Volume V - Nos. 4 & 5
WHEN PARK STAFFS GO TO SCHOOL
Georgia Training Course Attracts 69
BY EUGENE L. BOTHWELL,
For the last season or two we have been experiencing growing pains in our park system in Georgia. More and more we have heard a cry from our superintendents and custodians for help in solving the problems of operation and maintenance and especially the cry, "What can we provide for the park visitor in the way of recreation?"
Since 1933 our attention and main efforts have been expended, through the excellent co-operation of the National Park Service and other federal agencies, on the development of a complete and properly designed system of state parks, recreation areas, and historic monuments, in order that we may make available to the people of our state adequate outdoor recreation, and to protect and interpret our natural resources. Only recently have our growing pains brought home the fact that we have been concentrating on the development portion of our program to the neglect of operation and interpretation.
A careful study of the problem soon revealed that our field personnel needed information that best could be developed and distributed through the medium of group contact. A member of our staff attended a school at Kings Mountain Recreational. Demonstration Area, sponsored by the South Carolina State Commission of Forestry, and brought back such an excellent report that it was decided to hold a similar meeting here in Georgia. To this end a Training School for State Park Employees was held October 14-17 at Pine Mountain Recreational Demonstration Area, near Chipley.
As a guide in preparing a program, each state park employee was required to submit to the office a list of questions he wished to have discussed. With these questions as a basis, a comprehensive program covering the field of park operation, maintenance, and interpretation was developed. The subjects ranged from such broad and inclusive topics as "The Public's Demand of a State Park and How to Meet it," and "The Scope of a Park Activities Program" down to concrete problems such as how to prevent water systems from freezing and how to prepare petty cash reports.
The first session of the program was devoted to a broad outline of the school in order to clarify in the mind of everyone the purpose of the meeting. From this point on, the sessions were planned to cover specific problems, gradually working down to more detailed questions. Discussion leaders were valuable in directing and guiding the program to keep the interest following the outlined path. As a result, the pattern followed provided a close and interrelated discussion and succeeded in keeping each problem in its own relation to the entire scope of a park program.
Although it had been planned originally to hold the school for our own employees, interest in the undertaking soon spread to adjacent states. In the end the 18 Georgia state participants constituted less than 30 per cent of the total attendance. There were five state park directors from other states; 11 specialists in geology, forestry, nature study, and related fields; a group of National Park Service employees including managers of recreational demonstration areas and project superintendents, and a dozen other interested observers. The final attendance record of 69 emphasized the need for study and consultation on all the varied problems of operation and maintenance not only in Georgia but also throughout the surrounding region.
One of the most glaring weaknesses of our field employees (as well as our office staff) has been a lack of knowledge concerning the park program in our own state, as well as in adjoining states. To overcome this deficiency, an exhibit was prepared to show by means of maps and plans the various park and recreational areas, both national and state, which are situated in the Southeast. Because such an exhibit could not be absorbed in the period of four days, we supplemented it by a large selection of publications, booklets, reports, and reprints of articles closely related to the subjects to be discussed. Thus, having stimulated our personnel to a desire for more information, we made available copies of this material for study during the coming winter season. As a result it is hoped that our employees will have a better knowledge of recreational facilities available in this section, and will be better able to interpret park resources to the public.
One of the big problems of a conference of this type is to keep the interest live and to get everyone to participate. To accomplish this, each major topic on the program was followed by a discussion period led by a person qualified in that particular field. The effect of this method was enlightening, for the group joined wholeheartedly and in many cases disagreed with the speaker and the discussion leader, and many new thoughts were introduced. By actively participating, our employees received a great deal more from the meeting than they would have if they had merely sat and listened.
A further innovation was the use of panel discussions whereby the discussion leader was assisted by two or more specialists in the field under discussion. We found that by this device we were able to get varied thoughts on the same subject and quite often this method provoked discussion among the leaders which served to bring out points that otherwise might have been overlooked. Especially valuable on the program were the field trips included as a part of the session on naturalist program. The trips were a welcome relief from the indoor sessions, and served as demonstrations of the use of field trips as part of the park interpretive program.
Because we planned to do so much and had so little time for doing it in, we scheduled a campfire program for each evening. These were planned so that the group could have some relaxation and yet, at the same time, some serious subject matter was introduced. These sessions were planned also as a demonstration of how campfire program. fit into the general activity program of a park. At the last campfire, the responsibility for the program was placed on several of our superintendents, none of whom had had previous experience. Much to our surprise and gratification this particular campfire turned out to be the highlight of the entire session and several of our men left determined to start similar program in their own parks.
To assist the participants in the meeting to assimilate and digest the vast amount of technical information outlined by the various speakers, it was thought advisable to devote a session at the end of the meeting to the preparation of a brief réumé of the ground covered by the school. The leader found it necessary to prepare in advance a tentative outline, and, by questions and suggestions, the field personnel were led to participate in the actual réumé as written on the blackboard by the discussion leader. This method of recapitulating the information produced by the school, in a graphically presented outline, was a big aid to the participants in reviewing the ground covered by the speakers and in emphasizing the highlights of the subjects discussed. In addition, a stenographic summary was kept and, as soon as the notes are transcribed and edited, it is planned to send then to our field men, In this way they will have a written reference to which they may turn to refresh their memories.
It would be difficult, of course, to try to evaluate at this early date the effectiveness of the training school. Yet, certain tangible results already noticeable are:
To the writer and, we believe, to all participants, the school was a revelation, in the vast amount of information that is available to aid in the proper operation, maintenance, and interpretation of our parks. The participation in the meeting by our colleagues from adjacent states greatly broadened the scope and benefits of the school and we are glad to acknowledge the assistance given us by them. In the past we have been accorded the full cooperation of the National Park Service in the development of our park areas, but before this meeting we had not realized the full potentialities of the assistance which could be obtained from the National Park Service in meeting the maintenance, operation and interpretive problems confronting us. We hope that as a result of this meeting, the National Park Service also may come to a fuller realization of the enviable opportunities which are afforded it to be of service to state park organizations, not only in the development of park areas, but also in plans for the maintenance, operation, and interpretive programs which properly follow such development.
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