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
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!
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.
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 (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.
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.