The College of Environmental Science already had both undergraduate and graduate programs in wilderness interpretation. The center allowed them a place for hands-on training.
“At first, we were determined to learn the different ways visitors used the buildings on the property,” Hai said. “It was almost an experiment last summer to create lines of programming and see what the public responds to.”
Newcomb’s Interpretive Center found that people relished exploration on their own and returned to the lodge — and its warm fireside hearth — with a lot of questions, wanting to know more about what they discovered.
“What we’ve found,” Hai said, “is that the real drive for interest is very informal. The primary use at the center is the trails. Then, after exploring, people stop in and want to know about things they saw. So we reorganized to adapt a very informal, very inquisitive relationship for the guests. The structured programming wasn’t as strong an interest as it is about being out on the trail.”
PARTICIPATION BACK UP
Adjusting to fit the need, Newcomb’s center moved from two formal naturalist programs daily last summer to one this summer.
“So, this year, we have one strong naturalist science session every day,” Hai said.
“And we’ve had more program participation this summer than last. We doubled or tripled visits every month, January through May. June was double, and July was level. Overall, in the same months as last year, we had a 37 percent increase in visitors. We’ve seen this huge bounce back.”
Both park interpretive centers suffered from initial reports of closure.
“We believe the steep decline in visits came initially from the press about the centers closing, which was much more prevalent than the centers being reopened,” Hai said.
But both are fully open and welcoming the public.