The Regional Review

Volume V - No. 1

July, 1940


Virginia Institute, First in South, Graduates 21


At about 9:30 o'clock on the evening of July 19, William A. Bryson, 39, Supervisor of Recreation for the city of Richmond, Virginia, rose from a rude, backless bench, walked into the bright circle of light cast by a campfire, and stretched out his hand for a rectangle of paper measuring 9-1/2 by 12 inches. Through the ancient process of alphabetic selection he had become the first alumnus of the Virginia Natural History Institute. By similar destiny Lancaster D. Burling, 58, of Raleigh, North Carolina, formerly geologist for the Dominion of Canada, became graduate No. 2. Nineteen fellow students then received like paper certificates testifying to their completion of a four-week course of study.

The Institute was a pioneer. It offered the first training course for nature leaders that had ever been organized in the South.1 It originated out of the need of parks, recreation departments, camps, and schools for leaders who have field experience and can interpret the natural world from the recreational point of view.

One of the certificates awarded by the Virginia Natural History Institute

The course was sponsored by four cooperating agencies: the National Park Service, the National Recreation Association, the Virginia State Conservation Commission, and the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary. University credits were granted by the College of William and Mary to students satisfactorily completing requirements. Facilities of one of the organized camping units at Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area, eighteen miles southwest of Richmond, were made available to the students, Cabins, dining hall, lodge, nature museum, and craft shop provided ample accommodations for the varied activities of the program.

In its first session, the Institute selected 21 students from nine different states and the District of Columbia. Seven came from North Carolina, five from Virginia, two from the District of Columbia, and one each from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, and Pennsylvania. Included in the roster were Service employees, supervisors in city parks and recreation departments, teachers, and college students. They entered into the camp program with almost a missionary zeal, and followed it with that enthusiasm which is the greatest reward of the leader and instructor.

Institute students take field trips. Above: geology. Below: wildlife.

Although their backgrounds varied greatly all the students were actuated by the same serious purpose: to obtain training in natural history, in technique of presentation, and in leadership of activities related to the nature field. Some of the students already were employed in situations in which materials from the school could be applied directly.

With a discussion of the interpretative program of the National Park Service and of the basis for the development of such programs in other park areas, Dr. Carl P. Russel, the Service's Supervisor of Research and Information, opened the course on June 23. The remaining 21 members of the faculty of the Institute were representatives of the Service staff in the Washington and Richmond offices, and of the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior, the National Recreation Association, the University of Richmond, the Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries, and other agencies. A typical day in camp consisted in a morning field trip, a mid-day swim, an afternoon classroom lecture followed by a two-hour period for work on individual projects in the craft shop, library, or museum, and an evening campfire conducted by the students, frequently with visiting speakers.2

At top: a pause during a wildlife field trip. Bottom: examining the tracks of a wild turkey.

Forenoon field trips were taken to parts of the park for the study of the history of the Swift Creek area, for the collection of specimens, and for the demonstration of techniques of presentation to various groups. Saturdays were occupied with full-day trips, the first being to historic Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg; the second, a visit to the University of Richmond and a tour of historic places in Richmond; and the third, a boat trip in the Dismal Swamp.

Practice in leadership was provided when Institute students acted as nature leaders for children and adults visiting Swift Creek. Campfires, held about four times a week, were planned by the students, each of whom was given several opportunities to participate in the organization of the evening programs.

During the course a simple museum of local nature materials was developed, affording practice in the preparation of specimens and the interpretation of physical materials. Work in crafts allied to nature---plaster casting of leaves and footprints and construction of displays of animal, plant, and mineral specimens, and the like---was possible in the craft shop. A camp library, with books supplies by students, instructors, the Richmond Public Library, and the Service, made available fairly adequate reference material.

Much emphasis was placed on park developments in relationship to recreational needs, the necessity for "human conservation" being recognized as going hand in hand with the necessity for the conservation of natural resources. The program was not only one of teaching facts, but also one of interpreting the physical world in such a manner as to lead to its greater enjoyment. The instructors attempted therefore to acquaint the students with the technique of presenting natural history and with activities which might be practiced later in public contacts.

Since the four-week session was filled with a wide variety of strenuous activities, it appeared that one month was all too short a time for the accomplishment of all that was desired. It is hoped that a future session may be lengthened to at least six weeks.

1Cf. Reynold E. Carlson, "Virginia Natural History Institute," The Regional Review, Vol. IV, Nos. 4-5, April-May 1940, pp. 25-27. Ed.

2An excellent cross-section record of the routine of the Institute is available in the 700-foot natural color motion picture, A Day at a Nature Leaders' Camp, which was filmed by Ira B. Lykes of the Region One Office, National Park Service.


William A. Bryson,
Lancaster D. Burling,
Jack P. Cessna,
Donald F. Charlton,
Herndon Dowling,
Daniel Goldman,
Charles M. Graves,
Cary J. Hansel,
Arthur H. Jones,
Vernon Jones,
Richmond, Va.
Raleigh, N. C.
Gettysburg, Pa.
Hollis, N. Y.
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Washington, D. C.
Atlanta, Ga.
Marion, N. C.
Charlotte, N. C.
Richmond, Va.

Lois Kilnefelter,
Lyle K. Lynch,
Arthur Lucas,
Dorothy C. Miller,
John T. Mullady,
Avis Oliver,
Dalton M. Parker,
Charles E. Prusack,
Edith Settan,
Earl Southall,
Norfolk, Va.
Canton, Miss.
Durham, N. C.
Indianapolis, Ind.
Washington, D. C.
Petersburg, Va.
Greensboro, N. C.
Salina, Pa.
Greensboro, N. C.
Petersburg, Va.
Margaret Y. Wall, Forest City, N. C.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002