Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
THE FIELD OF EDUCATION IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
THE PARK VISITOR
By Dorr G. Yeager
Since time began, man has inquired into the nature of that which puzzled him. He has attributed some explanation to its cause, either supernatural or scientific.
Every year thousands of visitors are flocking to our national parks eager not only to view the wonders contained therein but to learn what they can concerning them. It is, therefore, our duty to interpret these wonders to the park guests in as single a manner as possible. In order to perform this duty with the greatest efficiency it is necessary for us to understand thoroughly the visitor’s point of view.
Let us take the average visitor entering one of our national parks. There is something awe-inspiring about the word “government” to the average person. He knows that ho is on government ground and he feels that he is being constantly watched for the slightest misdemeanor. Our first duty, therefore, is to establish a friendly relationship with the tourist at the outset. This can be done only by the men at the gate. If the tourist is made to feel that he is welcome the battle is half won.
In interpreting park phenomena to the visitor, I feel that the most important thing, at least the thing which I am striving hardest in Yellowstone to avoid, is the practice of “talking down” to him. This tendency is probably the result of attempting to counter a weakness that is equally vicious, that of using language too technical for the average person to understand. In attempting to get away from this a guide or lecturer may make a subject rediculously simple and thereby give his audience the idea that he is “talking down”.
I firmly believe that in dealing with a park visitor and explaining the phenomena to him, all things taken into consideration, we should resort to methods used to teach a child of 15 years. This is not intended as an insinuation that the average visitor is mentally deficient. It simply means that the average person, not trained in science must be treated as a 15 year old child when scientific principles are being explained. We must, however, guard against the tourist knowing this. Even though his scientific faculties are of a child he must be treated as an equal an admittedly difficult task but one vitally necessary to the success of the work.
Many other matters should be considered from the point of view of the tourist. My assistant has often said to me that the tourists, as sheep, require herding; and we have all heard the remark from rangers similar to “riding herd on dudes”. I am convinced that there is much truth in this statement and that a tourist group, as any group, can be handled best with mob psychology. From the time a tourist enters the park gate, especially be he a rail traveler, he is herded. Necessity demands that these measures be adopted, deplorable as it may seem. In a certain type of guiding which we are attempting at Old Faithful next year we are relying largely on the “herd system”. That is, the crowds from one guide party will be fed on to the next guide.
During the past season several complaints came to my office from park operators that the tourist did not have time to do anything all day long and that he was herded from the time he got up till the time he retired. The source of the complaint being in the operators, the cause may be well imagined. The fact, however, remains that tourists are herded. Unless they are pushed from one lecture or guide trip to another they will not attend, either because they knew nothing about it or because they were inclined to sit in the hotel or lodge lobby over a good cigar.
In this discussion I have considered the factor of totals as one of the most important things. The matter of herding can be reduced to a minimum only when the Park Service recognizes quality instead of quantity, as of prime importance in our work.
In closing, I want to read an article in the 1929 Ranger Naturalist Manual for Yellowstone which deals with this problem.