Interpretation & Education
The Interpretation and Education toolbox is a ‘work in progress’ and represents information available to date on this subject. Toolboxes are comprehensively reviewed and updated approximately every three years, with intermittent small updates and additions in the interim. To suggest new materials for inclusion, email Lisa Ronald at email@example.com. Date of last update: 07/17/2018.
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."
FS Wilderness Education Policy
FS Wilderness Education Policy
Section 6.4.2: Wilderness Interpretation and Education
In the context of interpretive and educational planning, national park system units with wilderness resources will (1) operate public education programs designed to promote and perpetuate public awareness of and appreciation for wilderness character, resources, and ethics while providing for acceptable use limits; (2) focus on fostering an understanding of the concept of wilderness that includes respect for the resource, willingness to exercise self-restraint in demanding access to it, and an ability to adhere to appropriate, minimum-impact techniques; and (3) encourage the public to use and accept wilderness on its own terms-that is, the acceptance of an undeveloped, primitive environment and the assumption of the potential risks and responsibilities involved in using and enjoying wilderness areas. NPS interpretive plans and programs for wilderness parks will address the primary interpretive themes for wilderness. Education is among the most effective tools for dealing with wilderness use and management problems and should generally be applied before more restrictive management tools should be prohibited in NPS wilderness.
FS Guides, Templates, and Handbooks
10 Year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge
Introduction and Primer
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 Cycle for 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 template has 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.
Where can I find examples of wilderness education plans?
A sample of current wilderness education plans is provided below in the Example Education Plans section. The example plans provided vary in detail, format, and length but serve to demonstrate various approaches to wilderness education planning and implementation. Additional education plans will be posted as examples as they become available.
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. If it can be shown that an education program is having a direct effect on reducing human caused impacts support for future emphasis and funding should follow.
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?
A NEPA analysis (EA, CE) is probably not required to prepare or implement. Any new ground disturbing activity that might be connected to the education plan (i.e. construction of a new visitor contact station, etc.) can be done through a site specific analysis for that project. The education plan could be included in an overall wilderness management plan (which could be an EA to amend a forest plan) as an appendix or addendum if desirable.
The wilderness education plan should be approved by the local agency administrator (line officer). The approval process not only documents and justifies the basis for work planning and expenditures but provides an opportunity for the Line Officer or Agency Administrator to become involved and an increase in understanding of the importance of wilderness education in an overall wilderness stewardship program.
Education Plan Template Package (created by Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards)
Example Education Plans
- Admiralty Island Wilderness Education Plan
- Apache-Sitgreaves Wilderness Education Plan
- Bitterroot Education Action Plan
- Boulder Creek/Mt. Thielsen/Rogue-Umpqua Divide Plan
- BWCAW Education Strategy
- BWCAW Education Plan
- Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Education Plan
- Fossil Spring Wilderness Education Plan
- Granite Chief Wilderness Education Plan
- Green Mountain National Forest Education Plan
- Gros Ventre Wilderness Education Plan
- Holy Cross Wilderness Education Plan
- Hume Lake Ranger District Wilderness Education Plan
- Indian Peaks Wilderness Education Plan
- Los Padres National Forest Wilderness Education Plan
- Malhuer National Forest Wilderness Education Plan
- Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Education Plan
- Mazatzal Wilderness Education Plan
- Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area Education Plan
- Region 6 Wilderness Interpretation and Education Plan
- Salt Lake Ranger District Wilderness Education Plan
- Sawtooth Wildlands Education Plan
- Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Education Plan
- Southern Cascades Wilderness Education Plan
- Stanislaus National Forest Wilderness Education Plan
White Mountain National Forest
K-12 Curriculum Resources
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.
Toolkit for Grades 3-4
Toolkit for Grades 5-8
Toolkit for High School
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 1
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 2 Option 1
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 2 Option 2A
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 2 Option 2B
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 2 Option 3
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 3
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 4
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 5
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 6
- Wilderness 101 Lesson 7
- Self-Guided Study Guide 1 Wild by Law
- Self-guided Study Guide 2 American Values
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 1
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 2
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 3
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 4
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 5
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 6
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 7
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 8
- Wilderness Applications Lesson 9
- Wilderness Hero 1
- Wilderness Hero 2
- Wilderness Hero 3
- Wilderness Hero 4
- Wilderness Hero 5
- Wilderness Hero 6
- Wilderness Hero 7
- Wilderness Hero 8
- Wilderness Hero Biography Template
- Wilderness Profile 1
- Wilderness Profile 2
- Wilderness Profile 3
- Wilderness Profile 4
- Wilderness Profile 5
- Wilderness Profile 6
- Wilderness Profile 7
- Wilderness Profile 8
- Wilderness Education: An Effective Management Tool (138MB)
Highlights types and uses of wilderness education, presents a variety of historical and present-day examples and provides advice and resources.
