Oconaluftee Visitor Center – Training Day 2

OVC training 2 - crossing fighting creek

Second day of training for me at Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Besides being a volunteer at the Visitor Center, I’m trying to qualify to give an interpretive hike. It isn’t easy.    

Today we concentrated on preparing and giving formal interpretive programs.

OVC training2 - fingerpuppetFrom the National Park Service website, interpretation is the process of providing each visitor an opportunity to
personally connect with a place.


Mike Maslona, supervisory interpretive ranger at Cades Cove, shown on the right, is studying a finger puppet. Mike enjoys acronyms. To start, he had EIEIO. In another order, EIEIO becomes

Orient the visitor – Where is the bathroom?
Inform the visitor – How many bears are there in the park?
Educate – More deeply than just inform with the facts?
Enlighten – beyond education
Instill – Instill stewartship

This concept of stewardship “To preserve and protect for future generations” is a holy word. We need to make visitors feel that these are their resources. So we need to inspire more than just educate. Mike sees mere education as just dry facts. Rather we need to imbue our programs with internal meanings so that visitors can see connections and want to protect the resources. This is a very optimistic view of the world – just educate and people will protect the parks and not litter, carve their names on a cabin or a tree or harass a bear.

Another acronym – a formula, really.
    (Kr + Ka) * AT = IO
    Kr – knowledge of the resources
    Ka – knowledge of the audience – ask “where are you from? What do you expect from this program?”
    IO – Interpretive Opportunity

    AT – Appropriate techniques

So we go beyond a talk with appropriate techniques such as Q&A, pictures, quotes, audience participation, jokes and even silence. “When you get there, let the resource talk to the person”.

Mike emphasized that you need to show passion for the program. You can start with a tangible item – thing, place or event.
A bell  could be a dinner bell, cow bell, school, garden bell (to warn the gardener that a bear was in the garden)

Intangible (hidden) meaning
    Old, utilitarian, home …

Every program needs a conclusion. Here’s mine
    Every trail tells a story. When you hike on another trail, look for the stories.

Mike then introduced his wife’s favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. From the characters, we can learn  the various aspects of our program.
Scarecrow wanted a brain. So we need information
Tin Man wanted a heart. We have to have an emotional connection with our subject.
Lion wanted courage – We give visitors opportunities to do things they wouldn’t do by themselves, like walk a trail.
Dorothy wanted home – connection between what the visitor knows (home) and what they experience in the park
Wizard – That’s us presenting a program
We’re providing interpretainment

OVC training 2 - Brad FreeBrad Free, shown on the left, took us on a walk to Cataract Falls, a program they offer several times a day in the summer. Though there was a bridge, he got a bunch of us to cross the creek through the water – see the picture above. I got several techniques from him.

Stand in such a way to make sure the sun is not in the visitors’ eye.

Audience needs to be all on one side of the trail, especially when other visitors walk by. It’s very off putting to go through with people on both sides.

I asked Brad about trail breaks and he suggested organized trail breaks. He proudly comes from LA, Lower Alabama, which gives him a license to make fun of people not born in the South. Everyone else is a Yankee. Do you know what a Yankee fern is?
Yankee fern – “because it pops up where it doesn’t belong”

Then our presentations

Each of us had prepared a 3 – 5 min. presentation. The programs ranged from night sky to Cades Cove as a state of mind, fishing, the Mountain Farm Museum and, bird songs.

OVC training 2 - CCC plaque

I did a 5 minute version of my Kephart Prong Walk, talking about the Civilian Conservation Corps. I put a water bottle on the outside of my pack, and wore a GSMA baseball cap. It seemed to go over well, though the only comment I got from Mike was “Did you have fun?”

OVC training 2 - Wookythebear


Wooky, above, showed how a bear walks.

The presentations, in fact all the sessions, were really geared to seasonals and interns, the folks in college or right out of college. I was very impressed with the group. Putting aside my Park volunteer hat for a while and looking at them from the perspective of a college professor, I noticed that they were all prepared, eager and not afraid to show how excited they were about this opportunity to work in the park. They were not interested in mixing with volunteers, maybe because we were so much older than them. They were in their early 20s and most of us were past 50s and maybe we reminded them of their parents.

I also noticed that none had come from academically selective universities. I heard Western Carolina University, E. Stroudsburg Univ in Pennsylvania, Tuskegee in Alabama. University of Tennessee. But it didn’t matter. Many had not majored in forestry or recreation, the subjects I associate with working for the National Park Service. The newcomers obviously had tremendous drive, ambition, and the willingness to plan ahead. And that will carry them forward more than a degree from Yale University. I wish them well!

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