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ResOURces Online: Interpreters Tell All


I walked up to the field and that's all I saw. But by the time the heritage interpreter finished the tour, I didn't see just a field anymore. I could hear the battle cry of Civil War soldiers, smell the gunpowder, and feel the stampede of men and horses. I felt a chill go up my spine....

And that's what interpreters do. They weave a golden thread between visitors and the sites they serve, engaging and connecting us to nature and history in a very real and vital way. As we follow along, our world is expanded and enlivened.

More than just gifted storytellers and teachers, heritage interpreters are professionals that go through extensive training in order to practice their art. The result is in-depth knowledge spiced with passion and creativity.

My dad is an engineer. So it was so totally amazing to learn about beavers and how they're nature's engineers, how they build things and chew trees down into perfect building tools.

Interpreters even have their own international association, the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), which represents more than 4,500 interpreters from the U.S., Canada and 30 other countries. NAI is dedicated to the advancement of the profession of interpretation. On their excellent website, www.interpnet.com, the NAI describes interpretation this way:

"Interpretation of natural and cultural heritage must be as old as humans. The shaman, storytellers, and elders of tribal groups carried the oral history of their people forward from generation to generation. Before books and modern methods of recording stories, these oral traditions were key to the survival and evolution of cultures. In the modern context, interpretation is the term used to describe communication activities designed to improve understanding at parks, zoos, museums, nature centers, historic sites, cruise companies, tour companies and aquariums."

Moving here from the southwest, I feel overwhelmed by the density and diversity of nature in Virginia. Learning more about it by going on trail walks with Interpreters has really helped me feel more at home.

Interpreters are motivated in their work by a passion for nature and history. Mona Enquist-Johnston, RMD's volunteer and interpretive services manager, finds that every visit to a park renews her passion. As she tells it: "I arranged to meet a volunteer at Riverbend. My day unfolded in the most exhilarating way. Arriving early, I sat outdoors and watched. Three hummingbirds zoomed through the area, feeding, chasing and perching; two dozen tiger swallowtails feasted on a tall prairie plant; and two five-lined skinks scurried across the deck. I was in heaven and I felt renewed."

Fortunately for us, we get to be the beneficiaries of an interpreter's far-reaching knowledge and heartfelt passion. Here in Fairfax County, we have beautiful parks in which to reap these benefits. And feel renewed.


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