Katherine Rohde, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, USA

This paper was not presented at the conference but is included in the proceedings with the permission of the author.

Interpretation, as a management tool in the US National Park Service, has its beginning in 1920 when "nature guides" where hired by the Park Service at Yosemite National Park to "counteract those persons who would selfishly destroy park values"1. This concept spread to other National Parks throughout the system to become the "most direct and important function of the Service"2. This same concept is one of the major contributions by the US National Park Service to park systems, not only throughout the United States, but all over the world as well. The scope and quality of interpretation in the National Parks of the United States is one of the features that makes them stand out over other park systems.

There are many different definitions of interpretation, but the one that embodies interpretation's role in park management and resource protection states: Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection. Interpretation in this vein should be an important component of cave management. If those of us who know and appreciate the beauty, uniqueness and mysteries of cave resources feel that it is important to preserve them, then effective education and information needs to be disseminated to the non-caving public in order to foster an awareness, appreciation and a desire to protect these fragile resources,

Commercial or developed "show caves" can have a major role in this education. These caves provide an opportunity for millions of people to experience a cave, to enjoy its beauty and to gain an appreciation for its worth. Visitors can do this while travelling on paved and lighted trails, without the incumbent natural "hazards that might otherwise cause them to think of caves only as nasty, dark holes in the ground". Guided tours can provide education about caves to these large numbers of people and create a pool of non-cavers who are enlightened as to the value and importance of caves. Tours also provide the opportunity to educate people as to how to behave in caves and thus protect the fragile features and ecosystems. Educating people, not hiding the caves from them, seems to be the ultimate answer to cave protection.

Admittedly, there have been problems with the "traditional" cave tours. Critics may question the idea that the commercial tours, as they are often presented, can be important components of cave management. The guide can only give a memorised "tape recording", lacks enthusiasm for and knowledge of the resource, and gives the impression of being, and probably is, bored. Consequently, the first time cave visitor gains no enthusiasm or understanding for the value or excitement of caves.

Boredom manifests itself in other ways that can influence visitor behaviour and thus, be detrimental to cave preservation. These guides tend to try and find ways to alleviate the boredom, and often in ways that are contrary to what is acceptable behaviour in caves. Their actions may also be contrary to the message cave managers want visitors to take with them. For instance, guides may bang on stalactites, set up fake formations, move formations from one area to another, and play practical jokes on one another.

Another characteristic of guided tours in "commercial" caves is that the traditional messages given on them do not provide the information necessary for participants to form a positive cave protection ethic. All too often the information is superficial, such as guides giving fanciful names to formations and rooms, or telling jokes and amusing stories about things that do not relate to the cave resources. There seems to be a myth that factual information is uninteresting, and that visitors to caves are not interested in the real facts. Therefore, they should not be subjected to them. This is simply not true. Factual information can be just as interesting as fiction, and even more so, particularly if the guide is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and uses techniques that will cause the visitor to become excited and enthusiastic about this special resource.

Thus, it seems that the guide is a crucial factor to be considered, if cave tours are to be a viable cave management tool. The training and supervision that the guide receives ultimately puts the responsibility on the cave manager. W.T. Austin and Tom Chaney have discussed this very issue in their paper "Boredom in Paradise: A Hard Look at Cave Guide Training". In their paper, they have identified and acknowledged the problem that is inherent on many cave tours; routine, the guide's lack of enthusiasm for the resource and the job, and boredom. If interpretation is indeed to be a tool for management, a cave tour with any or all of the aforementioned symptoms of a bored guide could actually be giving visitors a message that is contrary to the objectives of a cave manager, and have a negative impact on the preservation of cave resources.

