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



By Edwin D. McKee.

Undoubtedly the most important factor in the practice of outdoor education, and one which is becoming more and more to be recognized with the development of this type of education, is the use of an exhibit in place and in its true relation to all surrounding objects. This importance can not be overemphasized. Simple and elementary as it may perhaps appear it has been definitely shown to be the real secret of obtaining genuine interest, as well as the best method of demonstrating the scientific principles involved. Schools and colleges apparently are just beginning to realize this factor for it is only within comparatively recent years that they have organized summer field parties in geology and biology–or indeed even organized any field trips whereby the students may see their theory put into practice. The rapid and recent growth of such applied practical methods in our principal academic institutions is proof of their success.

To be more specific in the relation between the National Park educational work and the principle just mentioned, it may be well to examine some of the methods which are now being tried out by Dr. John C. Merriam, President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. After several years consideration and experimentation by Dr. Merriam and by a committee consisting of about a dozen others of the country’s leading scientists, a general decision and agreement along these lines has been definitely reached. The Yavapai Observation Station at Grand Canyon has been the object of experimentation. It is probable that many such stations functioning in a similar manner will appear in time at other localities and in other parks. In the case of the Yavapai Station the Grand Canyon itself is used as the main exhibit in explaining and demonstrating the great truths which it is so capable of presenting.

These truths have roughly been classified under five heads: (1) the story of erosion, (2) the crustal movement of the earth, (3) the processes of sedimentation and rock forming (4) the geological evolution, and (5) the modern life zone principles. As an aid in explaining them numerous tubes and telescopes fixed on certain carefully picked exhibits are arranged on the parapet wall. Beside these are placed carefully worded cards of explanation, and a few very fine exhibit specimens which will assist materially in giving a clear understanding. By no means are other specimens, ones which perhaps are very excellent but which are of a general nature or do not bear a direct relation to the story, to be anywhere in the vicinity. They are merely distracting and serve to break up a train of thought which might otherwise persist. At Yavapai there is an inner exhibit room in which are placed still other and more detailed explanations and specimens which demonstrate the seine five points indicated by the telescopes on the parapet. These center around some very fine and carefully made transparencies which serve to show the true relationship to the Canyon itself as soon from the porch.

Another and related method of outdoor education which is of rather recent origin is the nature trail, especially what is commonly termed the “Self Guiding Trail.” The value of this is unquestionable. It has boon tried out in many places and, I dare say, almost always with success. The methods used will be discussed in the regular program so I will not attempt to go into explanatory details now.

Additional new methods of outdoor education which might be utilized in the parks were brought out by other members present, as follows:

Exhibits of cut wild flowers playing an important part in the educational program in several parks. The maintenance of a good flower display, however, requires from one quarter to one half a man’s time, and therefore Park Naturalists are urged to study the educational effectiveness of each individual flower exhibit so as to determine whether or not it justifies the time being expended upon it.

Wild flower gardens were suggested as being exceedingly important in as much as they are more attractive to the visitor, and once established require less time for their maintenance than does the cut flower exhibit. Experimental wild flower gardens have been started in several national parks and should be carefully studied by the Park Naturalists so as to determine their effectiveness in the public program and to develop the best methods of establishment and maintenance.

The utilization of wild flowers on dining room tables was discussed and it was concluded that the use of wild flowers for this purpose would be discouraged except that when in the opinion of the Park Naturalist, and with the approval of the Park Superintendent, flowers can be so used without detriment to the native flora. In every case where flowers are so used they should be labeled and each Park Naturalist should make arrangements for this to be carried out by a member of the operator’s staff, in co operation with the government educational staff.

Park Naturalist Harwell briefly reported the inauguration in Yosemite of the daily “auto caravan” to points of geological interest which are too far away to be reached afoot. This experiment seems to have proven a success and should be tried out in other parks in connection with the program of current service to the public.

Another possible development of new methods not at present used widely in the park educational program is the production of mimeographed or printed trailside notes for the motorist, trail guides for the hiker, museum guides and natural history leaflets, the latter to be distributed where their use will be most effective.


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