Chapter 1


--Before NPS

--The Park Service Assumes Responsibility

--Interpretation Institutionalized

Chapter 2

--Branching Into History

--The Importance of Historical Interpretation

--Inagurating the Program

--Historical Challenges

Chapter 3

--New Directions

--Audiovisual Innovations

--Museums, Visitor Centers, and the New Look

--Living History

--Environmental Interpretation

--Women in Interpretation

--Other Agendas

Chapter 4

--Interpreting Interpretation

Chapter 5

--Interpretation In Crisis






--Branching Into History

--New Directions

--Interpreting Interpretation

--Interpretation in Crisis



by Barry Mackintosh

Washington 25, D.C.
April 23, 1953
In reply refer to:
R1815 WASO-N

Memorandum To: All Field Offices
From: Director
Subject: Securing Protection and Conservation Objectives Through Interpretation

Area Operation recommendation #95 relating to interpretation as an offensive weapon in preventing intrusion and adverse use of areas administered by the Service was approved on December 18, 1952. The present memorandum defines more specifically the objectives of this recommendation, it attempts to place this protection theme in its proper perspective in relation to the interpretation of natural and historic features, and suggests ways in which this program may be put into effect.


The Interpretive program serves the two basic objectives of the Service as defined in the Act of August 15, 1916 establishing a National Park Service. These purposes are: To provide for the enjoyment of areas administered by the Service, and to use and conserve them so as to leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. The first of these objectives is served directly as the interpretive program provides for the visitor the background of information necessary for his fullest understanding, enjoyment, and appreciation of these areas. It is the second of these basic objectives - conservation and protection - that is the subject of this memorandum. The interpretive program has a real obligation and opportunity based upon law and policy, to contribute to the preservation of the areas as well as to their enjoyment by the public. The present concern is the manner in which the interpretive program may serve the conservation and protection objective.


1. It gives the visitor the facts of nature and history. The importance of interpretation of nature and history per se as a factor in park conservation is not to be discounted. While the primary objective is service to the visitor, park conservation is served concurrently. The process is very simple - YOU are most interested in and concerned about those things with which you are most familiar and in which you are most experienced. The park visitor is no different. Give him sufficient understanding of the features and values of parks and monuments, and lead him to identify himself with the park through his own experiences, and he then has the knowledge to understand the problems of park conservation, and a personal interest that will lead him to identify himself with the park through his own experiences, and he then has the knowledge to understand the problems of park conservation, and a personal interest that will lead him to do his part in their proper use and conservation. In brief, the objective is: protection through appreciation, appreciation through understanding, and understanding through interpretation.

2. It gives the visitor some guiding principles of park management. Interpretations of facts are usually pattered by previous knowledge, or prejudices. A forest scene may suggest lumbering quite readily as a forest recreation. To lead the visitor into an interest in and understanding of park objectives, as contrasted with other perhaps more familiar patterns of thinking about land resources and use, he must be given a background of park philosophy as well as a background of natural history. The origin and growth of the national park idea; the principles, policies, and objectives of national park use; some of the obstacles encountered in attaining those objectives; how a park is managed - all of these are part of the background of national parks and monuments that the visitor must have for full understanding. Interpretation provides the facts of natural history and history, but is not complete until it relates those facts to the use and conservation objectives of parks and monuments.

3. It points out specific ways in which the visitor should participate, to his own greater benefit, in proper park use and conservation. The application of general principles to specific situations is not easy for most people. They approve of the principle that it is fine to have bear and deer in their natural environment, but do not see that hand-feeding of the animals is a violation of that very principle. The visitor often requires some specific instructions regarding his own behavior. Fire prevention, proper relationship of man and wildlife, protection of geyser and cave formations, cleanliness of camp, trail, and road-side, good and safe outdoor behavior, are among the things that can be treated directly, using specific examples, in the interpretive program. Officials of each area will need to survey their own program and problems to determine which matters of this kind need to be and can feasibly be presented. In this, as in all else, the visitor should be given not and admonition, a warning or a mere statement of rule or regulation, but a clear relation of the matter to the facts of natural history. Tell him why: If you convince him of the soundness of your reasons, he will be more likely to comply.

4. It uses examples from the park and its environs to illustrate lessons in park use and conservation. Facts are truths, principles are guides, but an interpretation is a pattern of thought, an hypothesis. Demonstrate by example that the pattern is sound. Following are examples of demonstrable situations.
(a) Predator control has resulted in injury to game and ranges.
(b) Once overgrazed, Yakima park has not fully recovered in 35 years.
(c) Olympic and Rainier stand in sharp contrast to the deteriorated scenic quality of surrounding cutover areas.
(d) Wilderness and wildlife resources of Glacier National Park are values which must be accounted for in determining costs of dams on the North Fork.
(e) Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite watersheds as they exist today are indispensable to San Joaquin Valley economy.
(f) Flood and silt from Green River adversely affect Mammoth Grove.
(g) Hetch Hetchy Valley is badly needed for recreational use today, but it is unavailable.
(h) Grasslands of Mesa Verde, Big Bend, Wind Cave, and Petrified Forest are reference plots, invaluable in the study of the restoration of neighboring range lands.

These are but a few of the illustrations, drawn from the park scene, easily appreciated by the visitor, that can be used to dramatize and to give purpose to the principles of park use and conservation.

