Interpretation in Idaho State Parks

What is interpretation?

When we hear the word 'interpretation' most of us think about language, but interpretation means so much more than translating. Interpretation is the act of teaching others about the cultural, historical, and biological influences of an area. Many of our Idaho State Park Rangers are skilled interpreters, familiar with the history and terrain, they are able to share some of the most awe-inspiring stories, facts, and views with their groups.

Julie Glessner, Morgan Smith, and Heidy Marie Berrios Collazo each have a passion for interpretation and spent 2019 in Idaho's state parks, hosting events and classes for all ages. We asked them to recall some of their experiences over the season.

Julie Glessner - Winchester Lake State Park Interpreter

tell us about your time as an interpreter at Winchester lake.

"Summer 2019 was my first season doing interpretation at Winchester Lake. I have a great love of our parks and the outdoors. In 2018, I loaded up my two year old, a cooler, and a tent and we road tripped all over Idaho to visit every state park! I have a degree in education and spend a lot of time partaking in outdoor adventures. When the interpretation job at Winchester Lake became available and was posted on Facebook, a friend of mine tagged me and said she thought I would be a great fit for the job. I agreed and called the next day to set up an interview!

We did a Junior Ranger program almost every Saturday this summer. When my own three year old son is still looking up to the sky at night and telling me about constellations, I think we must have had some effective lessons! We had a lot of local kids come every week and really enjoyed it and we all learned so much. I really love to be spreading a love of nature and our parks onto the next generation, the future caretakers.

Julie teaching a group

Interpretation brings a lot of people to the park that might normally not have thought to come. We had a lot of visitors this summer that saw our interpretation events on Facebook and came from neighboring towns to participate.

I’d just love to see a variety of programs in the future for all ages. Maybe a Dutch Oven Cook Off or a Summer Kids Camp."

Morgan Smith - Harriman State Park Interpreter

How long have you been doing interpretation for the parks?

"I have been a classified interpretive park ranger for just over a year and I am loving every minute! I began my career as an intern at Harriman State Park of Idaho cleaning buildings, grooming trails, and falling in love with every aspect of the park. I then worked at Henrys Lake State Park as a seasonal, maintaining park grounds, hosting Jr. Ranger Programs, and other various interpretive activities. It wasn’t until the end of the season that word spread Harriman’s Interpretive Ranger was leaving and the spot was open. I applied, scored an interview, and was selected for the job. I have learned a great deal in my one year as an interpreter, but the beauty in the job is that there is much, much more to learn.

What got you interested in interpretation?

Honestly, I didn’t know what an interpretive ranger was until I was on a soul-searching backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park and ran into an interp. ranger along the trail. I asked him the question I now get so frequently, “So, what languages do you interpret?” I was then promptly educated that there is more than just one factor to being an interpreter. The definition of interpretation is, “the action of explaining the meaning of something including cultural and natural resources." He went a little deeper into what his job description entailed and afterwards, I was instantly hooked! I had recently switched my major from Business/ Finance to Recreation Management and I was questioning whether I had made the correct decision. Based on this eye-opening conversation, I knew the switch was the perfect move. In 2018, I graduated with a degree in Recreation Management from Brigham Young University-Idaho and waited for a job to open. People often ask me how I got my job and my main answer is always: hard work, patience, and good timing, but mostly hard work. Every day I discover that being an interpretive ranger truly is an incredible job. I absolutely love meeting new people, inspiring them to be better stewards of the environment, and sharing the same passions I have for this stupendous park where I work at. I couldn’t ask to be in a better position with IDPR or with Harriman State Park!

Morgan Smith, Harriman State Park Interpreter
Share any proud moments you have had in this season specifically and in your time as an interpreter/educator as a whole.

This summer was my first experience with busy season as an interpretive park ranger and I am already looking forward to the next one! Heidy Berrios Collazo, the summer interpretive seasonal from Puerto Rico, deserves credit as well for helping the summer events and programs run safe and smooth. Heidy joined the team in May, coming to a remote park she had never visited before from a very warm tropical island. She was an incredible attribute to the team and worked hard each day, though the temperatures were quite a bit colder. Our goal for the summer was to involve the community in getting to know “their” park. We did this by planning and implementing programs that included a community theme with a hope that it would also attract some more Harriman lovers. Part of being an interpreter at Harriman State Park also means promoting community involvement. If we gain support from the community, we then have more people to care for the park and its resources. Some of our most successful summer programs and ones we are quite proud of are: the first ever Kids Adventure Summer Camp, Community Chili Cook Off, and the Harriman Treasure Hunt.

The summer camp consisted of seventeen 8-12 year old children from the community who ventured to Harriman for three days to learn safety in the backcountry, how to fly fish, and about Harriman’s History. It was a huge success! The kids loved coming to park and, in many ways, grew to appreciate and understand why it needs to be protected for future generations. As an interpreter, it was fabulous to teach the children good stewardship through explaining the many incredible natural and cultural resources Harriman has to offer. There were many ooh’s, ah’s, and wide eyes which is what makes this job totally worth it.