Wind Cave Tours - The Past

Using the ideas presented in "Boredom in Paradise" as a springboard for change, interpretation at Wind Cave National Park was evaluated as to its role in resource management and its effectiveness. The majority of the interpretive activities in the Park centre around the cave resources. During the period of highest visitation, from Memorial Day to Labour Day, thirty-two tours enter the cave daily. Cave tours leave every twenty minutes on either a Half Mile Tour (one hour, fifteen minutes) or the One Mile Tour (one hour, forty-five minutes). Each guide takes a minimum of three and as many as five tours a day. Due to the frequency of tours and the configuration of the tour routes, the tours cannot deviate from the standard routes. In the past, tour guides were given standard explanations and information about the human history of the cave, biology, formation of the cave, and cave exploration. They learned the routes, what to say and where to say it, by following more experienced guides. While not actually "required", an unwritten tradition emerged as to what information was to be given in which locations. Standard analogies and explanations evolved and were used by many of the guides, as the best explanations. In evaluating the cave interpretation program, the training of guides and the information presented on the tours was carefully scrutinised. In addition to those two areas, observations were made of the factors indirectly affecting interpretation, such as employee attitude about the cave and tours, and noting if, then when, "burn out" occurred.

While the quality of interpretation seemed high, because the information was basically accurate and was presented in a professional manner, under close scrutiny, there were hints of "Boredom in Paradise". Every tour sounded the same. Everyone stopped in the same places and gave the same information and stories in those places. A rare variation might occur when the boxwork was explained in a room other than the Post Office. When it was explained, however, the words were the same. The explanation was correct, the sparkle and enthusiasm were often not present. Another clue, less direct, but an indicator just the same, was the attitude towards the "regular" cave tours (Half Mile and One Mile Tours) exhibited by employees who were working at the Park for the second, third, fourth or more season. Having to give these tours could be avoided by becoming one of the team who guided the Historic Candlelight Tours (a living history tour). If one spent many hours researching a character who had been involved in the operations at Wind Cave during the 1890s, and learned all that they could about lifestyles at that time, then designed and made an authentic costume of that time period, one would not have to give very many "regular" tours. Guides could dress up and give tours that were fun, not boring. There seemed to be a lack of enthusiasm for the cave itself. Rather than delve deeper into the information about the very qualities that make Wind Cave so unique and different in order to generate enthusiasm, employees turned to interpreting people and an era of history, in a costume to find that enthusiasm necessary to do their job.

Changes at Wind Cave

As a result of evaluating the tours and guide training at Wind Cave a major change in the focus of cave interpretation, the methods of presenting tours and the method of training guides was implemented. These changes complemented each other and built a base of support for achieving park management goals concerning the cave resources.

The formula that was used incorporated three ideas; enthusiasm, knowledge and involvement. Enthusiasm for the resource, the people encountered and the job can be gained and can continue to grow by searching for as much knowledge about all aspects of the cave resource. Enthusiasm is easy to create early in the season. The trick is how to maintain it over the course of the summer, and that is where knowledge and involvement enter the scheme. Enthusiasm is a catalyst that can push people into wanting to learn more, and as they learn more they want to become involved with the cave resource in some way. This involvement may be assisting in exploration, research or restoration. If employees are involved, the enthusiasm is maintained and each of the elements continue to recycle and feed each other.

The Tour

In order to implement the changes, a different approach to tours had to be considered. In the past, the guides were expected to stop at specified locations and to impart certain information during the tour that visitors "should" hear. This method may have offered some assurance to park management that all visitors were getting the same accurate information, and that all guides were giving quality tours.

Perhaps consistency could be expected in the above situation, but there are some problems with this kind of transmission of information. If a tour with standard information is given several times a day by the same person, the tendency to sound like a tape recorded message is almost assured. Visitors hear, but do not listen. Guides become bored and have a struggle to respond to visitor questions that are beyond the realm of their knowledge or worse yet, are asked at the "wrong time".

In order that spontaneity and enthusiasm be introduced into the tours, changes were made. The required stops and list of subjects to be covered were dropped. Guides were given freedom to research and develop their own tours and were encouraged to not give the same tour time after time. By being able to be flexible in where they stopped, and more importantly, in what they could say, guides would be better able to respond to the needs and interests of the visitors. In this way the visitor experience could be made more meaningful. The visitors interests would be aroused and they would be more apt to absorb the message that management wanted them to remember and to take with them when they left the park.

