Friday, October 9, 2015

The Importance of Interpretive Programming

Every park and museum that one can visit, most likely has some type of programming.  These programs could be tours, talks, demonstrations or some type of special events.  These programs are very important as it allows the public to visually see and understand the importance of the site.  This is where its important to have quality trained interpreters and staff.

The interpreter’s job, or function, is to connect the present with the past.  Again, as described in last month’s article, interpretation must have a main theme and sub-themes that bring it all together.  Although Civil War battlefields as an example, can have many themes, eventually the main theme is the battle itself.

Those sites that are geared more toward nature or the environment will most likely have a Naturalist.  Naturalists have similar duties to those of interpreters.  Their duty is directed more toward highlighting historical, ecological or scientific features of outdoor surroundings.  But the outline of the programming is the same, themes and sub-themes.

Just like any historical park, Monterey Pass Battlefield Park has many characteristics that make it both a historical and natural resource, but it also has many cultural aspects too.  It is important to utilize each resource for program development and create programs on the audience you are attracting.

Our park, for example, has several main themes, from the Civil War battle, to troop movements.  We also have several natural themes from South Mountain itself, to Happel’s Meadow, which is a wetland preserve.  There are several species of animals, vegetation and trees that one could see from the wetlands to the forest.  Many of the springs that flow from or near our park helps to form the Antietam Creek, Tom’s Creek and Red Run. Culturally, one of the early gateways to southern Appalachia came through Monterey.  The Mason-Dixon Line, generally viewed as a line that divided slave states from free states, or north and south, is one mile away.

When you add the historical, natural and cultural resources together, many ideas can form about what types of programs to offer.  Expanding on this, you also open your site to a larger audience.  Let’s be truthful, not everyone likes history.  At the same time, we want programming that is both educational and fun for all, especially for our youth.

Over the years we have conducted several education programs for our youth.  Programs ranging from “Understanding the Civil War Soldier,” to “Cannoneers Post!” where youth learn the role of artillery, and train on the cannon.  Afterward, a worksheet helps to gauge the distance and what type of projectile to use.  This program teaches math, science, and best of all, teamwork.

This year we decided to overhaul our programs and create some new ones.  One of the newest programs we have is “Union Soldiers Dressed In Gray.”  This program is a visual and hands on program that will break down the New York National Guard in Pennsylvania and Maryland during the summer of 1863. Their story is overlooked by that of the Union soldier who fought at Gettysburg. These men, who were more or less from upper society of New York life, were in no way professional soldiers. But yet during the Pennsylvania Campaign, many of these men marched over two hundred and fifty miles from Harrisburg, PA to Frederick, MD.

Another program, which is in the works, will educate youth on the weather.  Since there was a severe thunderstorm during the battle, we want youth to learn about how storms are formed.  They will also learn how the storm impacted the battle.  Small experiments using ice and water will show how air masses flow and how storms are formed. To end the program we want to stress safety and what to do when a storm comes.

A new history program is being developed that will help youth understand colonial America, and how South Mountain was the dividing line between settlements and the western frontier, as it was in 1750. It will also break down the forest and how settlements depended upon its rich natural resources.
Some of the special park events we are doing this year for the general public are in the final planning stages.  Some of the programs such as the annual battlefield tour will now be directed to certain aspects of the battle. To make up for the general overview, we will do a special program at the museum using maps to show troop movements and the layout of the battlefield itself.

One battlefield tour this year will follow in the footsteps of Brigadier General George Custer’s brigade, as it was ordered to cut the Confederate wagon train in half. As we move along Charmian Road, first hand accounts of the battle will be told by those from Custer’s brigade. Another tour will be the 1st West Virginia Cavalry as they broke through the Confederate lines and began storming the long lines of wagons. Over on the Maria Furnace Road, we will conduct a tour from the Confederate point of view, which will cover North Carolina’s role in the battle from the cavalry to the infantry.
Since our battle took place at night, we will be conducting a series of evening programs by campfire. We want to give the visitor to Gettysburg, who is looking for something else to do besides touring the battlefield there after dinner, a chance to do just that. We want people to know that Monterey Pass Battlefield is Pennsylvania’s other major Civil War battlefield. No trip to Gettysburg should be complete without visiting Monterey Pass Battlefield.

For those looking for more information about the Monterey Pass Battlefield, you should log onto Our website has the calendar of events, and media connections such as Facebook and our blogs. Everything you need to keep in touch and up to date with regard to our battlefield park is on our website. If you are looking for ways to volunteer at a park such as Gettysburg, you should look us up first. Although, we have a smaller visitor center and museum, we are always looking for individuals who share the love of history, and are looking for way to share that passion with the general public.

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