2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 1:45 PM


MATHIS, Allyson C., Grand Canyon National Park, PO Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023, allyson_mathis@nps.gov

Presenting geology to the public in national parks and other similar settings requires effective use of interpretive principles. This is true for both professional geoscientists working as interpreters and for park rangers and volunteers. However, the two types of presenters typically face different challenges while interpreting geologic resources.

Interpretation is a type of communication that aims to reveal meanings and significances of resources instead of conveying only factual information. Successful interpretation must contain four components: presentation techniques, knowledge of audience characteristics, interpretive methods, and resource information. The Interpretive Chain model describes this as PAIRing People with Parks. The chain model stipulates that all components of an interpretive product have equal importance since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The greatest challenge of geology interpretation for most rangers and volunteers is acquiring the appropriate level and breath of resource information. Most park staff members do not have earth science backgrounds. Although park interpreters typically learn park-specific resource information on site, this is especially challenging for geologic subjects as there is generally a very large gap between geology books aimed at general audiences and the technical literature. Furthermore, many interpreters have difficulty placing geologic information into appropriate contexts for audience understanding. On the other hand, geoscientists may struggle with the incorporation of interpretive methods into their programs and with acquisition of knowledge of audience characteristics. Geoscientists who work as interpreters must be especially careful to communicate the genius loci of parks. Conveying park significances will maximize audience appreciation of the importance of geologic resources.

Continuing the collaboration between geoscientists and park staffs is the best way to keep improving the quality of interpretation of geologic resources. To maximize the benefits of this collaboration, both geoscientists working with parks and rangers and volunteers must share their strengths with the other, and focus on strengthening their weakest links in the Interpretive Chain.