There are some restraints that are necessary to give a basic structure to this new freedom. The key to this method of developing and presenting tours is the Theme. An explanation of this technique is addressed later in this paper. Visitor safety and conservation of cave resources must be addressed. If there is to be information that is required to be shared on each and every tour, it is that which informs people of the potential hazards of which they need to be aware. These include dimly lit trails, wet trails and stairs, low ceilings and how visitors can avoid having an accident. A message of equal importance is one which explains the fragile nature of cave resources and the kind of behaviour that will do the least harm to them and assure their preservation. The messages are more than "do not touch" and "watch your step". They are not recited just at the beginning of each tour. Rather, they are alluded to throughout the entire tour at opportune times and are woven into the information presented on the tour.


The theme is the central organisational framework of the cave tour. The theme of any tour is the principal idea or message of which the guide would like to make participants aware. All of the information that is then shared during the tour supports and develops that idea. A theme leads the visitors in the direction of thought that the guide wishes them to follow. It provides a thread of continuity throughout the tour. Instead of the tour being a series of non-related stops, the theme allows for the stops to be separate, yet each one adds more information, building support for the theme. By the end of the tour the guide's purpose will have been accomplished.

Just what is a theme and how does it work? It is somewhat difficult to explain, and it has taken two summers to develop a reasonably simple explanation. A theme is a single idea. A theme can be stated in a simple sentence, with a single subject and verb. Most importantly, the theme is the one major idea that the interpreter (guide) wants participants to remember six months after taking the tour. For example, a theme of a cave tour might be: caves cannot be considered to be isolated from the surface world. All of the information that is then shared with visitors is going to be building support for that idea. Hopefully, the end result will be seen in the future when the visitor, who has all but forgotten the specific facts about his trip through Wind Cave, hears of sewage being dumped into a cave system, he will remember the idea that caves are not isolated from the surface world. Perhaps, then he will take some kind of action to educate others about the value of caves, and the fact that the sewage will not only affect that cave ecosystem. Because of the interrelationship of cave to surface, that sewage could very well pollute domestic water supplies.

Very often the theme is subtle and underlying, not actually stated. What is repeated and stated throughout the tour is the "vehicle" that is used to carry out the theme. A mistake made frequently is to call the "vehicle" the theme. In the example of a theme given above, a possible "vehicle" might be the role of water in the cycle of a cave. The water is not the theme. It is used to develop the theme. For instance, the development of a cave system depends upon water entering the fractures from some source on the surface. Later in the cycle, water plays a role in the decoration of the cave, water seeping in from the surface where it fell as rain or snow. This same surface water might enter the cave and influence the location of habitat for cave troglobites. Visitors to the cave experience water in the form of high humidity or dripping water. In the far distant future, water may contribute to the demise of a cave through surface erosion. Finally, water's role in pollution or destruction of cave resources by a lack of understanding of hydrology might be touched upon. The "vehicle" of water develops the theme that caves cannot be considered to be unrelated and not connected to the natural processes taking place on the surface.

A theme can have many different vehicles. For instance the vehicle in the above example might have been time, impacts, light or any of a number of other ideas. This flexibility allows the guide to develop ideas for many different tours that will support the important idea that they want people on the tour to remember about caves. Having a variety of tours from which to choose helps to prevent boredom, as the same tour idea does not have to be used over and over.

The tour consists of factual and interesting information about the cave and the things that people are seeing and experiencing, given in a series of stops along the tour route. Each stop is designed to provide information that will gradually develop the theme. By the end of the tour, visitors should be able to take the information that they have received and develop their ideas about the resource. If the theme has been skilfully presented, the visitors should reach the conclusion. A strong conclusion ties all the loose ends together. Visitors take that main idea away with them, and may not even realise it until much later, when some incident, or conversation triggers the memory.

The partner to "theme" in making every tour different and exciting is the visitor. Each visitor has different interests, experiences and expectations, every tour has different visitors. Thematic interpretation allows the guides to respond to visitor interests. Once the guide has decided upon a theme and the vehicles to carry it through, the tours should not be written out completely. They can be too easily memorised, and the guide is again giving the same information, in the same words, in the same place every time. A memorised message, even if thematic, does not allow the guide to be able to respond to visitors interests. By using a theme, and having the flexibility of choosing one of several vehicles to convey that theme, the guide can actually provoke visitors to ask questions or make statements that will alert the guide as to the interests of the participants. Of course, the cave, how it affects the guide, and how the guide changes in mood or responds to the cave each time that guide enters the cave cannot be ignored. The challenge to the guide is to read those visitors and to respond to their needs and interests. Using the visitor's experiences, as well as his own, enables the guide to create a unique tour every time he enters the cave. If a guide considers all of the above variables and knows how to use them, there should never be "Boredom in Paradise".

