River Talk

Interpretation and Place-Making

Bridge at Father Hennepin Bluffs Park near St. Anthony FallsToo often, "interpretation" boils down to questions solely of what stories to tell and how. Should there be a podcast? Where should markers be placed? Do we talk about nature as well as social history?

Like a decision between ketchup or mustard on a sandwich, these questions affect the flavor of a place but do not really get to the heart of the matter. The "meat" of the issue, if you'll excuse the pun, in place-based interpretation is what are the visitor experiences of this place and how can informal learning enhance that experience?

Last Monday, in a bold move that may mark a turning point in its history, the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Board (SAFHB) approved the concepts and principles for a new interpretive plan. Several things mark this plan as a new direction: 

It is based on research into the audience in the historic district, both the present audience and who agency planners hope will visit. 

There is a clear and reiterated acknowledgement of the importance of native people to the place. 

The plan remains open on particularities of theme, story, method, and other technical particulars of interpretation, but is very clear that the power of the place--nature, spiritual connectivity, history, urban vitality--is the base upon which any future programming should be built. 

The plan looks out to and engages the potential of new partners to the district's planning. The Heritage Board, established by Minnesota state law in 1988 as a collaboration of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, City of Minneapolis, and Hennepin County, has done heroic work in moving the district from a place that is neglected to one that is desirable. In addition to renewed commitment from traditional partners, other groups are needed to help it become memorable. 

St. Anthony Falls is a place of world significance in human and natural history. The new plan is a call to action for the Board to live up to that significance. 

The Plan can be found in pdf format on the SAFHB website. Scroll down to "2009 Interpretive Plan" to find the download links.

  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.