Park Interpreter  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotPark interpreters help visitors gain an understanding of the natural and cultural heritage of parks. They explain what makes historical sites significant, tell how geology created natural wonders or answer questions about the wildlife.

Paul Thistle is a museum director and curator just outside of Alaska. He hires interpreters every summer to portray characters that lived in Alaska and the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush of 1896.

"We're looking for people who have some dramatic background or experience, whether it's Sunday school or school plays or theater courses in university," says Thistle.

The most widely accepted definition of interpretation was penned by Freeman Tilden in 1957: "An educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by first-hand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information."

dotPark interpreters may simply wait at the park office to answer visitors' questions. Or they may lead groups on tours or welcome them at a visitor's center. Whatever they do, good interpreters know the information cold and are always finding creative new ways to explain it.

That usually means creating different interpretive programs. Interpreters may use visual aids -- movies, pictures, artifacts -- or role-playing, costumes and storytelling.

Thistle expects his interpreters to go beyond the call of duty and come up with creative ways to present the gold rush.

dot"We want them to use their creativity in this job," says Thistle. "We want them to develop above and beyond the specific requirements of the job."

dotInterpreters work in a host of settings, from urban museums to wilderness parks.

Not all interpreters wear period costumes and speak in old English. Many park interpreters are dressed in traditional ranger outfits. But they're just as ready to help immerse visitors in a park's natural or human history.

dotGood interpreters are comfortable with researching history in any number of ways. Some gather oral history from living people. Others comb through archives and piece together a vivid historical tale from history texts, artifacts and other sources.

At a Glance

Help visitors get the information they want

  • Some jobs are seasonal
  • Interpreters work in a host of settings, from urban museums to wilderness parks
  • A degree in parks management or history is good