Guide Training

Training is a critical factor in guide performance. This is especially true if the unrestricted tour format is to provide accurate information and a meaningful and effective experience for participants. As was pointed out by Austin and Chaney, having new guides trail along with old guides may be the cause of boredom. Besides the probability of new myths being created and wrong information being perpetuated, new guides tend to pick up bits and pieces from each tour that they follow. Their tour becomes a composite of many other guides' tours. They never really create their own tour style in which to share their personal excitement and understanding about the cave.

Following old guides is no longer a training method at Wind Cave and is not encouraged in any form during the training period. However, after guides have developed their own styles they are encouraged to go on each other's tours in order to offer suggestions for improving the tour and to share ideas. Training is designed to give the guides the building blocks with which to build their own individual tours, It consists of sessions on cave geology (both general and Wind Cave specific), types and development of speleothems, human history of the cave, caving techniques and cave exploration. Cave management and Off Trail Cave Travel Policy are also discussed. Several trips are made through the cave to allow guides to become familiar with routes, location of phones, light switches and first aid caches. They are encouraged to become very familiar with the cave and what resources and features are encountered along the tour route. In addition to the trips through the cave made as a "class", they are encouraged to make trips into the cave in small groups or alone in order to learn the "feel" of the cave.

In addition to cave oriented information, training sessions are held on communication theory and skills. In order to effectively share a message, guides need to know the theories behind good communication skills and how to communicate. The importance of good grammar, pitch, rate and volume of voice are reviewed. Other methods of communication such as how our actions either support or belie our words in non-verbal communication, are discussed. Ways in which to initiate intrapersonal communication with small groups are investigated. This communication skill is one that is crucial to reading a group in order to discover their levels of experience and interest. It also helps visitors and the guide to be more at ease and less formal with each other.

During the training process, other training sessions are presented that introduce interpretive techniques and skills to the guides. How can the information be presented most effectively, so that visitors will understand, be provoked to participate in the experience and thus retain the most from their experience? As mentioned before, there seems to be a myth that visitors to caves; want only to be entertained, to see pretty things and to be awed by the biggest, longest, wettest, darkest, or whatever! Experience has shown that the majority of visitors are thinking, caring, aware people. They are not unreceptive to factual information and issues, if these facts are relevant to their experience and knowledge. By being introduced to different and varied interpretive techniques, the guides are armed with ideas about how to involve visitors and thereby create an excitement and enthusiasm for cave resources. A person lecturing and throwing out reams of information is one technique, and is probably not the most effective one. Guides are encouraged to be creative and to develop ideas and techniques for sharing of information that will involve the visitor. Some techniques include questioning strategies, such as asking visitors to observe and provide answers or theories. Another technique might be to have samples of speleothems or photos for visitors to look at, or have available a carbide lamp or other prop that will demonstrate an idea or thought. Utilising one or all of the group to illustrate a point; perhaps asking a visitor to assist you by holding a prop or your light; or by having all the visitors test their hand-span and see just how small an area each one might be able to squeeze through, are all ways of involving the visitor. People will remember more of the information and experience if they have been actively involved in its dissemination, and not just being passive listeners.

"Thou shalt not afflict interpretation." Now that the restrictions on the type and amount of information that a guide may share have been removed, and the guide is fired up with enthusiasms, there is a real temptation for them to tell all that they know about the caves. It is important that the guides become skilled at sifting through all of the information that is available to them, and create their tour for each specific time and group, guides should be able to decide on a 'vehicle' and create a general outline of what they want to cover on the tour during the few minutes prior to beginning the activity.

