Monthly Archives: May 2012

Certified Interpretive Guides Connect Residents to Resources

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
Baba Dioum, African environmentalist

Although Fairfax County boasts a vast wealth of cultural and natural resources, it’s the naturalists, historians, and senior interpreters from the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division who connect people to history and nature through programs and tours.  Interpreters plan, present, and evaluate educational programs throughout the year, providing a vital link between the county’s resources and the community.

Certified Interpretive Trainer Mona Enquist-Johnston leads a CIG class at Green Spring Gardens.

What exactly is interpretation? The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) defines interpretation as “A mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and meanings inherent in the resource.” Starting in 2004, Resource Management Division staff began earning credentials through the NAI’s Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) program. Recently, 11 new CIGs completed the NAI training course at Green Spring Gardens, bringing the total of certified professionals in the Resource Management Division to 85. Among the interpretive corps are CIGs, Certified Interpretive Trainers, Certified Interpretive Managers, and Certified Heritage Interpreters.  This talented group of employees and volunteers is dedicated to making every visit to a resource-based park memorable.

Mona Enquist-Johnston, a former Park Authority employee and current Certified Interpretive Trainer said, “Certified interpreters enrich the recreational experiences of park visitors and plant the seeds of stewardship. Interpretation generates connection and action, moving individuals from awareness to caring,”

The CIG program combines the theoretical foundations of the profession with practical skills in delivering quality interpretive programming to visitors. Certification is open to students, docents, volunteers, and anyone who is at least 16 years old and has a desire to increase their knowledge and skills related to interpretation. The 32-hour course covers the history, definition, and principles of interpretation. Participants learn to make programs purposeful, enjoyable, relevant, organized, and thematic. The course also focuses on presentation and communication skills.

“Interpreters are front-line staffers, who are in constant contact with the public. We want these individuals to be comfortable, confident and competent in their interactions with the public,” said Enquist-Johnston.

Certified Interpretive Trainer Tammy Schwab added, “Interpreters make park users into park supporters by helping them understand the value of what Fairfax County has preserved for them.”

The Park Authority employs three credentialed Certified Interpretive Trainers (CIT) who are sanctioned to teach CIG courses. The agency saves almost two-thirds in instructor fees by having its own CITs teach each course. Having certified professionals on staff also increases the agency’s credibility to accrediting organizations such as CAPRA (The Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies) and the American Association of Museums.

NAI is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization professional organization dedicated to advancing the profession of heritage interpretation. 

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer.

Nature in Your Own Backyard

Stewardship: Fairfax County’s Family Backyard Initiative

The plan was to dig a hole in the backyard to China. However, as soon as the first worm turned up, the adventure became a worm hunt. Until a butterfly flittered past. It begged to be caught, but kept teasing with its dips and darts over the flowers. Watch out for bees, they sting. Are there any bears here?

You can’t smell the flowers from the living room.

Backyards are a natural world of adventure to children. Backyards are ball fields, ships, mountains, jungles, the moon, or any other place you can imagine. And kids do imagine those places in their yards. They also learn about nature while they play in a backyard, and nature is the most, well, natural of teachers in the outdoors.

But kids aren’t getting outdoors to learn. A University of Michigan study says children spend only one percent of their time outdoors. A University of Rochester study reveals that being in nature reduces stress in kids and, in simple terms, makes them nicer people.

“What can we do with these logs?”

So you’re invited to be nicer and to come out to nature in your own backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, you probably have a park nearby where you can be part of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Family Backyard initiative. Its goal: go outside and play in nature.  Everything’s right there in your backyard, where you’ll find sticks, rocks, trees, dirt, flowers, mud, and water – all of the important necessities for fun.  Add kids, turn them loose without any formal goals, and watch the imaginations soar and the discoveries mount.  Nature play works best when the children are in charge and making the decisions. The more time they get outdoors, the more they grow and develop in healthy ways while fostering a love of nature.

Ahh, the simple joy of burying your feet in the sand.

Need some fresh ideas to get started? We’ve got some. Even if you’re a veteran of the outdoors and you know your backyard well, the Family Backyard initiative can suggest fun, effective ways to promote building wildlife and family-friendly backyards. By providing requirements such as water, shelter, food and stewardship, you can manage your backyard and make it more welcoming to wildlife and kids. To get some new ideas or to get started, click here.   Don’t spend a lot of time on that website, though. Remember, you’re supposed to be outside playing.


Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager

Millers Gather at Colvin Run Mill for Special Workshop

Millers came from across the country to learn about Colvin Run Mill.

On a muggy morning in early May, a dozen millers from six states gathered around Mason Maddox at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site to learn about the historic gristmill. Maddox, the site’s miller for the past 15 years, shared his intimate knowledge of the mill with the group which was in town for a two-day workshop on running and preserving antique gristmills.

Manager Mike Henry said, “I’m sure you’ll find this hard to believe, but courses in how to run an 1811 gristmill aren’t being taught at most venues of higher education.”

This was the third consecutive year Colvin Run has hosted a Society for the Preservation of Old Mills (SPOOM) workshop. The comprehensive class, billed as “All hands-on. No lectures!”, covered operation of an overshot water wheel, milling on horizontal stones, handling and cleaning grains, packaging, storage of grain and milled products, lubrication, cleaning/housekeeping/pests, conducting tours and interpretation, safety precautions, grits separation, milling on a Meadows Mill, belting machinery and belt splicing, and wooden gearing/machinery. Attendees earned credits toward SPOOM Miller Certification, which verifies their expertise in the craft of operating antique mills.

Miller Mason Maddox discusses the inner workings of the mill.

In his laid back, friendly manner, Maddox spoke with enthusiasm about the mill and shared anecdotes from his experiences over the years. Attendees listened intently and asked questions and pointed out similarities and differences between Colvin Run Mill and their mills. Gary Hobbs, a miller from Beck’s Mill in Salem, IN, noted that his mill uses a pitchback water wheel (the wheel rotates in the opposite direction as Colvin Run’s wheel) and uses under runners (the bottom stone turns while the top stone remains still). Colvin Run’s overshot water wheel was built of oak in 1970 to reproduce the water wheel that powered the machinery in the c. 1811 mill.

The millers attended the workshop for a variety of reasons. Myron Short, also from Beck’s Mill, said, “I’m here to learn the different styles of milling.”

“I’m more interested in the grits,” stated Hobbs, as he explained that his main reason for attending the workshop was to find out how to increase grits production. No matter why the millers came, they left with a better understanding of Colvin Run Mill’s inner workings and how the Fairfax County Park Authority interprets the site for the public.

Colvin Run Mill is a restored c. 1811 gristmill.

Colvin Run Mill Historic Site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Landmark. The park also holds a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark designation from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The public may attend grinding demonstrations from noon to 3 p.m. on May 20, June 3 and 17, July 1 and 15, and August 5 and 19.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer