Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929
MUSEUMS IN THE NATIONAL PARKS
THE PLACE OF THE MUSEUM IN THE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM OF A NATIONAL PARK
By Dorr G. Yeager
Many references have been made to the park itself as a great museum. This is true, of course, fanciful as the idea is. There is, however, a real need for the museum in the common acceptance of the word; a building housing exhibits of local interest.
I am going to treat this subject from two points of view. First the point of view of the Ranger Naturalist himself and second the point of view of the tourist. There is a noticeable difference in the morale of men in parks with museums contrasted with those in parks without them. I have found this true especially in Yellowstone and specifically at Old Faithful where I have observed the before and after effects.
Mr. Russell has spoken of the Yosemite Museum as “the hub of educational activities” in that park. It is all of that and it is most important and vital that it should be. The Ranger Naturalist with his headquarters at a museum feels anchored. When he arrives for summer work it is the first place where he reports. He makes use of its exhibits to prepare himself for the seasonal duties and throughout the summer months he is constantly absorbing more material from and checking his data by means of its exhibits. It is his workhouse. All his interests center about it and radiate from it. His reference books are here, his desk is here, his associations are here. There is something about the whole atmosphere that breathes of comradeship and a unity of purpose. I was struck last summer with the difference in attitude of the Ranger Naturalists and Rangers over the preceding year at Old Faithful, where we recently completed a museum. The offices of that museum served not only as a workshop for the naturalists but as a gathering place for the rangers. The feeling of the two groups was one of mutual comradeship and the “razzing” of the previous years was almost lacking. The rangers took a real pride in the building and of their own accord would suggest to visitors that they visit it before leaving the district.
Now, from the point of view of the tourist. I believe that the average National Park visitor is struck at once with the nature of a park museum. He is prepared to see rows of dusty exhibits on motheaten felt in a room which is dimly lighted and musty. Instead he is given a revelation to find objects of live interest, groups that speak for themselves and Ranger Naturalists who are happy and eager to explain more.
At Yosemite several lectures on geology are given each day by Ranger Naturalists. This both informs the visitor and encourages him to seek out more information for himself. At the Old Faithful Museum in Yellowstone an illustrated lecture is given each evening in an outdoor auditorium and the crowd usually exceeds the capacity by several hundred. At the Norris Trailside Museum in the same park the tourists leave their busses for 30 minutes, pass through the museum and accompany the guide over a portion of the formation, being picked up by the busses at the end of the trip.
In my opinion, the park museums serve another purpose of vital importance. I am speaking now of the Trailside Museums as they will be in use next year at Yellowstone. They are what might be referred to as local museums, in that they tell the story of that particular point. For example, a Trailside at Madison Junction tells the story of the expedition which proposed the national park idea. The museum is placed at the point where this idea was proposed. In addition, then, to exhibiting certain groups, they tell a story “on location” so to speak. The story of this expedition could be told at any other point in the park but it would not be as effective.
Park museums as a whole serve a double purpose from the tourist’s viewpoint. They either create an interest and encourage him to learn more through our guide and lecture service, or they aid him to go deeper into the study of natural history, geology and history, after the guide or lecturer has made his contact. It is, then, either a preface or a conclusion to his park education.
In conclusion, let us sum up the part that the museum plays in our program as follows:
1. It serves as headquarters around which a Ranger Naturalist operates. It is his workshop, office, clubroom and library.
2. It aids the tourist either before or after having made contact with guides or lecturers, in rounding out his knowledge of a subject, or assimilating sufficient interest to desire to round it out by attending lectures and going afield.
3. It aids in telling local stories and may, at times, act as a shrine to commemorate great events.