Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



By C. A. Harwell

We should classify our so-called self-guiding trails into two kinds, “Nature Trails” and “Labeled Trails”. In this paper I will treat them separately.

If possible a “Nature Trail” should be located near the center of activities so that it can be more easily supervised. It perhaps should be a trail through the woods where things of nature to be pointed out are undisturbed, rather than along some well established trail. It should be in the nature of a round trip, telling some fairly complete story with some special point of climax and several rest points. It should not be too long and should be easy to start upon.

Four complete stories in the sense I have in mind might well be told by the four “Nature Trails” which Mr. Hall suggests would start from the Museum at Yosemite. They are: (1) Geology of the Valley; (2) Indians of Yosemite; (3) History of Yosemite; and (4) Ecology of the nearby region. The exhibits along each of these four trails should be limited to objects that logically pertain to the central theme of that trail.

“Labeled Trails” are those trails any place in the park along which a few or many labels have been placed to help the visitor find out for himself some of the most interesting facts concerning phenomena under observation. It seems to me that every trail and our roadsides offer possibilities in this field, but while we are experimenting with the idea the work should be limited to perhaps some one trail.


Following the reading of the above two papers, Chief Naturalist Hall lead a discussion designed to bring out the general principles of planning for nature trails and of correlating them with the other educational activities in the national parks. During the discussions the following memoranda were set down:

  • A nature trail should be a unit in itself. It should be easily accessible. It should, if possible, be located so as to return to the point of beginning. The trail should not be too long nor too difficult for foot travel. Somewhere on the trail there should be a climax of interest.
  • The nature trail should be located in an interesting area and the purpose and plan should be well in mind before it is established.
  • The nature trails should be so planned that visitors will be stimulated to travel over it alone, making their own observations. Occasionally it may be advisable for a ranger naturalist to start a group along a nature trail and then, after having introduced them into the methods of its use, to leave them so that each may enjoy himself in his own way. Sometimes it may be advisable for a ranger naturalist to lead his party over the full length of the trail. In this case, however, he should exercise care to point out features not labeled and to lead discussions which may go more deeply into subjects which are labeled only in an elimentary way. It was agreed that, in general, it is inadvisable to lead guided parties over nature trails.
  • The number of nature trails in each park should be very limited and their locations should be decided upon only after careful study.
  • Nature trails assume great importance in parks where little or no guide service is available.
  • Nature trails should have carefully prepared tread, but evidences of trail construction should be carefully concealed where possible.
  • Trails which are already constructed and in general use can frequently have the most interesting natural features advantageously labelled but these should be recognized by park naturalists as “labeled trails” rather than “nature trails.”
  • The number of labels along a nature trail should be limited, as too many labels will detract from the appearance of the trail and may introduce an element of complication and confusion.
  • The effectiveness of a nature trail may be increased by giving it an attractive and catchy name.


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