful emotions? Was he angry about something else – a parking ticket, and argument with his kids – and redirected his anger toward the nearest target? Was he an attention-seeker looking purely to make a scene? The ability to deduce your aggressive visitor’s motivations can be difficult, if not impossible, but if there are any clues in their actions or words, you’ll be in a much better state to pick up on them if you’re not feeling unprepared and panicked. 

Congressman Bill Huizenga berating a park ranger during the 2013 federal government shut-down.

I personally don’t enjoy role-play training, but this is one area where it is possibly the best tool to use. It gives interpreters a chance to walk through a variety of experiences of being aggressively engaged, while a supportive group of peers and superiors offer advice and feedback. Aside from being able to cache some set responses, it removes the newness of the experience and makes most folks less likely to freeze in the face of it. Emotion is a part of the human experience, and has its place. If you can respond calmly and positively, you can very often turn the situation around. Maintain yourself as someone there to help, acknowledge what they say while politely addressing inconsistencies and bringing things back around to your program or mission. If they’re looking for answers, offer them resources and suggestions. Offer to discuss this further with them after your program. If they’re looking for attention or an argument, maintaining calm and controlled, logical, empathetic focus can derail that train and keep the other visitors feeling a sense of stability and relevance. Note that I’m saying “can”. There are times when none of this will work, and you will have to say, “I’ve listened to you, I’ve heard what you have to say, and you need to stop yelling at me now or I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” but being able to tell when a situation is workable vs not can prevent removal from being your knee-jerk response. Remember what you’re there to accomplish as an interpreter, and remember that you’ve gone over these possibilities beforehand. 
On the flip side, one of my favorite memories is actually of an aggressive visitor I had as an educator at a Native American museum in Connecticut. A very elderly gentleman with an “Irish” baseball cap and a cane came charging toward my supervisor and me, and  began very loudly holding forth on how “Indians are all prejudiced and I saw that movie Last of the Mohicans and all the Mohicans died, so how could there be a tribe of them with a casino, and we Irish were mistreated in the US, too, and you never heard us complain!” He punctuated each statement with a jab of his cane in my general direction. I watched my supervisor silently teleport to the other side of the museum, and I was on my own to explain that the movie was fiction, the tribe over here is Mohegan, not Mohican, and that, in fact the Irish that came to America did end up quite vocal over the treatment they received. I also had time to realize that A) he must have paid entrance to a tribal museum for a reason, so I’m going to assume that reason is to engage and learn, and B) he was enjoying himself hugely. We went back and forth for over twenty minutes until he suddenly stops and says, “Oh, there’s my wife! I wondered where she’d gotten to.” He wanders off toward a woman who, I swear, was hiding behind an exhibit, and I hid behind the cornstalks of our farmstead exhibit until I felt energized enough to go back out, engage more visitors, and plot revenge on my supervisor.


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What Does Labor Day Mean to You?

Travelling somewhere!

A paid day off work!

Beaches and barbeque!

Sales and shopping!

The last day to wear white!


Labor Day grew out of local and state celebrations, prominent among which was a raucous parade in New York City on September 5, 1882—a parade whose after-party numbered some twenty-five thousand union members and their families celebrating with speeches, cigars and beer kegs. Among the parents of Labor Day are Matthew McGuire, father of the Central Labor Union of New York.


What is sometimes forgotten is that early parades and celebrations were expressions of a larger labor movement. Early leaders like Irish-born Mary Harris “Mother” Jones successfully led workers to protest in favor of eight-hour workdays, fought against child labor, and organized mine workers. Though the boarding house in West Virginia where Mother Jones was detained while organizing miners no longer stands, other historic sites connected with labor history include:



Resources for interpreting labor history include:


So, as you reflect on that delicious burger that managed not to stain your white pants—remember the workers who made the day possible.

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Interpreting Duplicity: A Postcard from Gitchi-Gami

My wife and I spent a couple of weeks this summer exploring Minnesota’s North Shore, the narrow sliver portion of the state between the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, or Gitchi-Gami, as it is known to the Ojibwe who have lived in the northwoods for generations.


Lake Superior at Split Rock

View of Lake Superior from the beach at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park. Chance N. Finegan photo.

One particular day – the sort when the sun is a cheery, lemon-colored dab of frosting in the heavens – we found ourselves at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  Standing on the beach at the picnic area with our feet in Lake Superior, we were moved by the serenity of the landscape.  Sunshine pierced the water straight to the bottom as far off the beach as one could see, illuminating turquoise cobblestones reminiscent of robin eggs.  The only movement was the gentle rocking of Gitchi-Gami as the tide receded.


Just the day before, however, Kate and I were in downtown Duluth, reading a museum exhibit about the legions of Lake Superior shipwrecks.  As Kate later pointed out, the caption on nearly every model ship in the museum ended with some form of “the ship was lost after encountering terrifyingly large waves…”


The duplicity of Gitchi-Gami is stunning.  Lake Superior is profoundly majestic; even the shortest respite on her shores will renew the spirits.  Lake Superior is also among the deadliest, most capricious bodies of water in the world.  This duplicity – peace and wrath – is one we can all relate to; everyone has experienced great calm and great anger.  It is one of the most fundamental universal concepts.


To my disappointment, none of the museums we visited directly interpreted Gitchi-Gami’s duplicity.  Some interpreted the violent deaths of scores of sailors.  Other museums celebrated Lake Superior’s more mundane qualities – her depth, her clarity, her fish, and her scenic shores.


I challenge you to examine your site’s exhibits and programming.  Are you interpreting only one side of your site’s story?  Are there unexplored universal concepts at your site?  Interpretation, just as it should appeal to the whole person, should present the whole story.  Both horrific shipwrecks and magical days where the water is a glass table on which to build dreams are worth our attention.

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