How Nature Interpretation Can Save Your Parks

When he leads his school programs, Henry Cowell Interpreter, Steven Ellmore, often begins with a question: “Who does this land actually belong to?” The children suggest that the owner might be the governor. Maybe it’s the ranger. When he explains that this park actually belongs to each of them, their eyes and mouths open wide. They appear visibly pleased with this new information. But there’s a catch.
 

“Well, if you own it,” Steven explains, “then you want to protect it to make sure it’s around. You want to respect it, right?”

They nod in agreement. They really get it. He’ll often find them picking up trash, or telling their parents that they shouldn’t pick a flower so other people can enjoy its beauty. Once, Steven described the extraordinary ways in which banana slugs contribute to the forest. Afterward, one little girl took a leaf and went around lifting the little yellow creatures from the path, setting each of them gently to the side so they wouldn’t be trampled.

Steven comes from a long line of dedicated nature lovers. His grandfather was president of the Sierra Club in the `20s and `30s. His grandmother was the first woman to climb the east face of Mount Whitney and Higher Cathedral Spire in Yosemite. What draws Steven to teach visitors about the natural phenomenon of the park is creating connections like the ones he’s been making with the children.

“These parks only survive through a force of will,” Steven explains. “And that comes from people caring about them. If people don’t care about them, if they don’t have that connection, these things could easily disappear.”


Steven says that interpretation helps visitors make these connections because the stories he tells “make it real” for them. They discover something precious and want to protect it. But here again, there’s another catch. It takes an army of volunteers and staff, not to mention the support from people like you. 


“All of these things cost money. But you get a lot of value for every dime you put into this place,” says Steven.


Having spent time in other parks where interpretation was not the focus, Steven realizes that visitors often don’t make these connections on their own. Only those who realize the importance of inspiring future park stewards will ensure that these connections continue to happen.


“You’re helping maintain something that is really special,” Steven says with sparkle in his eye, “and something that, not only the next generation can see but also generations to come.”


Why not make your legacy visible to your great grandchildren by helping Mountain Parks Foundation make those connections with a gift to support our state parks.

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