Monthly Archives: September 2017

Who Do You Invest In?

When I think back on my life, I remember a number of people who invested in me.  This list includes people like family members and teachers.  For the past 29 years, my wife has been the biggest influence on my life.  She has helped me to become a better man.  She has made a significant investment in my life and I hope I have done the same for her.

I get to teach.  I have students who have big dreams that they hope will come true someday.  I take very seriously the idea that I can have a major influence over the direction that they take.  It could mean triumph or it could mean despair.  When we begin the journey with them, we can’t be sure of the outcome.

You may not realize it, but we all influence someone.  You have probably planted or nourished a seed that has flourished into a hope or dream.  I have worked with schoolkids in the past and I know how hard it is.  We may think that they are just passing through and aren’t paying attention.  However, they do notice.  They catch more than we realize.

I say this because it is easy to become complacent.  It may seem like you are just stacking blocks but really you are building a cathedral.  So, who are you investing in?

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The Sunny (Stormy) Southeast

by Marisol Asselta Castro, Regional Director

With the seasons beginning to change in some parts of the region and hurricane season in full, frightening force, I want to take this moment to express a profound wish that all of you are safe and well, along with the communities and resources you’re working to protect.

Hurricane JoseFrom Puerto Rico to Florida and beyond, this has and is going to continue to be a time of high stress, preparation, and recovery. With everything on your collective plates, it’s good to remember that you do have a community of peers working, fighting, and worrying alongside you. Let’s make sure we remember that we’re not alone, and to paraphrase Jane Goodall, the natural world has amazing resilience.

Looking to the future, we have some wonderful Certified Guide and Certified Host courses being offered this fall in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina that can be found in the training calendar section of the NAI National website. Those of us that can make it to the national conference in Spokane this November will look forward to catching up with fellow Sunny Southeasterners and bringing the latest interpretive news home to share with the rest of our region. Finally, a variety of state gatherings are occurring throughout the year, thanks to our wonderful volunteer state coordinators.

We continue to grow as a community, both in-person and online, and that can only lead to a stronger network of support and camaraderie for our region. Thank you all for being such a vital part of it.

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Recertification: It Isn’t Complicated, But Prepare Along the Way

Well, 4 years ago this month, I became a Certified Interpretive Guide. It was a great workshop, learned a lot and met some wonderful new friends. I now find myself ALWAYS pointing out the restrooms and exits first whenever I open a meeting.

What a treat it was to be in a room learning practical things with a group of people who love doing the same things I do. That was 4 years ago. Why is 4 years such an important timeline? If you don’t remember, you haven’t been through recertification lately!

Consider this a reminder. I didn’t even think about certification for the first 2 years. I didn’t keep a journal of those things that would qualify. I didn’t gather and file agendas for the workshops I’ve attended. I didn’t save my registrations. Basically, I didn’t save anything!

For the last two years, I’ve been more careful. I’ve been thinking about my recertification a little and squirreling away documentation. It isn’t hard. And it doesn’t take that long to gather enough for 40 hours (the requirement for CIG), but it does take doing it.


Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshop 2017 (Birdwalk)

I’m preparing my package to send off to NAI later this month. From the Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshops I’ve attended the last several years to a National Audubon Society Conference this year, an Alabama day-long NAI retreat and a statewide Scenic Byways workshop on historic assets, I’ve got what seems to be more than enough information gathered.


Alabama Scenic Byways Workshop Training (Using Your Historic Assets Wisely)

The sooner I start for the next cycle (tomorrow), the sooner I can cross that off my list of things to worry about and get back to what I enjoy doing–namely, helping people better understand the natural world in Alabama and all the things our state has to offer.

But gathering the information really provides an opportunity to reflect and redirect, where needed, what I do to educate myself and keep up with what’s happening in the world around me!

NAI’s Guide to Recertification can be found here.

More information about certification and recertification can be found here.

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Interpretation Broadens Horizons

Interpretation Broadens Horizons

By Cindy Carpenter

It’s 4 a.m. on a mid-June morning. Already sunshine and a fresh breeze stream through my hotel room’s open windows. A cuckoo calls repeatedly from the woods nearby, but I don’t mind being awakened this way. I am in Belarus, on assignment with the US Forest Service’s International Programs to teach NAI interpretation principles to college students, employees from national parks, reserves, and travel agencies, and independent guides from around this eastern European country.  Another Forest Service CIT and I engaged 18 English speakers in the 4-day CIG workshop, followed by a three day non-certification workshop for 16 Russian speakers, working through translators. Our host was the Belarusian Association of Agro- and Ecotourism “Country Escape,” a non-profit, nongovernmental organization working to help rural economies through tourism.

We were moved by the passion participants in both workshops conveyed for their country and culture in discussions and in their presentations. Topics for the 10-minute CIG presentations included traditional women’s costumes, stork conservation, illiteracy, the endangered Belarusian language, rural life, a historic castle and church, hiking safety, mushroom gathering, traditional festivals, and river and biodiversity protection. Can you imagine the challenge of presenting in a language not your native one, let alone tackling the literature review? Sam Ham’s Interpretation- Making a Difference on Purpose is the only CIG book translated into Russian, the language most common in Belarus.

Participants in the non-CIG course worked in small inter-generational groups to develop plans for four multi-day tours, including interpretive themes and experiences along the way. One revolved around the theme “landscapes create history,” others on wellness, birding, and clean air and water. A challenge that came out of these is the unpredictable nature of traffic and the timing of public transportation across Belarus.

The workshop participants’ patriotism became particular poignant for me when I compared the context of their lives with mine. Those closest to my age had parents who lived through World War II which devastated Belarus. They experienced life under communism when part of the Soviet Union, the fear created by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 and Belarus independence in 1991. Their presentations celebrated their nation.

The workshops took place on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve northeast of Minsk, the nation’s capital and most populated city. Forests, meadows and bogs provide habitat for diverse life that includes what is considered Europe’s “Big Four” – elk, moose, brown bear and bison, and a number of rare species. One night the sounds of wolves flowed into my room.  Reserve naturalists guided both classes along a fascinating ecology trail with signage along the way identifying flora and fauna and interpreting natural processes, most in Russian with attractive artwork, sometimes with cartoons. On two evenings I enjoyed music gatherings and fondly recall the shared enthusiasm with which the two generations of workshop participants sang traditional folksongs.

Belarus tourism emphasizes personal interpretation. The experienced guides had previous training in a European model and know their subjects well. Mythology is often used to convey ecological concepts and attract interest. However, the power of a strong theme and the concept that audiences make their own meanings were new to them to put into practice.

Heritage interpretation certainly crosses many boundaries- age, culture, national, ecological. Like travel, it broadens one’s horizons.  I learned more and was inspired more than I can convey by the people I met, their wonderful work in the workshops, and conversations outside class. I hope that through applying interpretive best practices and creativity, everyone I met can make the facts matter to their audiences, enhance the context of their fascinating stories, inspire protection of their special places, and be, as I am, continually enriched by Interpretation.


Workshop participant Sviatlana Pametska explains features of an interpretive sign along an ecology trail on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.

Russian speakers (5)

Katsiaryna Bernatskaya and Anastasiya Rashetnikava share aspects of the ecotour plan that they designed.


“Bog Man” teaches about life in these unique habitats protected on the Berezinsky Biosphere Reserve.

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