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Research and Education
in the National Parks




Part I

Part II


National Park Service
Research and Education in the National Parks
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In commencing this discussion of the educational work in the parks and monuments. it is quite appropriate to refer first to the guided trip which has been the outstanding feature in its popularization. There is recognition that "Nature is the supreme school-teacher and master textbook." Walking trips, under the escort of ranger naturalists, are routed through areas rich in the natural phenomena especially exemplified in the park, and the features of outstanding interest along the way are pointed out and explained. (See figs. 4 and 5.) In parks and monuments where history is prominent in the educational program, the ranger historians stress first-hand acquaintance with scenes in which major human events have transpired and in this way motivate interest in our historical heritage.

Mount Rainier NP
FIGURE 4. In the flower garden at the foot of Mount Rainier. The ranger naturalist is identifying the flora and explaining the life zones. Later he will take the party to localities where the work of the Mount Rainier glaciers may be seen.

Guided trips vary in length throughout the national park system, from a few hours to those of several days' duration, extending into the mountainous back country. This guide service is offered in all parks where educational work is being carried on. Despite the increase in the educational personnel, it is not possible to handle adequately the increasingly large crowds desiring to take the nature trips.

The method stressed is expressed in Agassiz's old dictum : "Study nature, not books." The enthusiasm of a nature guide is contagious. He is able to make a trail side interesting. He brings senses seldom used into prominence. Plants are recognized by odor and taste. Birds are recognized by call-note and song. Trees are recognized by feeling the bark. Geological stories are made plain through careful observation. Leading events in history are made vitally interesting through acquaintance with historic landmarks and remains of ancient civilizations. Too often a study of biology is sought through tedious dissection and microscopic analysis; too seldom is there study of the living thing in its natural environment.

Grand Canyon NP
FIGURE 5.—At the brink of Grand Canyon with the park naturalist. The different stages in the cutting of the great gorge are being explained and the interesting contrasts in vegetation pointed out.

From an educational standpoint, the method (of the field trip has several outstanding advantages:

1. First-hand information involving all five series is available, real experiences are gained, and better concepts obtained.

2. Common interest is gained because of the superlative teaching materials available. There is opportunity to follow the interest of the group. Individual attention is afforded the student.

3. Aesthetic and inspirational values are realized.

Sequoia NP
FIGURE 6—The auto caravan visits Moro Rock Sequoia National Park. From this exceptionally fine outlook point the park naturalist calls attention to the principal mountain peaks. He also takes this opportunity to tell the visitors something of the major geologic processes which have combined to produce the rugged High Sierra scenery so magnificently exhibited in the eastern portion of the park.

Nature guiding is an inspirational method of teaching. To inspire the student to continue to observe carefully is more important than to make new information stick in his mind. To pay a personal visit to an historic shrine is to give a concept such as no book can supply. As a rule, a ranger naturalist or historian has but a couple of hours in which to impress his followers with the possibilities of a trail side. He has done his work well if he has opened their eyes and unstopped their cars, demonstrated how much fun it is to study geologic and historic features and living things first hand, and left a vision of the great natural processes involved.

It is interesting to note that in 1930 nuture-guide service was introduced in the Canadian national parks by the Dominion Government. According to the Canadian Department of the Interior, the nature guides' duties "will be simply to open the eyes of the visitors to the interesting things which most of us miss, and to explain their meaning," and "to act as curator of the natural treasures and curiosities of the parks, and to introduce all who are interested to the flowers, trees, birds, butterflies, and rocks which can be seen along the main trails within easy reach of the chief resorts."

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Last Modified: Sat, Feb 16 2002 10:00:00 pm PDT

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