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.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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