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Volume 27
Number 3
Winter 2010-2011
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Costumed interpreter at farm, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Research Report
The benefits of live interpretive programs to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
By Marc J. Stern, Robert B. Powell, and Cathleen Cook
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
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Costumed interpreter at farm, Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Figure 1. Costumed interpretation (above) and ranger-led walks (below) are among the interpretive activities that visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park described as important to their park visit.

Live interpretive programs at national parks serve multiple functions (fig. 1, above and below). They help to reveal to park visitors the deeper meanings associated with parks’ cultural and natural resources (Ham 1992; Tilden 1977). They can enhance visitors’ enjoyment by providing entertaining experiences or better orientation to the available sights, resources, and activities (Moscardo 1999). They can effect emotional connections to landscapes, to animal or plant life, and to the history being interpreted (Tilden 1977). They can influence visitors’ attitudes to the park they are visiting, toward the National Park Service, or toward an ecosystem, a historical event, a social movement, or the environment or nature in general (e.g., Powell et al. 2009). Research and theory also suggest that interpretation can influence visitors’ behaviors both during their visits and after they have left the park (Ham 2009).

Ranger guiding Jr. Ranger interpretive walk at Great Smoky Mountains National Park


In conjunction with a study designed to learn why visitors attend (or do not attend) ranger-led interpretive programs at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we set out to address three additional research questions that provide the focus of this report:

• How many visitors attend a ranger-led interpretive program? While general visitor surveys conducted by the Park Studies Unit at the University of Idaho typically ask visitors whether they have attended a ranger-led interpretive program on the particular visit during which they were contacted by the survey team, we sought to find out how many visitors had attended a program in the park when multiple visits are considered.

• How do visitors feel about ranger-led interpretive programs, regardless of their attendance? We sought to understand how visitors value the existence of ranger-led interpretive programs as well as their opinions of programs they had attended.

• What impacts do ranger-led interpretive programs appear to have on attendees? We gauged program impacts on a number of attitudes and intentions relevant to park management.

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This page updated:  22 February 2011

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From the Editor
In This Issue
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Park Operations
Field Moment
Masthead Information
Building partnerships to restore an urban marsh ecosystem at Gateway National Recreation Area
Defining resource stressor syndromes in southwestern national parks
On the application of the cyberinfrastructure model for efficiently monitoring invasive exotic species
Greater sage-grouse of Grand Teton National Park
An innovative method for nondestructive analysis of cast iron artifacts at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania
Sidebar: Hopewell Furnace
Integrating traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) into natural resource management
  The benefits of live interpretive programs to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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