Connecting with environmental and cultural heritage in Interpretation conference held in Rio de Janeiro

On May 20-24, over 128 delegates from eight countries attended this year’s National Association for Interpretation’s (NAI) annual conference. The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Colorado State University worked together to support the event.

The conference brings together organizations working with protected areas, zoos, botanical gardens, museums, travel agencies, and hotels along with individuals including local community members, guides, volunteers, teachers, and protected areas managers.

From the U.S. Forest Service, Toby Bloom (Program Manager for Tourism and Interpretive Services) and Bonnie Lippitt (Regional Tourism, Interpretation, and Visitor Services Program Manager) brought experiences from the U.S. to the conference. They shared how the U.S. Forest Service connects the work that the agency does locally with similar issues and efforts across the globe.  Toby delivered a keynote address on interpretation, while Bonnie brought expertise on demonstration sites as tools for implementation and capacity development.

USFS and the Brazilian government have worked for over seven years building capacity for recreation and interpretation in Brazil’s national forests and parks. The USFS has provided technical expertise and helped the Brazilian park and forest agency develop guidelines for developing an interpretive plan and products. As a result of PCAB project, there have been 13 courses for guides that have been carried out for federal protected areas plus one course for partners from the private sector at Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro.  In total, these 14 courses led to the training of 305 guides across 8 Brazilian States. 

This included training in the following protected areas: Tapajos National Forest, Cavernas do Peruacu National Park, Anavilhanas National Park, Abrolhos National Marine Park, Itatiaia National Park, Amazonia National Park, Costa dos Corais Environmental Protection Area, Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park, Lagoa do Peixe National Park, and Sugarloaf Natural Monument.    Interpretation is a powerful tool to provoke connections between people and their environmental, historical, and cultural heritages. Through interpretation, we preserve and share our stories, protect our resources, enrich our lives, and connect with each other.

Of the conference experience, Bonnie said, “Our Brazilian counterparts were so proud to co-host this conference, both to present the work they have accomplished over the last seven years and to receive the recognition of professionals from other countries for both … Overall, It was an amazing validation of the effort we have all undertaken together to build public use and interpretive capacity for Brazil’s protected areas.” Toby likewise added, “It was an amazing opportunity not only to learn about interpretation and protected areas in Brazil, but to take an active part in fortifying their network and the work they do. You could literally see connections being made and networks being developed between government, non-profit, and private sector entities, with commitments to work together on common issues moving forward.”