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.

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