What to interpret

As a broad guideline, it is likely to be appropriate to develop interpretation programmes at sites if three basic conditions can be fulfilled:

– The site or location has something special, which is outside the general experience of most people.

– There are substantial numbers of potential or actual visitors who wish to learn something about the area.

– The site can accommodate the interpretative media to be used and possible visitor pressure.

The sort of place with potential for interpretation is one with unique physical, cultural, ecological or

historical features, processes or associations that are sufficiently special to attract quantities of visitors to go there as a day out, as part of a tour or as a school, trip. Examples include:

– historic sites such as Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, Culloden Battlefield in Scotland,

Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, USA, Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, USA or birthplaces of the famous;

– wonders of nature, such as the geysers and mud pools at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA and Rotorua, New Zealand; rock formations such as Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park,

Utah, USA or Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia; waterfalls of great splendour; groves of trees, such as the giant sequoias in California, USA, Cathedral Grove in British Columbia, Canada, or the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, England; habitats of rare or impressive animals;

– places of great scenic beauty connected with famous people, such as Wordsworth and the English Lakes, John Muir and Yosemite in California, Alexander Mackenzie’s trail across Canada, and Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the USA to Oregon. Small-scale interpretation may be appropriate at lesser, more localized examples than those cited above.

The degree of interpretation should match the status of the site, the numbers of visitors expected to use it, and the ability of the site to cope with the proposed level of activity. Large investments can be justified only for the most important and highly visited sites. Smaller places would be overwhelmed by sophisticated and large-scale facilities. It is most important that the interpretative media, especially visitor centres, do not become surrogates for the real experience gained from the landscape itself.

What to interpret, in terms of the choice of different themes or subjects, will depend on the characteristics of the visitors, such as their age range, socio-economic grouping, expected educational background and range of interests. It might be impossible to determine some of this for many sites, so that a variety of topics might be chosen and presented in different ways.

What to interpret

These giant sequoia trees are good examples of wonders of nature worthy of interpretation: for example, aspects of their age, their natural history and the fragility of their habitat.

Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California,

USA.