Interpretation for Archeologists   4. Tools For Interpreters   Distance Learning

Natural Resources Interpretation

(photo) An interpretive park ranger leads a discussion with school children on fossils at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.

With the help of an interpretive ranger, children at a geology day camp in Capitol Reef National Park in Utah contemplate an earlier time and the animal that left its footprints in stone. (NPS)

Archeological interpretations include the influence of ecology, environment, and nature on culture, and people’s influence on their surroundings. The Natural Resources Division method of interpretation provides another viewpoint on discussing parks with visitors. The division practices the axiom “through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.” It endorses the following four-step strategy:

  1. Define what is the natural resource topic or issue.
    The first step involves determining what the issue is that needs to be addressed by interpretation. Critical resource issues generally involve subjects that possess traditional park values such as unique character, beauty, rarity, etc.
  2. Determine what is the primary message that needs to be conveyed.
    The second step asks interpreters to identify the most important issue or message to be conveyed. What is its purpose and desired effect? This step also enables interpreters to recognize the extent of interpretation needed and degrees of public involvement.
  3. Determine what is the most appropriate audience that needs to be reached with the message.
    The third step finds out how broadly or narrowly to target an audience with particular interpretive devices and topics. Broad-scale issues, such as the relevance of archeology to modern life, may require getting the message out to large, diverse audiences. Specific issues, such as the damage inflicted on archeological resources by local weekend recreationalists, may be most effective through a localized scope.
  4. Determine the most appropriate technique for delivering the message.
    The NPS uses many kinds of interpretive devices. Whichever ones you choose, keep these elements in mind:
    • Select a theme.
    • Use goals and measurable objectives.
    • Assure relevancy.
    • Evaluate.
    • Develop and outline the interpretive device.

For Your Information

Why do you want to be an interpreter? One interpreter said:

“I want to instill that interior value about the environment. I want to touch visitors’ lives with meaningful and relevant feelings about nature. And I want to somehow help the environment through education and awareness.”

Interpreters can further structure or refine their program using the Natural Resources Communications Decision Tree:

Is it a Subject or an Issue?

(Issues involve problems and solutions, whereas subjects in this case are features or topics independent of problems or threats.)

If it is a subject:

  • What needs to be communicated?
  • Why communicate it?
  • Who needs it?
  • How?

And: is public enjoyment/appreciation of the park enhanced through resource stewardship attention to this subject?

If it is an issue:

  • What is the issue?
  • What is the message?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What techniques are appropriate?

And: Can public enjoyment of the park be enhanced through resource stewardship attention to this issue (e.g. alternative values)?

Case Study

Yellowstone Sand Verbena, Yellowstone National Park
This page gives an example of choosing a natural element and interpreting its significance and relevance to modern life.

For Your Information

NPS Natural Resources Division
Learn about the programs at work using nature interpretation.

Natural Resources Year in Review – 1998
Chapter 7 of this report talks about natural resource interpretation. Take a look for ideas and approaches.

James H. Gramann, Protecting Park Resources through Interpretation (.pdf 1.81 MB; see pages 34-36)
Interpreters of natural resources find that people tend to care more about resources through interpretive opportunities. This study by a social scientist goes into greater depth about why it takes place.

Park Rangers
Preservation and protection can be dangerous or tedious, cold and really cool, motivational and awe-inspiring. Park Rangers perform a wide variety of duties in managing parks, historical sites, and recreational areas.

MJB/EJL