Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sabbatical in Mount Rainier National Park

A feature article by Amy L. Gregg, PhD., Associate Professor of Interpretation and Park Management at Ball State University. From July to December 2008, Dr. Gregg spent her sabbatical serving as a volunteer at Mount Rainier National Park.

The goal of my sabbatical was to learn how a national park communicates environmental stewardship for park visitors. I was interested in gaining a behind-the-scenes perspective on national park operations and how the ideas of “sustainability” were being incorporated into park management and visitor services. The term “sustainability” was operationally defined by the three tenets of 1) environment, 2) economics and 3) social equity, and I sought to learn how the three are interwoven in park management. My guiding hypothesis was that a national park serves as a role model for the broader community for finding sustainable, long-term solutions for managing our collective natural resources.

To learn how the concepts of sustainability were being communicated and demonstrated in a national park, I requested to work with two areas of park operations: 1) Interpretation and Education, and 2) Alternative Transportation. The Division of Interpretation was of interest in terms of the messages they communicate to visitors through personal and nonpersonal interpretation that relate to the ideas of sustainability. To learn more about the work of the Interpretation Division, I read and provided reflective comments on several strategic planning documents. Also, I was able to visit all of the visitor centers at Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, and Sunrise to observe their exhibits and staff interactions with visitors. I was able to spend additional time with interpretive staff by attending the November 2008 Centennial Workshop in Vancouver, WA and the National Association for Interpretation Annual Workshop, in Portland, OR, and also by participating in the NCCN Research Learning Network Workshop at Pack Forest in December. In addition, I attended the annual MORA Interpretation retreat to take part in group discussion, for reflecting on the previous year and planning for the year ahead, and I had the opportunity to make a presentation on my review of the strategic plan for Interpretation.

To study alternative transportation, I worked with several staff on the bus shuttle system, including several projects with the Community Planner. To learn more about shuttle operations, I took the bus several times from Longmire to Paradise to observe the drivers and how they communicated talking points to the visitors and I also observed the transportation interpreter’s program. After the 2008 shuttle season, my role was to analyze the ridership data from 2006, 2007, and 2008, and to create a presentation for the MORA management team meeting in November. Also, I researched other alternative transportation systems to help place the MORA system in context, using the larger NPS organizational framework. Based on this research, I provided final reports to the Park.

Based on the above experiences, I look forward to returning to my duties at Ball State University with a broader world view about national parks and many stories to share with my students in interpretation and park management. Also I plan to continue research projects involving national parks and other outdoor recreation agencies.

Dr. Gregg encourages anyone else who might be interested in spending their sabbatical in the national parks to contact the Sabbatical in the Parks Program, or to contact her for more information about her experience.

Diane Breeding, Program Coordinator
Sabbatical in the Parks Program
NPS Social Science Program
Texas A & M 255-B Francis Hall
2261 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-2261
Ph. 979.862.1977
Fax 979.845.4792

Amy L. Gregg, PhD
Sabbatical in the Parks Volunteer
Associate Professor of Interpretation and Park Management
Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management
Ball State University
WQ 114
Muncie, IN 47306
Work e-mail:
Work phone: 765-285-5781

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nearly 2 million visitors come to the park each year. That means we have nearly 2 million opportuntiies to get our message out to people not only in the U.S., but from all over the planet. That's very powerful.

Judy Kennedy, volunteer