Monthly Archives: March 2018

My experience at the NAI regional workshop

by April Byrge

Attending the NAI regional workshop seemed pretty far-fetched to me last November. I’m sure many NAI members can sympathize with the plight of working seasonally. Although seasonal positions can provide some really neat experiences, they can also make finances tight. It’s a necessity for a National Park Service career. In addition to this reality, I’ve become the sole earner in a two-person household due to a medical condition. Needless to say, when I found out I got a scholarship to go the conference, I was super pumped.

My NAI experience began with an amazing trip to Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. Mike Campbell from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission showed us around the refuge, giving us the opportunity to view a ton of waterfowl. Literally thousands of tundra swans take refuge at Lake Mattamuskeet during the winter. We also saw many duck species, a few hawks, and a black-crowned night heron. For someone who is just starting to learn to identify waterfowl, this was a perfect outing.

I was scheduled to present during the first concurrent session on Wednesday. I wasn’t really nervous until about a week before, when it finally hit me that it was a regional conference and I was going to be presenting to professional interpreters from all over the southeast. I was describing the digital storytelling project I’ve been working on, which involves guiding students in the creation of mini-documentaries focused on a Smokies-related theme. I was impressed with the brainstorming participants did as they thought of ways to incorporate digital storytelling at their sites.

I attended Julia Gregory’s session on Becoming an Edge-Walker, which was totally fascinating. She discussed coyote mentoring, which is based on the book Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. This mentoring technique is meant to enlighten outdoor educators as well as those they are guiding out in nature. It is recommended by Richard Louv and David Sobel (my personal hero), so I am very interested in learning more about it.

Friday’s sessions were really eye-opening for me. Joli Reynolds and Ariel Lowrey’s presentation, I’m No Expert, changed the way I look at interpreting certain topics. We talked about topics we had issues with interpreting because of a lack of deep knowledge. For many people, these were things like geology, weather, and history. The line that really stuck with me from that session was that we are experts at interpretation. Because of that, we should have the confidence to present on topics that we aren’t necessarily a specialist in. We can learn alongside those we are teaching.

Corey Sperling’s session about employing conscious discipline when working with young people really blew my mind. I’m sure we have all had experience dealing with disruptive students, and it’s often our first instinct to act negatively towards them (lecturing them, not allowing them to participate in activities, etc.). Conscious discipline is a model that helps students learn to identify their emotions, explain them, and think of solutions. For instructors, it’s a different way of framing questions or requests. This is definitely something I will share with the Parks as Classrooms team at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

My NAI regional conference experience was inspirational to me on several levels. It gave me new ideas to explore and share, gave me insight into how other interpreters are using different techniques at their sites, and allowed me to experience several amazing sites on the Outer Banks. I’m definitely looking forward to sharing these things with my team at the Smokies when my season begins. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to the NC coast and meet and learn from amazing interpreters.


Categories: Regional Workshop | 1 Comment

OBX Regional Interpreter Conference

by Christie Hill, Naturalist Coordinator at Chattahoochee Nature Center, Roswell, GA

What an adventure heading from Atlanta to the Outer Banks of North Carolina! Interpretation on the Edge was focused on finding innovative and creative ways to engage our audience, while at the edge of our seats, the edge of civilization, or the edge of our budgets! Wow, this is a lot to achieve in 3 days. Those of us who attended felt at times to be on the edge of the world, and the journey took most people a lot of travel and logistics to be able to attend. It was well worth the trip to be in this place, and to commune with and learn from many great teachers! Interpreters brought valuable seminars and stories to the occasion from their many different experiences.

Lobby of NC Aquarium

Lobby of NC Aquarium

Our first stop was The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island for an opening evening event to get to know the area and fellow conferees. I re-connected with several people I had not seen in a year or in several. The aquarium is situated just inside the arm of the Outer Banks on the Croatan Sound side of Manteo. The NC Aquarium offers experiences on and around the island, including diving with sharks. Our event was inside the innovative interpretive center building. We walked through fresh, brackish and salt water exhibits, viewing animals and plants native to each habitat. It had a really nice flow. My biggest impression, and probably that of most kids visiting here, was the variety of reptiles, which included the sea turtle and alligator that crawled up to all visitors upon entering (as it was super-imposed on a video of the entranceway). Nice touch!

