Interpretation encourages GSMNP visitors to care for park resources, build emotional connections with park

September 5, 2019

  • GSMNP interns displaying interpretation projects

Learning to talk with GSMNP visitors about park resources  was one of the skills the GSMNP high school summer interns learned during their six-week internship. Abbey Lawrence  writes about the training involved to do interpretation presentations and the interns’ experience talking with park visitors.

by Abbey Lawrence
Seymour High School graduate
Seymour, Tennessee
Now attending University of Tennessee/Knoxville

When I first heard someone during our internship use the term “interpretation,” I was extremely confused about its meaning.

However, it turns out that interpretation has heavily influenced of all my experiences with the national park, including this internship!

GSMNP intern at Laurel Falls Trailhead

After training, the interns talked with park visitors about wildlife in the GSMNP.

According to the NPS website: “interpretation directly supports the preservation mission. Interpretation is driven by a philosophy that charges interpreters to help audiences care about park resources so they might support the care for park resources. Interpretation establishes the value of preserving park resources by helping audiences discover the meanings and significance associated with those resources.”

In simpler terms, not only does interpretation educate visitors on how to care for our natural resources, but it also helps them build emotional connections with the park, which drives people to want to protect the environment.

Interpretation is one of the reasons why the people who visits the Smokies leave with a new sense of passion and excitement for our gorgeous mountains!

Interpretation Training

The Tennessee American Conservation Experience (ACE) interns headed over the mountains to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in North Carolina for our interpretation training day with the North Carolina ACE interns.

We were trained by Resource Education Park Ranger Rhonda Wise, who made sure we were more than prepared to take on interpretation.

We did many group activities to learn how to address the public in a way that is professional, relevant, and fun! It was now time for the real deal.

training at Oconaluftee Visitor Center

Ranger Rhonda Wise led the Interpretation training for the interns at Oconaluftee Visitor Center.

Interpretation in Action

A few weeks later, we tested our new skills at Sugarlands Visitor Center and the Laurel Falls Trailhead.

GSMNP intern with visitors at Laurel Falls Trailhead

GSMNP intern Abbey Lawrence practices her interpretation skills with visitors at the Laurel Falls Trailhead.

All eight of us Tennessee interns were both nervous and excited for the day ahead of us!

Our interpretation project was to choose an animal in the park to research and teach visitors about, using some really cool props. The photo at the top of this post is of us with our props.

At first, I was unsure in my ability to remember so many new facts about my animal, the elk. But my nerves quickly disappeared as I began interacting with the visitors.

I was shocked that so many people were happy to stop by and talk to us. Children and adults alike were engaged in the information that we had to share.

We all had a blast meeting new people! It is an awesome feeling to know that you positively influenced someone’s day.


When I visited the Smokies as a little kid, I was always very inspired by the park rangers who led our educational programs on school trips.

The possibility that we could have impacted someone in that way is so meaningful to me and the other interns.

That is why this was one of my absolute favorite days from this summer! This was an amazing experience that I will always remember.


For six weeks, the interns worked with rangers, Teachers in the Parks and volunteers on projects in the park to learn more about GSMNP and to get a feel of what being a park ranger is like.

Sixteen students from North Carolina and Tennessee participated in the program this summer.

Friends of the Smokies has helped support the GSMNP High School Internship Program for 17 years, initially providing the salaries for the interns and then helping fund the program staff salaries. The program is funded in part by the American Conservation Experience (ACE).

Several of this summer’s interns have written guest posts and compiled photos of their experiences, which will be published on the FOTS blog. The photos in this post were taken by the Tennessee interns.

A special thanks to Ranger Jessica Snow, who coordinated the Tennessee interns, and Ranger Erin Lamm, who coordinated the North Carolina interns, for their assistance with the interns’ blog posts.

You can support the GSMNP high school summer internship program or support other education programs that FOTS funds, including Teachers in Parks, Parks as Classrooms, the Kathryn McNeill Endowment that funds an education specialist, and the Park Liaison program at the Cherokee School.