Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
GUIDING IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
PLANNING, ORGANIZING AND CONDUCTING GUIDED TRIPS
By Edwin D. McKee
If guided trips or nature walks are to maintain a standard which is on a par with their importance as indicated by past experience and by popular demand, then their planning and organization are of extreme importance. It should be the duty of the Park Naturalist to personally draw up a schedule of service for his staff. This schedule to be most effective ought to definitely state the program to be followed well in advance, since then can the ranger naturalists not only better arrange their time, but also a definite advertising scheme can be put into operation. Since a stiff and mechanical presentation of the subject is one of the greatest dangers in nature guiding, it is suggested that in attempting to make out such a schedule, the alternation of guides be kept in mind. If this proves impractical, or for other reasons is undesirable, then at least the number of trips over the same course by any individual should be definitely limited.
The number and length of trips to be made from any section will necessarily depend on the tourist demand and on the staff available at that place. It is probable that in general a fairly short walk — one with a minimum of physical exertion — is preferable to longer ones. This is expecially true where the weather is hot. It is also true, however, that there is always a certain percentage of the tourists, though usually small, that does not hesitate at, or even desires, longer trips. For this reason, it is sometimes advisable to alternate between long and short walks on a schedule of nature trips. Under the head of long walks might also come trips of a full day or even several days.
The time and place of guided trips will also vary extremely with the conditions of different places so that no set rule or principle for governing them can satisfactorily be adhered to. The time factor will hinge in large part on the park operator’s schedule by which the visitors come and go. So far as possible the temperature and other climatic conditions should also be considered. Regarding place: some center, such as the park museum, seems to be a logical and practical point from which to start. The course then will depend upon the concentration and the quality of exhibits and the accessibility of various regions.
The handling of visitors is a problem deserving much serious consideration. The arousing of their curiosity and interest is of primary importance in this work. Presentation should be stimulating, not stilted. It should involve a definite and a related story, not a heterogeneous group of observations. Scientific terms should be eliminated but at the same time the speaker should be very careful not to “talk down” to his followers. In brief there are many such fine points which should be ever kept in mind and applied. Questions should be encouraged. Once a guide has secured confidence on the part of his followers, he will experience an easy time having them keep in a group and eagerly maintain the spirit of the trip.
It seems to be generally considered a good practice to keep some definite objective in mind on any nature walk. By so doing, all of the miscellaneous material explained enroute will connect to form a unified story. Wherever possible, also, it is well to have some especially fine exhibit along the route to serve as a climax.
Following Mr. McKee’s paper there was a long discussion on the subject of the effectiveness of the work performed by the various ranger naturalists. An attempt was made to devise some means of personnel ratings. At the present time ranger naturalists are rated in personnel reports at the end of the season only, but the point was brought out that if similar ratings were available during the season the park naturalist might be aided in increasing the effectiveness of the educational personnel. It was concluded that more study should be given to this problem and a rating chart ultimately should be developed.