By: Dr. Jim Kimmel
Department of Geography
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
Dr. Kimmel has been an educator to increase awareness about the importance of interpretation for effectively developing nature and heritage tourism experiences.
Most simply, interpretation tells true and compelling stories of places, people, and events. Here you'll be introduced to interpretation and the key elements to effective interpretation.
Since interpretation is a fundamental function of nature and heritage tourism activities, it should be a major focus of planning and development from the outset. The interpretive program will determine the types of activities and facilities needed.
Developing Guided Interpretive Experiences
Develop interpretive programs based on themes identified in the interpretive planning process. Here is a consise overview of important factors to consider: organization of the presentation, audience issues, and suggestions about preparing an effective presentation.
Developing Self-guided Interpretive Experiences
Most self-directed interpretation uses a printed document. The effectiveness of documents depends on the quality of their design, writing, and production. Here are some practical, no nonsense guidelines to accomplish this.
Developing Interpretation for Trails
Trails are important venues for self-directed interpretation. Trails take many forms - walking, wheelchair, biking, skiing, swimming, boating, and auto. Here are some tips on the interpretive design of trails, not their physical design.
Definitions of interpretation:
National Park Service: Interpretation facilitates a connection between the interests of the visitor and the meanings of the resource.
National Association for Interpretation: Interpretation is a communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the inherent meanings in the resource.
Most simply, interpretation tells true and compelling stories of places, people, and events.
Is interpretation educational? Yes!
Is interpretation similar to school? No, the audience is not captive - they do not have to be in your audience, and they will leave if you are boring!
Interpretation must be pleasurable, relevant, organized, and thematic (Ham, S., 1992. Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. Golden, Colorado: North American Press).
People participate in nature and heritage tourism for pleasure. Certainly, this can involve learning, but it must be enjoyable.
People are interested in things that they care about - themselves, their place, their peoples' history, their concerns, etc. Effective interpretation builds on these interests.
Most visitors do not want to work hard to get benefits from their visits. We must make it easy for them to understand and appreciate what we are trying to convey. This is best done by carefully organizing the interpretative programs so the visitor knows "where they are going."
People respond to stories and concepts better than "just the facts." They remember general ideas and incorporate them into how they think and act. Thus, to effectively engage audiences, interpretation must have a clear story line.
Freeman Tilden's Principles of Interpretation (Tilden, Freeman. 1957 . Interpreting our Heritage. 3rd edition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.)
1. Relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor.
2. Information, as such, is not interpretation. All agree that information is essential to good interpretation but it should not stop there.
3. Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts. Any art is to some degree teachable.
4. The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.
5. Interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, and must address itself to the whole man rather than any phase.
6. Interpretation addressed to children should not be a dilution of the presentation to adults, but should follow a fundamentally different approach.
Sources and References
Ham, Sam, 1992. Environmental Interpretation: A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. Golden, Colorado: North American Press.
Knudson, Douglas, Ted Cable, and Larry Beck. 1995. Interpretation of Cultural and Natural Resources. State College, Pennsylvania: Venture Publishing, Inc.
National Association for Interpretation. Interpnet.com
Serrell, Beverly. 1996. Exhibit Labels: An Interpretive Approach. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
Strauss, Susan. 1996. The Passionate Fact: Storytelling in Natural History and Cultural Interpretation. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.
Tilden, Freeman. 1977. Interpreting our Heritage. 3rd edition. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Veverka, John. 1994. Interpretive Master Planning. Tustin, CA: Acorn Naturalists.
Zehr, Jeffrey, Michael Gross, and Ron Zimmerman, 1991. Creating Environmental Publications: A Guide to Writing and Designing for Interpreters and Environmental Educators. Interpreter's Handbook Series. Stevens Point, Wisconsin: UW-SP Foundation Press, Inc., University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.