Everywhere we live and everything we do takes place in a watershed. Every one of our daily routines: working, playing, exercising and learning, all happen in our watersheds. In fact, life as we know it goes on in our watersheds: so much so that the natural wonder and beauty of our watersheds can start to become commonplace or might even start to seem insignificant.
At the Watershed Project, our mission is to inspire Bay Area communities to understand, appreciate, and protect our local watersheds. One key challenge the Watershed Project faces is how to take these ordinary, routine encounters with our watersheds and turn them into something inspirational.
To do this, we draw on the process of “environmental interpretation” as a means to stimulate and awaken curiosity in our everyday encounters with nature. Through the method of interpretation, we hope to transform what might at first seem insignificant or mundane into something we can all appreciate and protect.
The phrase “environmental interpretation” was first fleshed out by Freeman Tilden in his 1957 book, Interpreting Our Heritage. He defined this method as “an educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects by firsthand experience and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information.” The approach was later defined by the National Association for Interpretation as “a mission based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.”
The process has been used again and again in museums, national parks, and historic sites. The education team at the Watershed Project uses the principles and theories of environmental interpretation in every aspect of our programs. Some lessons, we bring the outside world right into classrooms, and other lessons we get students outdoors to explore their schoolyards and the natural world they encounter everyday. We encourage students to actively participate in their environment by touching, smelling and tasting. Rather than simply instructing our students, we hope to guide them while they draw their own conclusions and interpret their own answers about the natural world. Through these methods of environmental interpretation, our hope is that our students will gain an awareness of their place in the watershed and their role in protecting it. As Freeman Tilden famously wrote, “through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.” At the Watershed Project we work to restore the natural wonder of the San Francisco Bay one creek, marsh, and watershed at a time. By using the method of environmental interpretation, we hope that every creek, every marsh, and every watershed can inspire curiosity and instill appreciation.