RIW sessions took place at UNC Coastal Studies Institute

The RIW sessions took place at the Coastal Studies Institute.

Our first full day of conference schedule offered a wide variety of choices of seminars and workshops for four different time slots from fellow interpreters. The 2nd day was reserved for field trips of the wider area of Outer Banks (OBX), and the 3rd was a ½ day of sessions, a short wrap-up and announcement of the next year’s conference plan and location. You all will have to wait for those details!

I attended a session led by Steve Gerkin of the North Carolina Zoo. Steve, in his exuberant style, led us through the leadership plan the zoo staff has developed over the last several years, which involves better communication between directors and coordinating staff to decide next steps and changes in all exhibit areas. The Park Interpretive Team (PIT) has been successful in working together to make creative changes for the entire organization. Hmm this method sounds familiar… nterpretive! I am fortunate to work in an organization that has chosen similar methods to accomplish our center-wide goals.

view from the NC Aquarium

What a view!

Next I attended a very different type of session entitled “The Legacy of Alvin C. York” and learned of the steps and support taken for a total make-over of one of Tennessee’s state parks. The team of five who presented the story and progression of this transformation dressed in period costume to put us in the shoes of Alvin and the people in this place around the time of World War I, or The Forgotten War.

In the middle of the day, after chicken & veggie taco lunch island style, catered by one of the local favorites, we were treated to a wonderful storyteller, Darrell Collins, who revealed to us the story of the Wright Brothers as you have never heard it before.

Christie with Perky the Rat

Christie (the author), with Perky the Rat

Later that day, my docent / friend Marjorie, also from the Chattahoochee Nature Center, and I led a “forest bathing” session called Slow Nature, attended by a large group of 20 interpreters! We wanted to share the techniques of this practice of connecting others to the outdoors. Participants have reported feeling relaxed, calm, safe, and an interdependence with all the life around them. We know that benefits of this practice include reduced stress, a sense of peace and well–being, and improved immune function. Everyone enjoyed the quiet time outside. Since we were literally preaching to the choir, it was good to have a lot of participation in the sharing circle to wrap up the session.

Chris Smith, from the NC Museum of Natural History, gave me a new appreciation for Instagram, in his session Interp-stagram. Chris shared best practices for making your posts engaging, building your site’s network, but also maintaining integrity. I have posted my first alluring, yet effective, hashtags with some spring ephemerals pics this week.

The last night was beautiful, walking my last time on the beach and waves coming in heavy with the full moon. A nor’easter began during the night while everyone attempted to sleep. The windows of our hotel rattled and buckled with the force of the wind all night long. As we tried to pack up that morning we were buffeted continually, and I struggled on the edge of barely keeping my feet on the ground. Even the doors of our car were close to bending back in the wrong direction. The hotel doors would not close, and the crew gave up trying to repair them in the onslaught of the wind. Wow, incredible weather! I have great respect for those living on the edge.

Moon in Manteo March 1

The moon over Manteo

Conferences always take me a little out of my comfort zone, and take a lot of time and details to be able to attend. I find the Regional Sunny Southeast group to be fun, approachable and knowledgeable, and the gathering a valuable source for refreshing my interpreter skills. The locations are all over the southeast so I have gotten familiar with new places each time. I came back to my normal life and job in Georgia last week feeling rejuvenated and small in the face of so much still to learn about my craft. I’m realizing new ideas to utilize in my teaching, in CIG workshops and staff training. But also, I bring back with me better ways to include fellow staff in slowing down, being in the moment and taking some time to listen, absorb and communicate.

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Close your eyes and reflect to a time when you were a visitor and went to a park, museum, or zoo/aquarium. Maybe it was a field trip in elementary school. Can you recall the technology you interacted with during that visit that helped tell the story about that certain resource?

Continue to reflect in the shoes of your current role as a professional interpreter. Can you recall over the past 2-5 years on how you’ve utilized technology to tell a story or program?

