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




By Dorr G. Yeager

Time was when circumstances forced the American tourist to assume the role of sightseer only. He had a keen interest in what he saw but he feared to ask questions because of the attitude of the early guides who took it for granted that every tourist was a fool and was naturally the object of much humor. The two situations were anything but conducive to educational work.

But times have changed and the sympathetic guide now works hand in hand with the knowledge-seeking tourist.

What is the purpose of the educational work in our National Parks? We find many statements in our park and educational literature. Mr. Albright makes the following statement in the 1927 Ranger Naturalist Manual for Yellowstone:

“We are the faculty of the biggest summer school of nature study in the world–a school of 200,000 pupils! Our glorious task is, in John Muir’s words, ‘to entice people to look at Nature.'”

Again, Mr. Hall states in the “Proceedings of the First Pan Pacific Conference:”

“Through the Educational Division the National Park Service is endeavoring to help every visitor to enjoy these great areas with an enjoyment based upon understanding. That, if you please, is the keynote of all our educational activities.”

In Dr. Frank Oastler’s Report on Educational Survey, National Park Service, Summer of 1928, we find the following statement:

“The purpose of this educational program is to en able those who visit the National Parks to obtain an accurate interpretation of the natural phenomena presented by each park and peculiar to it, in order that they may carry away with them e. greater appreciation of the value and delight in a better knowledge of those expressions of nature.”

In my opinion, the idea that our main duty is to teach and interpret the park phenomena to visitors is only half true. The average tourist on a vacation does not want to go to school. Far greater, it seems to me, is our task of interesting the tourist in Nature, or in the above words of Muir, “to entice people to look at Nature” and, I will add “to keep on looking.”

In a recent article which I wrote for the 1929 Ranger Naturalist Manual I made this statement: “It matters not to me if they have learned what a wild geranium is, or whether they can distinguish a Clark’s crow from a grasshopper. What does matter is whether they have been left with an aroused interest in living things. Whether or not that interest has be come so aroused that they will not stop at learning a wild geranium but will continue in this great field of knowledge and delve further and further into the mysteries of Nature.”

That, it seems to me, is our main objective and one that I have always attempted to carry out on every guide trip. Our duty is to teach, to be sure, but our duty does not cease there. If we arouse an undying interest in Nature the teaching will automatically follow, and I may go a step beyond and say that if that interest is great enough a guide or lecturer will be unnecessary.