Monthly Archives: November 2014

Giving Thanks for Interpretation

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I first found a passion for interpretation. It might have been explaining a recipe to a friend. Or it might have been writing an article or sharing with a group some discovery. But I didn’t really understand that it was interpretation back in those days.

I can pinpoint the moment when I realized interpretation as a field of study or as a career could make a major impact, though.


2013 CIG Graduation, Birmingham, AL

I was visiting the Little River Canyon National Preserve and met with the director there–John Bundy. He’s since moved on to other Park Service sites, but talking with him and with a docent interpreter about the surprises hidden in that canyon opened my eyes to the world of interpretation and just how important interpretation was to understanding. Seeing the canyon is an impressive thing. Deep, beautiful and awe-inspiring. But learning about it from someone who really knows the history, the details, and the mystery, now that’s where it becomes something special.

I hurried home and joined NAI. Then I went to a conference in 2011. I discovered that there were a shameful few NAI certified interpreters located in my home state of Alabama. And I discovered that most folks considered interpretation to be a language skill that one might use to translate between two languages.

So why am I thankful? Because that’s been changing here in Alabama, and at a rapid pace. I signed up for, as best I can find, the first Certified Interpretive Guide class ever held in Alabama, held just a year ago in my home town of Birmingham. When we started, exactly 3 CIG’s resided in Alabama.

Fast forward just a bit over a year and we number a lot more. 37 CIG’s have gone through the program, 5 from other states. One that lived in Alabama at the time has moved on to Georgia. But wow! That’s a 10 fold increase in people out there making a difference every day.

I’m thankful for Brian Mast at the University of West Alabama for having the vision and the passion for bringing CIG to Alabama–and not just once, but twice! And Kelly Wall Garrison with the Birmingham Zoo for bringing another CIG training to Alabama as well!

I’m thankful for my CIG instructor, April Varn Welch! She had this to say: “During this time of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of Shel Silverstein’s ‘The Giving Tree.’ And, I am blessed to have experienced the growth of thirty-seven seedlings who have found their niche within the canopy of success as Certified Interpretive Guides. The ripple effect of their passion, professionalism, and purpose is truly affecting positive change within their state, within their community, and within themselves!” ….. cheesy I know, but full of love and huge hugs (shrug)….

I’m thankful for all those passionate folks who came to one of these workshops.

I’m thankful for all the people who come to a location where an interpreter now works.

Most of all, I am thankful for all the resources and beauty that exist here in Alabama that cry out for interpretation!

About Joe: Joe Watts is a passionate proponent of nature tourism in Alabama and is currently working with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development on several tourism-related projects, including the Alabama Birding Trails. He became a Certified Interpretive Guide in 2013 and still remembers being enthralled by the stories of a Park Ranger during a visit to Alcatraz Island 20 years ago.

Categories: General | Leave a comment

Goldilocks in the Park

One of the challenges interpreters face is to relate to tour groups on just the right level. Some folks may already know a little something about the topic of your interpretive program, while others could need a very basic refresher. It’s kind of like the tale of Goldilocks – how to let everyone in on the unique features of your site, without coming across as patronizing to some visitors – finding that spot that is “just right”?

Goldilocks cartoonOver the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to visit quite a few national parks, national monuments, state parks, museums and government buildings with my husband as we wind our way through the snowy southwest, ending up in Denver this weekend for the National Interpreters’ Workshop. When I travel and experience interpretive programs as a visitor, I always take away observations about individual interpreters’ methods, tools and styles! It’s a wonderful way to learn and grow, in addition to NAI workshops and other official professional development opportunities.

On this trip, my husband and I were part of a tour group at a famous National Park. On the cusp of the winter season, a few intrepid visitors had braved the cold. It was a very international tour group, with visitors from Australia, England and Asia along with a few Americans. What a challenge to appeal to everyone in this group on the tour! The guide did a nice job, but I noticed a few missed opportunities to engage the different knowledge levels in our group. Here are a few of my observations of what worked and what didn’t.

What works:

  • Let visitors fill in the blanks and share what they know (“Does anyone recognize that plant behind us?”), then share a basic level of information with everybody.
  • Ask visitors from far away if they have anything similar in their area; see what they can teach each other!This can also help folks relate to the resource you’re interpreting.
  • Stick to a clear theme and let details fall in place in visitors’ minds.
  • Make folks comfortable at the very beginning with asking questions. Some terms that we may, as U.S. interpreters, assume that most folks know were mysterious to some of the international visitors on the tour we took recently, such as what the CCC is and whether poison ivy is poisonous to touch or to eat.

What doesn’t work:

  • Making jokes at previous visitors’ expense. As much as we love to laugh when we’re together about the crazy questions visitors ask (you know the type – “When do you turn on the waterfalls?” etc), by sharing one of these gaffs with a tour group and laughing, you may inadvertently embarrass them if they had been wondering the same thing. If you do bring up one of these questions, allow the group to chuckle but also provide the true story without judging those who aren’t familiar with it.
  • The “drag and brag,” as a professor of mine used to call it. Most of us know this is not the best technique. I think one of its downsides is that you risk losing folks who don’t know much about the site while coming across as patronizing to others.

How do you walk the fine line to engage as many of your visitors as possible? Have you seen any great examples? Please share them below!

Categories: General | Leave a comment

Puerto Rico: Call for Proposals!

2015 NAI Sunny Southeast Region Workshop
February 2 – 5, Humacao, Puerto Rico

Join us to share experiences, learn from others, enjoy with friends and expand your network of individuals and organizations in diverse fields of interpretation. For this, the planning committee is actively looking for presenters of 45 to 50 minutes concurrent sessions. We can also set longer times (1:30 hours approximately) for workshops and hands-on activities. When proposing themes for workshop presentations, the “interpretive” sky is the limit. Some suggested themes can be: natural sciences or history content, best practices and trends, general interpretive media, benefits of using social media, business management for not-for-profits sites, experiences with interpretive initiatives or special programs, research in interpretation, diversity and accessibility in interpretive sites, etc. But, if you have a different theme in mind, please feel free to propose it.

Requested Information of Prospective Presenters:
Presentation Title
Brief description of presentation of 2 – 5 sentences (for Program)
Presenter(s) name
Title and position
Brief speaker bio (Please include info you want to share with audience: current position and organization, education and/or experience, awards or achievements, and interests, etc)
Contact information (phone numbers and emails)

Please, email information to: 
(Subject: 2015 NAI Sunny Southeast Region Workshop @ PR Presenter) no later thanNovember 24, 2014 (5pm ET).

Categories: Regional Workshop | Leave a comment

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