- Wilderness Education: Rekindling the Flame (41.1 MB)
Highlights strategies to revive, re-emphasize, refresh, and evaluate education programs.
- A Wilderness Forever Future: The Need for Wilderness Education (10.1 MB)
Presentation focuses on challenges related to public perceptions of wilderness and opportunities. Examples presented are from the Shenandoah Wilderness.
- Green Mountain National Forest Wilderness: An Enduring Resource (12.1 MB)
Highlights some of the forest’s wilderness areas and recent additions, covers the public purposes of wilderness, and explore the role of Wilderness Rangers.
Research and Publications
- Authority of the Resource
Dr. George Wallace 7ppg. This paper outlines an approach to wilderness education that emphasizes convincing visitors to do the right thing for the wilderness instead of a more authoritative approach.
- Designing Your Wilderness Education Plan
Kristen Meyer and Susan Thomas. 27ppg. This paper presents general information and guidelines for writing a wilderness education action plan. This is the result of a challenge cost share project between the Forest Service and Wilderness Watch.
- Education, the Key to Preservation
Gregory F. Hansen. 1989. Presented at Managing America's Enduring Wilderness Resource: A Conference. Minneapolis, MN.
- The Efficacy of Visitor Education Programs
Scott Reid and Jeff Marion. This paper assesses the efficacy of low impact visitor education based on a review of existing research in backcountry and wilderness settings.
- An Evaluation of the Wilderness and Land Ethic Curriculum and Teacher Workshops
Kari Gunderson and Leo H. McAvoy. April 2003. International Journal of Wilderness: Volume 9(1): 38-40, 35.
- Wilderness Visitor Education: Information About Alternative Techniques
Joseph E. Doucette and David N. Cole. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-295. Ogden, UT: USDA For. Serv., Intermountain Research Station 37p. Leopold Publication Number 234. 1993.
- Wild Child: A Resource Manual for Youth Wilderness Education Professionals
Forest Service Wilderness Advisory Group. This document compiles input from a wide range of professionals promoting wilderness education for youth. It is a compendium of resources meant to benefit educators at the field level as well leaders at the programmatic level. The intent has been to cover a breadth of areas critical to ensuring the success of youth wilderness education programs.
- Transforming Youth Outdoors
An online community and currated collection of outdoor education best practices and learning resources for individuals and organizations working to get youth outdoors.
- Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute Publication Search
- Educational Resources Information Center
- Leave No Trace, Inc.
- Leopold Education Project
- Sierra Wild
Handouts, Brochures, Forms, etc.
Leave No Trace
- Leave No Trace Certificate
- Essentials for Backpacking Pocket Card
- Essentials for Day Hiking Pocket Card
- When Nature Calls Card
- BWCAW Wind and Fire Information
- Gallatin NF Wilderness Fast Facts
- Pacific Northwest Wilderness Pocket Guide
- Pacific Northwest Wilderness Outfitter Pocket Guide
- Uncompahgre Wilderness Opportunity Guide
- Boy Scout Program flyer
- Campfire brochure
- Fire Pans brochure
- Large Group Contact letter
- Large Group Contact form
- LNT Program Survey
- Restaurant Display 1
- Restaurant Display 2
- Stock User's Guide
- Stock User's Guide (Microsoft Publisher Booklet)
- Evening Campfire Program (Shenandoah NP)
- Puppet Show (Sawtooth NF)
- What is Wilderness Activity (Gulf Islands National Seashore)
- Wilderness Metaphors Activity (Gulf Islands National Seashore)
- Wilderness Resource Immersion Outline (Shenandoah NP)
- Wilderness, Who Cares For It? Activity (Gulf Islands National Seashore)
- Wildlands Education Program (Sawtooth NF) Program Binder (.zip file)
- Wilderness Wonder Presentation (Lava Beds NM) (26.3 MB)
An evening program for the public focusing on the Lava Beds Wilderness. Provides a short history of wilderness in addition to many diverse and inspirations images.
Junior Ranger/Kid/Youth Activities
- Chiricahua NM "What is Wilderness?" Worksheet
- Fire Island Junior Ranger Wilderness Activity Booklet (Activity 7)
- The Wild Side of Shenandoah: Ranger Explorer Activity Guide
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.
- Activities and Adventures Book
- Materials Set
- Patch (Patches must be ordered from Tammy at Carolina Emblem Company, 864-468-4963)
Kids Guide & Activity Book to Eastern Nevada Wilderness
Nature Journal Artist's Workbook
Outdoor Explorers Mentoring Program
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
Posters, Waysides, and Displays
- "Chiricahua Mountain Wilderness" wayside sign (Chiricahua National Monument)
- "Stepping into Wilderness" wayside sign (Great Sand Dunes National Park)
- Signs and Posters Toolbox
- Visitor Center Wilderness Display (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park)
- "Wilderness" wayside sign (Chiricahua National Monument)