Monthly Archives: February 2016

Speaking Specifically

by Cindy Carpenter

Sometimes in frontline interpretation, what we convey to our audiences is not what we intend. I’m always grateful for a visitor’s question during or after a program that gives me the opportunity to correct or clarify a take-away message. Being aware of how a sentence can be misconstrued has helped me communicate more concisely.  Speaking specifically takes practice. It also requires questioning on the interpreter’s part, and research that can separate folklore from fact.

I’ll give a specific example. Congress in 1968 established my interpretive site in the Pisgah National Forest as the Cradle of Forestry in America. A unique combination of forestry firsts occurred here. This is where forestry was first practiced in America, where America’s first forestry school was founded, and was the first tract purchased under the 1911 Week’s Law for a National Forest. Orientation materials and the first tour guides I spoke with made the point that poor logging and farming practices resulted in worn out land that needed a trained forester’s hand.

While there is truth in this broad brush approach to the site’s history, specifics reflect a true historical integrity.  I’ll address the statement about the condition of the land. To do so I need to give you a bit more history. Today’s 6,500 acres designated as the Cradle of Forestry in America became part of George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate when he purchased them with about 100,000 more acres in 1895. He named the vast tract Pisgah Forest. As he had done with his 7,000 acre Biltmore Forest near Asheville, North Carolina in 1892, he placed Pisgah Forest under the care of a forester and a regular system of forest management. And this is where a difference comes in.

Much of Biltmore Forest, close to the city of Asheville and Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House, had worn out soils and needed care while holding potential for beauty and profit. Eroded slopes needed healthy young trees. Overgrown farmland could be thinned to provide Asheville with firewood while making room for a thriving, natural forest stand. But miles to the southwest, Pisgah Forest was in pretty good shape. Subsistence farms dotted the valleys, creating edges even the first foresters understood as important on a landscape. Most mountain slopes held high quality timber and beautiful forest stands. Simply making this distinction in geographical areas paints an accurate picture of the historical landscape and the forester’s work.

I know there have been times my words did not convey compellingly enough the significance of my site’s stories. Continued study and critical thinking, from our sites’ earliest interpretive plans to new perspectives gained, helps us organize program content with specifics and deliver a richer visitor experience.

Categories: General, Interpretation tools | 1 Comment

“Shifting Gears”

Rock HillLast week South Carolina State Coordinator Ashley Bradt led a “Brown Bag” meeting in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  The meeting was held at the city’s Novant Health BMX Supercross Track located in the Riverwalk community. The “brown bag” was hosted by Hope Matthews an Environmental Educator with the City of Rock Hill.

As we drove up from Charleston,  I wondered what the interpretive connection would be to a world class BMX facility. Hope soon told us about an innovative 5th grade program that combines outdoor skills (bike riding), exercise, getting outside, history, physics, engineering, and a ride along the Catawba River.

Busses bring  25 excited 5th graders to the facility.  The kids go through a basic bike skills course before taking a ride through the Riverwalk community down to the trail system.  Once on the trail system the 5th graders learn about the Catawba River and its connection to hydropower, grist mills, ferry crossings, and force and motion as they navigate hills in this immersive experience.

Where many of us may reminisce of a time when we took family bike rides and developed a connection to the outdoors others may not get this experience. This program is a great package as it integrates so many wonderful things for the 5th graders such as, getting outside, exercising, and setting personal goals for some. While the kids are having fun they’re also getting some good history, physics, and standards in there “along for the ride.”

The beauty of these brown bag lunches is an affordable way  to connect with peers, see innovative programming, get out of the office hustle, and experience other models in our field.

Great job to you and your team Hope!


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The Importance of Knowing Your Audience

Over the past ten years in the field of interpretation, I have worked with nearly every audience:   pre-schoolers, school-aged kids, pre-teens, teens, young adults and families.  Each audience has provided a new and interesting challenge for me and it has been very rewarding.  So this year, when the opportunity to provide nature programs for a senior center arose, I decided to take on this new endeavor with gusto.

