“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.
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.