Through a lot of planning and preparation we hosted the first annual Community Chili Cook Off. The event had eleven chili contestants, three local judges, and a handful of first responders from the Island Park area. The public came to meet, compete, and eat with first responders and be a part of an annual community event. It turned out to be a blast! A fire truck, ambulance, and police cars showed up to entertain guests and to show their support for the park. It was a great way to get the community together through enjoying delicious food in a park we continuously grow to love.

The Harriman Treasure Hunt was inspired by a past seasonal who was infatuated with the classic story of the hidden Yellowstone Treasure. The idea was to hide an item, or idol, somewhere along the trail, create a riddle, and give away local prizes from community businesses when guests returned the idol to the Visitors Center. This was to promote local business and get guests in the park for a fun day of treasure hunting. From an interpretive stand point, the vision was to inspire families to venture on park trails, ask questions, and enjoy learning about the natural and cultural resources while searching. We as staff crafted the idol, hid it along the trail, and wrote a riddle that, if solved, would lead treasure hunters to find it. Throughout the summer, the idol was returned and then hidden eleven times which means means that eleven local businesses got a shout out.

Though community involvement is important, it wasn’t the only successful highlight or proud moment of the season and even the year. Through the 2019 year we have hosted numerous successful guided interpretive hikes, star parties, Jr. Ranger programs, larger events, and much more. Of course, not everything is perfect and there is always room for improvement, but if there wasn’t, none of us would have jobs! If I could pick one thing that makes this job incredibly worth doing, it would be that I get to connect daily with complete strangers of all ages, origins, and personalities. People are amazing and most of the time they want to learn more, discover more, and be a fan of Harriman State Park. To have the ability to share Harriman’s spectacular scenic splendors, its many wildlife inhabitants, and invigorating, rich history with strangers is a very fulfilling experience. I love Harriman State Park and to show guests why is the greatest part!

Morgan with a group
What benefits does interpretation provide the parks?

I may be a bit biased, but I feel like interpretation is one of the most important aspects of visitor experience in all parks! Our visitors are the reason we have parks in the first place and as an interpreter, one of my goals is to always give guests the kind of experience that makes them want to return. If anything, interpretation gives people a reason to visit, thus increasing visitation numbers and not only that, but through interp we can increase visitor knowledge. Speaking from my personal standpoint, I probably would not love Harriman as much if I did not have a knowledge of its natural and cultural resources. It makes it that much more special! I can’t help but think that through interpretation in our parks, we, too, can provide a deeper knowing knowledge of resources and thus instill a deeper desire for guests to return. Through having a better understanding guests are then, in return, more likely to be better stewards for parks now and in the future. I believe there is a quote from Freeman Tilden’s book that states, “Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.If anything, interpretation gives the parks a voice. It gives a voice to the resources that yearn to be understood, appreciated, and protected for years to come.

What are your plans for the future?

The one thing I know for sure is that I have so much more to learn, more ways to grow, and some inspired ideas to implement. The future for interpretation is expanding and the possibilities to giving the parks a voice are basically infinite. My focus right now is directed to better our interpretive programs, identify more ways to attract diverse groups to the park, and to improve the Historic Ranch Tours as a whole. I always strive to stay relevant on social media and keeping up on that is a continuous goal. I also think it is about time to start making Harriman more accessible to people that have a harder time visiting the park in person. By this, I mean implementing virtual field trips for low-income schools and for people in retirement homes by using technology to show them a piece of Harriman in their very own classrooms or living rooms. It also means creating better accessibility around the park for individuals in wheelchairs by implementing ADA surface materials and better features. Harriman has plenty to share and the time is NOW to continuously strive to find grander ways to get the word out. I can’t wait to see what interpretive adventures this next year brings!"

Heidy Marie Berrios Collazo

Heidy at Harriman
What was your experience like as an Interpretive Ranger?

Being part of Harriman State Park as a Seasonal Interpretive Ranger was an extraordinary and enriching opportunity. From school lectures to hikes, it was all remarkable. The most meaningful program was the Adventure Summer Camp. Three days, almost 30 kids with lots of energy…three rangers. I’m confident to say that all children learned something meaningful in those days. Either how to make shelter if one gets lost, the Leave-No-Trace principles, or even how to listen-look and identify wildlife. I sure learned how one could entertain kids with the same game three days in a row! I also noticed that children are very receptive which was very impactful for me as my goal is to inspire others to protect wildlife, they sure learned that quickly. We did something meaningful and impactful while having fun; I think that is what being a Seasonal Interpretive Ranger is all about.

Interp rangers, Morgan and Heidy
Various IDPR interpretation programs