5. It identifies major continuing threats to park integrity. In the long run, park protection will not be accomplished merely by enlisting the cooperation of the park visitors while they are in the areas. Fires can be controlled, meadows restored, formations guarded, and ruins stabilized, and yet park values may be lost through encroachment form the outside. The park visitor, a citizen and part owner of the System, has the right to know that what he values and enjoys today can be lost to Dams, power developments, lumbering, grazing, hunting, mining encroachments and the like are a continuing dander to the whole national park idea. There are always existing threats of such encroachments. Alternates, involving proper use of non-Service lands, usually exist. Service officials should be informed on these matters so that the facts may be presented as occasions arise.

The interpretive program, as a rule, cannot deal with each threatened encroachment in detail, but it is proper, and perhaps even an obligation, that the interpretive program identify in appropriate ways current threats. This can be done without argument, without stating conclusions, and without making strong recommendations. If the interpretive program prepares the ground by developing an interest and knowledge of park values and an awareness and appreciation of park objectives, it can be anticipated that the visitor will himself react favorably to information on existing threats of encroachment.

C. PLANNING THE CONSERVATION ASPECTS OF AN INTERPRETIVE PROGRAMSome of the aspects of the program outlined herein are now in effect in the field. There are many gaps, however, and what is done is largely without coordinated direction. Following are some suggestions that may be helpful in analyzing and giving force and direction to such a program in an area:

1. Survey the possibilities. What general principles, policies, and objectives best fit into the local area interpretive theme? What specific park use or conservation problems of local importance can be pointed out? What object lessons from the area can be used to illustrate problems of land use or conservation? What dangers of encroachment to this or other Service areas can be identified concurrently with the local area interpretation?

These questions will suggest those items which should be planned for coverage in the interpretive program. Specific items, falling logically within the scope of the area interpretive theme, are preferable to an attempt at broad, general, all-inclusive coverage.

2. Plan the method of treatment. Just as a balanced interpretation of natural and human history is planned, plan also how, when, and where each phase of the conservation theme defined above will be handled. Which items can be presented as a part of the existing talk or guided trip program? Do any of the items suggest exhibit treatment? Do existing exhibit labels identify the facts of the conservation? Do the area publications treat of the protection or conservation of the specific subject discussed? The answers to these questions will suggest the place of each conservation item in the area interpretive program.

3. Assign responsibility. Tie the conservation items to specific activity assignments. A talk on wildlife, for example, is a logical place to explain wildlife policy. Make this phase of conservation, then, a definite part of a wildlife lecture assignment, or of a bird walk. There is one very important factor to consider in making such assignments. More than in any other phase of planning, the varied capabilities of the interpreters must be considered. Most men can relate park history and development, most can outline general park objectives, and can make specific mention of local protection and park use problems. Greater experience and background is required to effectively interpret the local land use and conservation case histories, but the greatest care must be exercised in making assignments in which there is a possibility of misinterpretation of Service policy, practice, or intent, or of attitudes and relationships with industry or other agencies. Comparatively few seasonally employed interpreters may be judged sufficiently experienced and grounded in park policy, and of sufficient skill and tact to venture into this broader field. Be fully aware of the capabilities of each interpreter, and never exceed their limitations in your assignments or expectations.


1. The interpretive program deals in the facts of natural and human history. The interpretation of the park scene is still the basic job. Interpret the natural or historic scene, but give that interpretation a conservation implication. Make the facts of nature and history tell the conservation story, but keep the conservation theme in balance with the interpretation of natural and human history.

2. Conservation interpretation invites logical reasoning. Do not preach, lecture, argue, editorialize, or labor to convince, and do not overdramatize. Casual and simple statements of facts and principles, presented naturally, simply, and positively, is effective, but a labored effort to convince will defeat this purpose. Avoid personal opinion, but make the facts of natural history point to their own conclusion.

3. Conservation interpretation is brief and specific. Select a few points, a few examples, and stress these, and let the entire conservation treatment occupy but an exceedingly small part of any presentation. A few planned words at the right time are sufficient.

4. Conservation interpretation is fair. Avoid criticisms of industry or of other agencies, and do not purposely disregard facts that may be favorable. Dams, power developments, irrigation systems, lumber, minerals, and grass are all required by modern civilization. Recognize that such development and use is necessary, and that other agencies function quite properly in the fields of such use and development. At the same time emphasize that the national parks and monuments are not the proper places for that type of land use. Lumbering, power developments, mining, grazing, and the like are foreign to the entire use concept of national parks and monuments, and are activities which have the power to completely nullify recreational and inspirational values of these areas.

5. The conservation interpretation objective is a simple one. That objective is: to give the visitor a personal knowledge of park and monument values, such an appreciation pf park principles and objectives, and such an awareness of his own responsibility, that he may take intelligent action, whether it concerns his own behavior in the parks, or whether it involves other action after he leaves. Every citizen must formulate his own conclusions on conservation matters, but he is entitled to know the facts, principles, and specific situations affecting conservation as they may be observed and interpreted in a national park or monument.

Conrad L. Wirth
841 1041
40187 Inter-Duplicating Section, Washington, D.C.



Last Modified: July 9, 2000 09:35:00 pm PST

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