1993 Proceedings of the Midwest Oak Savanna Conferences
INTERPRETING RESTORATION ACTIVITIES
Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards
410 Audubon Road
Streamwood, IL 60107
Tel: (708) 289-8040
Interpreters, professional and volunteer alike, historically have concentrated
on the natural and cultural features of the sites with which they are concerned.
Often, the interpretation of restoration activities is incidental to other
interpretations being conducted. The rapid growth of the restoration movement
has contributed to this "interpretation gap" in which a completely new
resource frequently is given little or no attention. Remedying this situation
is imperative for the continued health and growth of restoration.
Professional interpreters and resource managers must remember to make
restoration activities an integral part of their interpretive resource
inventories. Volunteer interpreters and stewards need to learn more about
the resource inventorying and planning process. In either case, the end
result should be a comprehensive, interpretive plan that emphasizes the
diversity and importance of restoration activities.
The growth of anything is a result of the growth of its constituent parts.
Whether the growth of these parts is in size, number, or both, does not
matter. Mostly, the growth occurs and that is that. But growth is only
the beginning. It is the instigator of many other changes including changing
needs. Organizations, like organisms, face this changing of needs.
The recent growth of natural area restoration, particularly in the Midwest,
has been phenomenal. This growth, like most other types of growth, can
be traced to the development of its constituent parts. Science (knowledge)
and technology (tools) are increasing as are the number of sites under
management and the people participating in restoration activities.
An entirely biased and subjective opinion is that all this growth is
good. More sites and more volunteers and professionals who devote their
time to these sites, the better. Growth does present problems if some constituent
parts grow faster than others an imbalance occurs. This is a problem faced
by the restoration movement today. Unlike many other challenges the movement
has confronted and continues to deal with, however, this problem has a
relatively simple solution.
Traditionally, interpretation of a natural area deals almost entirely
with the physical and biological aspects of the site and pertinent ecological
concepts. Any interpretation of the impact of human activity on a natural
area usually has been limited to the damage done to the site. Interpretation
of other human activities has been relegated to a discussion of artifacts
and/or historic sites. The fact is, until recently, there were not many
positive examples regarding human activity in, or relating to, natural
areas. Because this situation is changing, it is time to review the interpretive
strategy for natural areas.
The first change needed regards language. Interpretation depends on
language. (No language, no interpretation vague language, vague interpretation.)
Discussing what he calls the "re" words, William R. Jordan, III states
" . . . our words, and the way we define them, shape the landscapes we
inhabit (1992)." Today's restoration ecologists and resource managers use
a spectrum of overlapping and redundant terms. Words like restoration and
rehabilitation (two of Jordan's "re" words), among others, often mean different
things to individuals carrying on virtually identical activities. Confusion
is the inevitable result among volunteers and professionals, as well as
the general public. Resource managers and other ecological professionals
should decide on a standardized terminology. In the meantime, volunteer
and professional interpreters must become familiar with all terms in order
to present them to the visiting public in a clear and concise manner.
Another part of the language problem is the fact that very few people
currently think of natural areas when the term restoration is used. An
examination of this term in most dictionaries produces references to the
repair of buildings, art, or antique furniture, or the return of Charles
II to the throne of England, for example as a period in history. The restoration
of landscapes is simply not considered. Nor is the term ecological restoration.
What restorationists hold so dear is far from being a household word. With
increased interpretation of restoration activities this should cease to
be a problem. Traditionally, an interpretive presentation contains a description
of habitat type, native and exotic flora and fauna, geologic background,
presettlement conditions, disturbances caused by settlement, and land use
history. If there is any coverage of restoration activities, it is most
likely incidental to the program.
At some locations interpretive presentations describe the methods being
used to try to restore a site. Because it is attention-getting, prescribed
burning has probably received more and better interpretation than other
activities. But prescribed burns are only a small, though frequently spectacular,
part of the schedule of restoration activities. Other activities such as
brush removal, exotic plant control, seed collecting and processing, and
seed distribution are beginning to receive interpretive attention. They
need more attention, however, at times other than when activities are occurring.
Arguably, interpretive programs based primarily on restoration activities
might best be presented at times when the audience is composed of restorationists
from other sites and locations. However, a site tour, or off-site talk
for the general public, can be infused with much more information regarding
restoration activities. These "enhanced" interpretive presentations need
not be reserved for volunteer recruitment days either. Once established
as part of the continuing interpretive effort it should be easy to keep
that information right in with the more traditional subject matter.
The last part of this revised interpretive paradigm is something that
so far has been all but ignored in restoration interpretation. The stories
of the people involved with individual restorations is an interpretive
element glaringly absent from today's on- and off-site programs. One benefit
of this form of interpretation is the recognition of the volunteers and
professionals who are a part of the restoration movement.
As these projects have grown, their need for sheer numbers of volunteers
has grown. Something else that has grown is the variety of skills needed
to keep a project healthy. Very seldom are visitors to onsite or offsite
programs informed of the routes by which volunteers have arrived at the
projects with which they are involved. Audiences of restoration interpretation
programs often look at all participants in the project as having brought
prior knowledge or skills to that project and feel as though they themselves
cannot possibly become involved. No person should be permitted to take
that impression away from any interpretive program. Educational and social
opportunities within restoration projects should be made part of certain
presentations as well as the fact that not many people came to the project
with much previous training.
Finally, the increased breadth of opportunity for participation is a
subject that must be addressed more directly. Inability to perform physical
labor does not prevent anyone from being a contributing member of a restoration
project. The growing number of restoration sites, the rising numbers of
volunteers, and the increasing complexity of site and personnel management
has resulted in a long list of support activities that are no less important
than brush cutting or seed collecting. Publications, mailings, telephone
contacts, fundraising: all can be accomplished by anyone who simply has
a little time to devote to the project and the desire to participate and
learn. Potential volunteers for these niches can be made aware of the need
for their help through the right interpretive presentation.
Many people are taking a more responsible attitude toward our environment.
They are expending much of their time and energy trying to restore or preserve
as much of it as possible. These people, and the activities they conduct,
need and deserve the benefits of high quality interpretation. In most cases
this is already being done for natural resources. Now it is simply a matter
of remembering to include the human resources.
Jordan, William R. III. 1992. Those Rewords: a glossary and a few comments.
Land and Water. November/December. 13.