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  • Writer's pictureGecko Group

Interpretation in Nature Centers: Communicating Big Stories in Small Spaces

Updated: Apr 26

Here in Pennsylvania, beautiful, natural spaces surround us. From State Parks and Forests to preserves, municipal green spaces and beyond, we have myriad opportunities to appreciate nature. Beyond providing access to outdoor recreation, most organizations also have educational missions. They seek to engage visitors with wildlife interpretation, raise their awareness of conservation issues, and help inspire them to become stewards of the natural world. Often, their spaces have small buildings that must serve a range of uses, including visitor centers. With limited space, it is important to use all the best items in your toolbox to communicate to the public.



Maximizing impact (and content) with limited space


Many locations don’t have a lot of extra space for interpretive experiences, in these cases, thinking creatively is critical to a successful outcome. There are a number of ways to boost visitor engagement by integrating interpretive content, hands-on activities, and even digital displays. With careful planning and creative design, your small spaces can come alive for visitors. We’ve included just a few examples below:



Deliver interpretive content without a dedicated gallery space



This colorful, contemporary mural was installed in the small lobby area of a park’s administrative office. The design took advantage of the high, wide windows to maximize the limited space for optimal messaging. 



 


Create modular units for multi-use spaces



These creative rolling units encourage visitors to use their senses when exploring nature. Each station is double sided, with content and hands-on interactives on both sides, as well as mobile boxes that can be taken to a seating area for deeper exploration. The space is used for environmental education programs, so all elements roll out of the way to the room’s perimeter when needed.



 


Consider unique surfaces for interpretive content



The porch off the back of the Environmental Learning Center (ELC) is primarily used for bird-watching programs. The bird silhouettes and wrapped columns help visitors recognize and understand the process of birding without obstructing the view.


Spin towers along the pathway to the ELC allow visitors to explore the variety of species they may see in the park in each season.   



Originally planned as just a simple wall mural in a classroom, this design incorporates spin panels to allow visitors to learn about the species represented in the image.



 


Layer specialized content in tight spaces



Layered and tiered information doesn't have to be delivered digitally. This hands-on element uses a series of sliders to deliver different levels of geographic forestry information.



 


Whatever the parameters, we love collaborating with clients to create unique, elegant interpretive experiences. Does your organization want to increase its storytelling? What is your favorite example of efficient interpretation in small spaces?


Comment below!




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