Things have likely changed over time.

Technology in our field seems to evolve daily. From scheduling and training software and opportunities that help us build our teams to Apps that get people involved in conservation.  Phones can impact our guest experience by helping our visitors decide to visit, see the best time to visit, wayfind through our galleries, and even plan lunch. Technology can help us market, recruit, and create awareness and action. We can now participate in a interpretive program in the Grand Canyon, explore the ocean LIVE with NOAA scientists, or be part of a sea turtle release in South Carolina.  Technology can also allow us the opportunity to step into an environment that perhaps you’d never step into through augmented and virtual reality.


Technology can also turn off our senses, frustrate us, not work, and burn us out.

What’s your balance of  technology at your center?

How are your visitors using technology at your site?

Where do you see it’s role in interpretation?

Email me…or respond to this blog using technology.




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A point in time: Using General Land Office (GLO) Notes


I couldn’t believe that I was holding in my hands the leather-bound book that helped to define a state. Even more, I couldn’t believe that it was kept in an unprotected cardboard box under the desk of a state employee’s office. These stained pages, with nearly illegible cursive writing in fading ink, were the original notes written by land surveyors in 1830s Mississippi as they established the township and range lines. My mind raced with the shattering impacts that this simple book had in the following years: the mapping of historical lands and subsequent removal of native American tribes, the locations of good arable farming lands, the areas and qualities of natural resources, determining navigable rivers and courses, facilitating the sale of public lands, and importantly—establishing the first maps and records of a young frontier state. These survey plats and field notes became known as the General Land Office notes (or cadastral surveys), which are publically available online for most lands west of the original American colonies (


These historical maps and records are used today by families researching homelands, by researchers tracing emigration and immigration patterns, and for my own professional interests– to determine the historical forest patterns that once existed. GLO maps have been used in land restoration projects for restoring river courses, delineating wetlands, and forest management. Hand drawn maps of the township and range lines shows the general land relief; river locations; existing roads, croplands, and homesites; and surface features. The survey lines offer a wealth of information that includes tree names, wetland areas, and distances. My personal favorites are the general notes written by the surveyor about particular townships which include such literary gems as, “this mile is hansom level open wood. Poor land. Pine & oak timber” or “The land of no value”. Check out the GLO notes for your neighborhood and you may be surprised what you may find.


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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year


It’s the most wonderful time of the year … 

And no, I’m not just late for Christmas season — I mean spring!

If you’re a nature lover, you can’t help but get all giddy when you flip the calendar to March. Early spring is simply the most wonderful time of the year in nature.

All other seasons take their time in passing, but spring is ephemeral. Birds pass through on migration that might only stay for a week before moving further north. Frog ponds appear just long enough for tadpoles to develop, and then shrivel back into dry depressions in the woods. Salamanders emerge for one-night breeding festivals, and then just as quickly return to their underground burrows for the rest of the year. Some wildflowers bloom for only a day. New changes happen at a riotous pace, and if you close your eyes for a few days you might miss something.

In early spring, the world comes back to life. The air, which has been quiet all winter, fills with music again as frogs trill exuberantly after their long winter slumber and birds begin to serenade their mates. The brown hues of February give way to the yellows, pinks, greens, and purples of new spring growth. And we reunite with old friends like purple martins and ospreys whom we haven’t seen in months.

Spring can also be a busy time for many of us in the interpretation field. It’s time to get things ready for the busy season! It’s time to get ready for school field trip season! Better clean this, inventory that, make sure all the supplies are ready, busy busy busy busy!

But don’t let the side show of the daily to-do list distract you from the main show of spring itself. Look for and celebrate the “first’s” — the first wildflower, the first blooming redbud tree, the first Mourning Cloak butterfly, the first barn swallow, the first bellowing bullfrog. Seek out the spectacles that only happen once a year like toads gathering to breed, salamanders marching across the road on a rainy night, the blooming of bloodroot in the forest.

Spring is different. Spring is ephemeral. Spring is upon us. It’s the most wonderful time of the year — be there for it.

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