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From the birthplace of American conservation…

…to the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum in Portland, Oregon

Post by: Courtney Long, Interpretation Specialist at the Cradle of Forestry in America

Trip Outline:

North Carolina to Oregon, I accompanied a USFS employee on his move across the country. We traveled through small towns, state parks, farm country, national forests and grasslands, national monuments, and a national park. You can view photos and thoughts during the trip on our @Cradle_of_Forestry Instagram account. 

The story:

Every place has its story. As interpreters and educators we can be creatively fun in deciding the ways we share those stories. I wondered continually how to tell the story of our trip from east coast, to the grand lakes of the north, then to west coast. I had plenty of hours to mull over themes and telling points. But the landscapes kept pulling my thoughts to the present moments. 


This was my longest road trip to date and once we passed through Illinois every state was new for me. For the first time I saw mule deer, pheasants, bison, pronghorns, herds of elk, and perhaps a glance at a moose. 

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” -President Lyndon B. Johnson

And LBJ was right. It wasn’t until South Dakota that we saw our first bison but my imagination went as wild as the great plains once were during the miles and miles of rolling lands on the way there. What would it have been like to travel this route 200 years ago when millions of bison roamed freely? To have seen natural America with more than a glimpse of what is once was. 

Sustainable forestry is part of leaving that glimpse for us. Our national forests and national grasslands protect natural resources, yes, but they also provide wild places for us to grow, learn and play. Worldwide we live cooped up in offices, tucked in windowless cubbies, or secured in front of our televisions. Have you ever seen the YouTube videos of rescued animals (cows, pigs, dogs, a circus lion) who experience grass for their first time in months or lifetime? That’s how I imagine millions of people every weekend who take advantage of the outdoors after 5 days of tiresome work.  Millions of people revitalizing their spirits in the clean, wispy air of the deep woods or mountainous ridges. 

Should it be this way? No, I don’t think it should. 

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection.” -President Teddy Roosevelt. 

This quote summarizes one of the most misunderstood concepts about forestry since its birth in western North Carolina in the 1890’s thru today. To cut down all of the trees until none are left is folly. To never cut down any is also folly (I’m speaking in exaggerated tones. Of course it’s important to have places set aside such as the National Parks for preservation). In sustainable forestry, there is a healthy balance. These are the lessons Dr. Carl Alwin Schenck perhaps shared with his forestry students as they restored eroded hillsides and surveyed forested landscapes of the Biltmore Forest.


National forests and grasslands nurture different capacities of our natural resources. This links all of us in America, from east to west coast. Redwoods store more carbon than any other tree in the world, making them vital carbon sinks. Eastern forests are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, protecting forest resiliency. They’re all different, and must all be managed differently to preserve those glimpses of wild places for generations to come. 


Opposite of his boisterous personality which gave him the “Bull Moose” nickname, Teddy Roosevelt is tucked in the mountainside and barely visible in this photo.

The Discovery Museum at the World Forestry Center in Portland, OR enhances our connections even further to a global scale. We all (around the world) struggle in forestry with cultural boundaries and political priorities. I am proud of our historically great leaders who have pushed for conservation and preservation throughout America so that we can always have places to play, hunt, fish, recreate and road trip. We rely on our forests just as much as our predecessors did. Technology has not replaced our necessity for clean water, healthy soils and clean air. 

So go play. It’s all yours. 


States Covered:

North Carolina (Pisgah NF) >Tennessee >Kentucky >Ohio >Michigan >Illinois >Wisconsin >Minnesota >South Dakota (Sioux City Falls Park, Black Hills NF, Mount Rushmore National Monument, Custer State Park) >Wyoming (Bridger-Teton NF, Grand Tetons NP)> Idaho> Oregon (Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, World Forestry Center Discovery Museum)

Supporters of this road trip: 

Coffee, Snickers bars, our jobs, a patient traveling companion, and the NOAA app used for dodging impending ice and snow storms. 

NAI Sunny Southeast Blog

For the original post on the NAI website please click here

Interpreters we are, students we are always

As interpreters sometimes we can temporarily lose sight of just how much we impact visitor perception of our site, state, region, or even our country. My most recent trip to Nicaragua spawned reflections regarding this importance. Some of the most memorable “interpreters” I have met while traveling probably wouldn’t consider themselves more than educational guides having never heard of the concept, let alone our holy book of Tilden’s guiding principles.

Here are some of my thoughts and experiences with education and interpretation in two very different countries:

South Africa: I spent a total of 4 months in South Africa. In 2014 I volunteered on a nature reserve for 3 months, then in 2015 returned for a few weeks to celebrate my friend’s marriage and explore places that I couldn’t afford as a volunteer. In both years I visited iMfolozi-Hluhluwe (“hl” together form a sort of shlurping sound) Game Reserves. A summary- there are trail guides, and then there are phenomenally outstanding interpretive trail guides. I took this message home after my second visit. My first visit to the game reserve was through the Wilderness Leadership School’s trails program. Visitors are guided into the wilderness areas of the reserve by foot, camping and taking turns to keep watch for sneaky, curious lions at night.


