Santa Fe Trail Scenic & Historic Byway
Interpretive Master Plan

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What is environmental interpretation & what will it do for the byway?

Defining Interpretation

Purposes of Interpretation

Visitor Orientation

Implementing Interpretation

 

Defining Interpretation

There are a variety of definitions for environmental interpretation, each with merit and none that really does the full job of defining the term. Quite simply, interpretation is an approach to communication. Like its counterpart, interpreting languages, environmental interpretation is able to translate the language of nature and the voices of history into stories and experiences everyone can enjoy. It is a communication process that involves visitors and provokes them to appreciate or to learn more about the object or site that is being interpreted.

The key to making this happen is in six principles of interpretation that were given to us in the 1950s by an interpreter named Freeman Tilden. Whether the object is being interpreted through is an exhibit, a guided hike, a brochure or an astronomy program, each message will be enhanced by incorporating Tilden's six principles:

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Purposes of Interpretation

Interpretation is NOT a marketing plan. It may be used as a tool of marketing that is designed to create a sense of appreciation-of-place in visitors and make them want to learn more about a special resource or return to that place, but interpretation, alone, cannot ensure economic development, nor is it meant to.

Interpretation is NOT information. Visitors will gain knowledge through interpretive media but the way information is presented makes it interpretive. There are a variety of interpretive media and all have advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the interpretive planner to understand enough about the resources, the visitors and the message that the three can be blended into a plan that includes themes, locations and types of media that provide the best solution for each interpretive site.

What interpretation planning CAN do for the Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway is to provide a framework and process to guide the design, development and operation of interpretive services. Though still broad in scope, planning connects goals, management and resource requirements, and interpretive opportunities. Interpretation is the bridge between those goals and the visitor.

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Visitor Orientation

Successful visitor services begin with critical orientation, the information that allows visitors to become comfortable with where they are going, to know where they can find restrooms, recreational sites and other important facilities and amenities. This stage of orientation must occur before visitors are receptive to interpretive messages. This does not currently exist on the Santa Fe Trail Scenic and Historic Byway. This plan will recommend solutions to create critical orientation.

The next stages of visitor orientation are to provide a topical overview - the big picture of the natural and cultural history of the area and then, lastly, to provide stories specific to certain sites. The natural location for the first two stages to happen is with the low wattage radio messages currently planned for the top of Raton Pass, in Trinidad, in Lamar and at Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site. The existing Welcome Centers are also locations for critical orientation as well as the overview to take place. These messages will be addressed in depth later in this plan.

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Implementing Interpretation

Implementation of an interpretive plan turns vision into reality. The vision itself, being necessarily broad, sets the parameters for the interpretation. The interpretive plan shows the way between vision and reality.

Interpretive services can utilize a variety of media. For example, visitors may be able to use a driving tour-guide in the form of a brochure with numbered stops or an audio-cassette tape to inform them about the sights along a roadway. This type of guide could be used to direct visitors to other places of interest or to adjacent sites or facilities. Visitors wishing to hike may be encouraged to take advantage of walks around historic sites, self-guided nature trails, or wildlife viewing sites. Interpretive programming might also include guided walks, living history demonstrations, and slide or video programs. The sites and frequency of programs of this sort could be rotated according to visitor use patterns. Strategically located interactive video could become a popular option to a staffed information center. The variety of interpretive media is endless. Planning will link the most appropriate interpretive stories and media to the best locations for it to take place.

To communicate consistency to Byway visitors, messages must not conflict with one another and the visual quality of facilities and improvements must be consistent. An interpretive plan will provide consistency over time and staffing changes. Although implementation of the plan may take place in phases and can use existing facilities where appropriate, visitors should leave with the impression that the Byway is a unit unto itself and has consistency from one stop to the next.

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