My first task was to learn more about my audience.  The old days of whipping up a simple yet entertaining blurb about an upcoming program were now behind me.  I needed to learn how to market to seniors in a different way.  To help me achieve this, I sat down with the director of the center to get insight into how to best provide programs for them.   It turns out that what they crave is routine; knowing that the same person will come on the same day of the week at the same time was helpful for them.  Time of day for this group was also crucial:  late morning.  To meet these needs, I set up the schedule to ensure that I would be there every Tuesday at 11:00am to provide a 50 minute presentation for them.

The structure for the overall series was also key in its success.  I set it up so that each topic ran for four consecutive weeks.  During the first three weeks, each presentation built upon the one before it.  The fourth session was a field trip to a local business or organization that summed up the overall topic for the series.  This format has allowed me to build a relationship with the seniors, which is important for this audience.  Topics so far have included backyard birds, birding basics, native wildlife myths, backyard habitats, composting, water quality, and organic gardening.

To market these programs and ensure success, the program descriptions were tailored to specifically address the concerns of seniors.  For the lectures, it was important to explain whether or not it would be held indoors.  For the field trips, they needed to know how much walking was involved, availability of seats/benches along the way, potential sun exposure, proximity to restrooms, etc.  By doing this, I was able to address Maslow’s Hierarchy within the write-up in order to best serve this audience.

Each presentation is thematic, drawing each sub-theme back to the overall theme of the series.  I try to instill that nature is accessible and they can experience the beauty and benefits of it in many different ways.  Whether watching birds at the feeder from their window, taking a hike, or planting some native wildflowers along a small patio.  My group of regulars loves conversation, and they add a lot to my knowledgebase as well.  This rewarding experience has allowed to me ‘grow my branches’ into a new style of programming.  That’s the great thing about this field:  there’s always something new to learn.

This picture is from our recent field trip to a recycling center.  The trip was the fourth installment of the Green Living Series.

This picture is from our recent field trip to a recycling center. The trip was the fourth installment of the Green Living Series.

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It’s Dangerous to Go Alone. Take This (Awesome Map of Region 3 Interpretive Sites)!

You have to admit that the Sunny Southeast is a pretty amazing region. We’ve got everything from lemurs to fortresses, beaches to museums, lakes, rivers, mountains, and nature centers galore…all waiting for the intrepid explorer (you!) to visit them. To assist you on your journey, we have have been building a member map on the Region 3 website to show you the exciting details of the who, what, when, and where of your colleagues’ sites. One of the many benefits of an NAI membership offers is a strong community, and we want to keep growing that community beyond the conferences (like our annual workshop being held this very week in Atlanta!) and other special events.
Perky and map
Last year we sent out a short survey that gave members the opportunity to participate in the creation of this resource map, and we now have about fifteen sites up on the map. That’s a great start, but we can do so much better! This is a purely voluntary map that, aside from some required basics, can include as much or as little as you’d like about your site, business, program, etc. (it isn’t required that you have a physical site to participate). The map is a great tool to use for exploring the area, learn about members’ upcoming events, find volunteer or job opportunities, or even contact another member who may be doing similar work and could help you brainstorm some ideas to make your program or exhibits even better.

To all of our wonderful members who jumped into the pool first: thank you! We couldn’t have gotten this community project off the ground without your enthusiastic support and participation.

If you’d like to be a part of this resource and open your doors to new friends and allies, follow this link to our short and sweet survey page:

You can find the map under the “Contact Us” tab on top of the intro page on our regional website: (, or go directly to

*There may be some formatting glitches in certain browsers, and we’re still working on the best way to incorporate photos into the mapping process. If tech-savvy people would like to volunteer to help out with this project, please drop us a line at*

Categories: General, Jobs / Professional Development, Regional Workshop, Social media | Leave a comment

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