Mandla Buthelezi passing out white rhino dung samples to show the plant types white rhinos prefer versus the black rhino.

We spent 3 nights, 4 days in the South African wilderness and it was an experience that forever has connected me to the rhythmic beats of the African bush and its wildlife. Falling in love with the wilderness does not take much more than a sight of a journey of giraffe at dusk, or rhino wallowing in mud just across the river. The connection, where it deepened for me, was in the interpretive quality from my guides (both named Mandla). Mandla M. was quieter. Not able to speak English fluently he kept watch for wildlife as Mandla B. used charisma, theatrical animal impressions, and passion to guide us through everything from rhino dung and courtship to conservation issues of Africa. Their personalities were polar and where most participants I imagine connect with Mandla B. and his love for riddles around the campfire, I found enjoyment in Mandla M.’s company and introspective feelings for life in the wilderness. Never would I have imagined squatting in the middle of a river scrubbing dirty pans with elephant dung while having life altering conversations with Mandla M. Even before I had learned about interpretation myself, I looked up to the way these men connected with us and shared their universal love for conservation.

Fast forward one year and 3 months.


Sleepy white rhino became a road block at 4:30 am on my drive to meet my trail guide.

With a rental car and solo freedom I drove into Hluhluwe near dusk. I signed into my rondavel just after dark, and scheduled for a guide to take me on an early morning walk through the bush. Excited, I barely slept and promptly woke up earlier than my 3:30am alarm. I drove to meet my guide, who was an hour late. No mind, it’s South African time. He answered my questions very simply and would listen for bird calls to promptly identify the voice’s owner. He barely spoke, which was okay, I allowed by mind to wander in keen observation of each dung beetle, flower and slight movements, with the safety of someone holding a rifle for those “just in case” instances. We hardly connected, and I felt that I could have been replaced with any other group and the walk would have been identical. We sat for a break (actually, we were hiding downwind from an agitated rhino) and listened to the birds. My guide, with me sitting between him and his rifle 20 feet away, fell asleep and began snoring. (Just imagine Tilden’s horror!) Whether his knowledge was competent or not, I stifled further questions and simply reconnected emotionally with the bush after my year’s absence. I no longer trusted my safety to this man nor any info he could offer me.

Fast forward one more year to western Nicaragua.


Me during a 2-day hike thru Las Penitas volcanic range. Volcan Momotombo is behind me and Volcan Momotombito behind that.

Language barriers often are hurdles in education. An exceptional interpreter I find somehow manages to reach beyond that barrier. Their intuitive observation tells them your interests and they do what they can to adhere to that. Take 20-year old Kevin for example.

While in Esteli, Nicarauga I signed up for a one night homestay in Miraflor Nature Reserve. In addition to the homestay their son, Kevin, offered guided walks. Kevin spoke almost solely Spanish and although I studied the language I am by no means fluent and maintain a mediocre vocabulary. Kevin and I immediately established a connection over reptiles and amphibians, and he quickly attuned to my love of plants. (Granted, I’m fairly easy to read due to the fact that I kept falling behind to crouch to the ground and admire a plethora of tiny plants.)


Kevin “playing” the Angel’s Trumpet (Datura sp.) during our walk through pastures and forests in Miraflor Nature Reserve.

Kevin has lived in Miraflor his entire life and since he knew I love snakes he shared many stories of personal encounters. The memories he shared of boyhood in Miraflor and the ways he connected with the forest pulled at my heartstrings and reminded me of the connections we individually and as a society have with our forests. Kevin and I do not share the same culture, the same traditions, the same upbringing. But we both shared our love of the wild places we grew up and live in. That evening Kevin took me to a nearby pond where as a boy he would catch frogs. We spent a couple of hours on the water’s edge discovering invertebrates excitingly new to both of us. Through the light from my headlamp I watched a hummingbird get attacked by a bat and found some of the largest toads! Nature play is the universal language.

nicaragua-frogNo matter the certifications we gain or the classes and workshops we attend, the real driving forces for a successful interpreter is passion and an ability to look beyond another’s culture, beliefs, language, or status. The Mandlas and Kevin made me feel equal in a country that wasn’t my own and afforded the opportunity to see the natural world through their eyes. To reach a shared interest, whatever that may be, is up to us as interpreters. These lessons are things I am continually reminded of at the Cradle of Forestry in America. In a single day I may speak with children, young married couples, retired foresters, or international travelers. And in this next year I aim to ask myself more, “Is my language (body, actions, words, etc.) universal?”