by Cynthia Kryston of Lowell National Historical Park,
is a journey, a never-ending quest for excellence reaching
for wide horizons and challenging frontiers.
Interpretation is a guide, leading national park visitors
throughout our history from real park resources to their
underlying meanings, from the tangible to the intangible,
from sight to insight. Through orientation, information,
and education, interpretation facilitates the public’s
participation in resource stewardship, helping people
understand their relationships to and impacts on those
resources -- helping them to care.
Interpretation is also a process -- dynamic, flexible,
and goal driven -- leading from understanding to appreciation
and through appreciation to preservation, the credo
of the interpretive traveler. Done well, parks flourish;
done poorly, parks perish.
You begin this journey. On it you will follow many
tried and beaten paths and pause at many crossroads.
You will travel in the hallowed footsteps of Tilden,
Mather, Albright, and Mills, building on the turns and
valleys they explored. Like them, be courageous in venturing
onto uncharted highways. Like them, be open to new directions
and destinations, remembering that your footsteps shape
the history of interpretation and its legacy of enrichment.
Interpretation has many twists and byways, facets and
definitions. It winds through many disciplines. It is
a science based on accurate facts and current information
-- methodical and exacting in its application of techniques
and solid research. It is history-- portraying both
the famous and the commonplace of human drama, chronicling
not just dates and numbers but emotions, ideas, and
universal concepts. It is art -- rooted in passion and
love for parks, ever moving the visitor’s journey
through memorable and meaningful experiences. Interpretation
challenges the mind but engages the heart and the emotions.
A journey of such significance has mission and direction.
Interpretation’s mission is the National Park
Service’s -- a strategic mission based on preserving
park resources, forging binding ties between visitors
and their heritage, perpetuating strong park partnerships,
and ensuring the effectiveness of our organization in
achieving its mission. Our destination is clear but
destiny will be determined by our devotion to its accomplishment.
You are about to embark on this journey with your first
steps in developing interpretive competencies. You stand
on the brink of learning why, what and how we do interpretation.
You will need guides and those guides are embodied in
knowledge -- of the resource, of the audience, of interpretive
techniques. But knowledge alone is not enough. YOU are
the final key element in this equation. With your interest,
enthusiasm, competencies and skills you create the opportunities
for interpretation to occur. YOU are the future of interpretive
KNOWLEDGE OF THE RESOURCE is a constant discovery,
the compass to new insights and layers of understanding
about the mountains, structures, rivers, artifacts --
the national treasures we care for. It is cultural history
in context and not just in facts. It is natural history
as ecosystem and environment, not just genus and species.
It is an adventure into new interpretations of people,
time, and place -- the courage to face controversy and
KNOWLEDGE OF THE AUDIENCE is the realization that no
"average" visitor exists. Our visitors are
infinite in their variety, outlooks, values, and opinions.
They exist both inside and outside park boundaries.
They are not only the captive audience in a visitor
center auditorium or the repeat visitors who love our
parks, but also the cyberspace generations not yet at
our doors or in the circle of our programs. They are
old and young, national and international. They question
and challenge old ideas and priorities, ask "why"
the full dimensions of heritage are not yet explored.
They must be respected as independent travelers on this
journey of discovery, free to choose the meaning of
the resource for themselves, free to determine what
paths their stewardship will follow. And, in doing so,
our journey will be exquisitely enriched.
Finally, YOU are part of this equation. KNOWLEDGE OF
YOURSELF is essential because interpreters hold the
ultimate responsibility and accountability for their
own development. Interpretation is love, not lecture.
Sensitivity, attitude, teamwork, and constant evaluation
are the tools with which interpreters hone and evaluate
their readiness to progress, understanding there will
be obstacles along the way. Interpretive techniques
and basic competencies are not islands but rather steppingstones
to your career, the foundation for your future. Build
strong because you construct a lifetime framework. The
directions are in place; the pace is yours.
The interpretive equation is ever-shifting, but essentially
stable. It is delicate balance, not perfect chemical
formula. It is an intricate linkage where neglect of
one part tragically weakens the whole. There is no one
INTERPRETATION, no single perfect way, but rather multiple
techniques and relationships, linking visitors with
the real, the tangible, resource and its immeasurable
intangible and universal meanings to forge a lifetime
The outcome of the journey is in all our hands. To
effect interpretation, we must first affect a memorable
change within visitors, moving them to see a kaleidoscope
of meanings with critical and wondering eyes. We are
the facilitators of connecting visitors to resources.
We are the catalysts for creating interpretive opportunities
and outcomes. But interpretation instructs; it does
not inflict. We can lead visitors to the brink of learning
but the leap of caring and concern must be theirs.
Let the journey begin. As you take your first steps
on the path of interpretive competencies, hold your
eyes on the road but your heart in the stars. And may
your journey never end!