It is necessary that guides keep increasing their knowledge and that they not be content with that which they learned during training. The idea is not for the guides to have reams of information that they will inflict on poor, captive audiences. However, they must have abundant information and understanding stored in order to provide an answer. For instance, the information that a guide was planning to share that would support a chosen theme on a particular tour might not have included anything about the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the developments to the cave and surface for which the CCC was responsible. The guide needs to have a knowledge of that era and the projects undertaken by the CCC in order to answer the visitor's question regarding the date that the first elevator was installed into the cave. During training, the basic information is given. It is then up to each guide to continue increasing his or her information base.

After the training has occurred, and the guide is giving tours, it is the responsibility of management to audit and evaluate those tours. This allows supervisors to see that the information is accurate and pertinent. Most importantly, it allows the supervisor to see that the information being share with visitors will produce the desired effect and meet the objectives established by management. Auditing also provides the guides with feedback about their tour and allows them the opportunity to change and improve, which will greatly increase the potential effectiveness of the tour as a management tool.

Involvement With The Cave

The last element in the formula is involvement with the cave resource by guides. Off trail trips are scheduled to several areas of the cave. These trips provide an opportunity for guides to experience the cave in its natural state. These trips are usually to areas which because of their names may elicit questions from visitors, or areas that guides often refer to on their tours. Trips might go down to the water table (The Lakes), or to an area that is rich in historic artifacts and graffiti (Guide's Discovery). If the guides have actually seen and experienced these things, they can add a personal touch to their tours by relating their experiences first hand. Nothing aids infectious enthusiasm more than the personal experience. It helps visitors to realise that the guide is human, and gives the visitor something to emulate. Visitors become enthusiastic about caves because the guide is enthused and interested in caves.

On trips into the wild sections of the cave, guides practice caving techniques that will enable them to move safely through the cave and will cause the least impact to the resources. They are encouraged to participate in different types of trips. Opportunities are available to assist in surveying, inventorying cave resources, or any monitoring projects that are in progress. Cave restoration projects such as algae control, removing graffiti or litter and trash are excellent projects for creating a feeling of involvement and commitment to the cave's protection. By providing employees opportunities to interact with the cave to have a role in its management, they are going to be committed to cave preservation and stewardship, and will want to share that idea with the visitors they encounter on their tours.

The results of these changes in the focus of interpretation and the methods of presenting cave tours at Wind Cave have been encouraging. The guides admit that the theme concept is more demanding because it does not allow them to develop one "outstanding" tour and use it over and over all season long. Having to stay alert and make use of new information, new participants on every tour, and their own changing perceptions has increased their interest. Tours have improved, and the guides' interest and enthusiasm for the cave is evident in the tours that are being presented. Enthusiasm has grown, not only for Wind Cave, but there is more of an interest in other caves. Guides are not bored, or boring! They are taking an interest in the cave and volunteering to assist with management projects. The enthusiasm and concern is infectious. If a guide can succeed in causing a visitor to question some of the management strategies that are not in the best interest of the cave (i.e. why are propane torches being used in the cave to dry the trail? or what effect does building a parking lot over a cave have on the cave?) through participation on a Wind Cave tour, then management has been successful in its attempts to share with visitors the unique and fragile wholeness of caves. The goal of creating an awareness in the visitor about the value of caves has been met.

At Wind Cave the interpretation on the special resource of this particular cave system. However, the message that we strive to present is that Wind Cave is an example of one of the many equally beautiful and unique cave resources found in the world. All caves contain are deserving of our interest and respect. Through interpretation at Wind Cave, visitors can gain an understanding of the value and uniqueness of caves by understanding the interrelationship of Wind Cave to the surface above, and the strange and little understood processes that created the beauty found in this cave system visitors will gain an appreciation for these underground worlds. By appreciating the fragileness, timelessness and processes occurring in Wind Cave, perhaps visitors will gain a desire to protect and preserve all caves and the resources associated with them. This is the goal of interpretation at Wind Cave.

1 Grant Sharp, Interpreting the environment, (New York, 1976, page 31)

2 W H Clark, The Interpretive Programs of the National Parks: Their Development, Present Status and Reception by the Public, (New York, 1949)