Interpretation & Education

The  Interpretation and Education toolbox is a ‘work in progress’ and represents information available to date on this subject. Contact us to suggest new materials for inclusion.


The Wilderness Act specifically calls out education as one of the features of value in the definition of Wilderness (Section 2(c)) and as one of the public purposes of Wilderness (Section 4(b)). Wilderness education may be a component to a given wilderness area’s wilderness character and so vital the general public. Furthermore, it is vital to professional land managers as a tool to further the protection of other qualities of wilderness character. It can be focused understanding the legal responsibilities required of stewardship and on the values our society finds in Wilderness such as a connection to place, providing clean water, and ensuring some lands endure “in their natural condition”. This Toolbox provides resources to help improve the effectiveness of Wilderness education.

Law and Policy

The Wilderness Act

Section 2(a): Statement of Purpose

"...there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by the Congress as "wilderness areas," and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness;..."

Section 2(c): Definition of Wilderness

"(4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

Section 4(b): Use of Wilderness Areas

"Except as otherwise provided in this Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use."

>Section 2(c): Definition of Wilderness

"(4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

Section 4(b): Use of Wilderness Areas

"Except as otherwise provided in this Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use."

Wilderness Messages

Developed by an interagency team, these messages are intended for use with “in-reach”— outreach to agency employees — and outreach by agency staff and partners. Tailored use of these messages can
help to grow awareness and understanding of wilderness, and messages can be integrated into many forms of communication including websites, social media, news releases, bulletin boards, and staff-led activities.

Education Planning

Why is a wilderness education plan necessary?

Wilderness education and information is a basic, fundamental, and essential part of an overall wilderness stewardship program. Most administrative actions implemented as part of wilderness stewardship are focused on management of human caused impacts and providing opportunities for wilderness dependent recreation or solitude. Without an adequate education and information program other types of management actions (i.e. regulations, restoration, etc.) are far less likely to succeed.

Does each wilderness need an education plan?

Wilderness Education Plans can be prepared for an individual wilderness or for a group of wildernesses with similar issues and audiences. The objective is to comprehensively address all wilderness management issues for a multi-year period. National or Regional Wilderness Education Strategies or Emphasis Items will mandate incorporation of certain items in the wilderness education plan. An annual Wilderness Education Action or Implementation Plan may be prepared to determine which portions of the multi-year education plan will be implemented each year and allow for consideration of new or emerging issues. (Alternatively, annual wilderness education action items could be incorporated into a Wilderness Implementation Schedule.) See the Planning and Implementation Cyclefor a diagram that portrays how the various national, regional, and unit wilderness education efforts fit together.

Is there a standard format for education plans?

An education plan templatehas been prepared as a guide for preparation of a multi-year wilderness education plan. This template was developed by identifying common successful items in examples of existing wilderness education plans solicited from all agencies. The template is not agency policy but can be used as a tool to help identify the key issues, audiences, messages, and monitoring necessary to prepare and implement a successful wilderness education plan. A key part of the implementation and success of a wilderness education plan will be preparation of subsequent annual action plans for wilderness education that describe realistic projects that will be implemented each year.

How long does a wilderness education plan have to be?

The simple answer is; long enough to be effective. There is not set size guideline for a wilderness education plan. Examples provided below in the Example Education Plans section range from a few pages to dozens of pages. The objective is to include the key elements of what is needed for a wilderness education plan and create a plan that is complete but concise and easy to pull of the shelf and implement.

How can I get support for wilderness education planning and implementation?

A key component of any wilderness education program is monitoring during and after implementation. Monitoring is necessary to determine if the prescribed education actions are effective and also for reporting, work planning, and budgeting purposes.

Examples of monitoring might include campsite and other inventory and re-inventory done over time to show a trend in campsite condition, litter, social trails, short-cutting switchbacks, etc. Another example of monitoring might be wilderness ranger reports or journals of observations and public contacts that document visitor contacts and resource conditions to indicate if the education message reached the visitors and what methods were most effective. Formal surveys done by research scientists or university graduate students may also be effective forms of education plan monitoring.

Does a wilderness education plan require NEPA or approvals?

Consult your NEPA coordinator for the degree of analysis that might be required (Agency policy varies). Simple programs may not require documented NEPA analysis, but a program that includes a 4(c) prohibited use would require an EA at a minimum. A program that may diminish the experience of other visitors likely also would require an EA. The education plan could be included in an overall wilderness management plan if desirable. Involve interdisciplinary staff and management in the development of an education plan.

K-12 Curriculum Resources

Wilderness Investigations

This new curriculum is meant to motivate teachers to get students outside to investigate wilderness and wild elements locally. The curriculum is available online for grades 3-4, 5-9 and high school. Two-day teacher training workshops are also available.

Training Materials

PowerPoint Presentation Templates

Helpful Handouts and Exercises

Reference Materials

Program Materials

Wilderness Explorer Junior Ranger Program

The new Wilderness Explorer Junior Ranger activity book is designed for ages 8 through adult, targeting two groups: Kids who already may have completed the Junior Ranger book, and older kids drawn to the program. The book is flexible enough to adapt to any area with wilderness resources (whether formally designated or not). Junior Rangers can complete it by individual work, by asking questions of adults and rangers, and by research at a visitor center or on the Internet. The book also contains an answer key.

Kids Guide & Activity Book to Eastern Nevada Wilderness

Nature Journal Artist's Workbook


The Outdoor Explorers Mentoring Program is an outdoor education program that provides monthly outdoor recreation and education experiences for Bigs and Littles in a local Big/Brothers/Big Sisters chapter. Using program elements designed by the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, a local college/university outdoor organization (mentors/planners) and a federal agency (program overseers), work with their BB/BS partners to plan, promote, and facilitate meaningful and memorable outdoor experiences. Although initiated in Missoula, Montana, the program's replication guide can be used to start an outdoor mentoring program in your community.

Select Replication Guide Appendices