John Veverka & Associates

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Interpretive Consultants

Provoke, Relate, Reveal and more!

For the Cutting edge in Heritage Interpretation

Interpretive Planning, Training, Evaluation and more!

World Wide

5010 Delray Dr. Lansing, Michigan 48910

(517) 899-4548 (we've gone mobile)

SKYPE: jvainterp

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From interpretive planning for castles in Wales for the National Trust and bird sanctuaries in Michigan for the Kellogg Biological Station, to interpretive training in Alabama for the US Army Corps of Engineers, and museum exhibit evaluation in Wisconsin - (bottom row) and critiquing ancient temples interpretation on Malta for Malta Heritage, prehistoric archaeological site interpretation in Utah for Nine Mile Canyon/BLM, and docent/interpretive staff training for the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, we do that - and more!

Heritage Interpretation: Interpretive Planning, Training and Consultation Services

Serving Parks, Museums, Historic Sites, Zoos & Botanical Gardens, Heritage Tourism Sites and Facilities, Commercial Tourism Attractions, and related interpretive sites and facilities -




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(Note: This paper is from a presentation at the National Scenic Byways Program National Conference, August, 1999, Louisville, KY).


Why Your Scenic Byway Can’t

Succeed without "Real" Interpretation.


John A. Veverka

Heritage Interpretation & Tourism Planner




A Scenic Byway with out interpretation is just "another pretty road"!

At first this may sound dramatic that the success of a scenic byway depends on the amount of and quality of heritage interpretation associated with it. But that statement is in fact TRUE!

To byway users, especially those who have driven the route "before" it was designated a scenic byway, it’s just a road to get to and from someplace. For potential heritage tourists, it just might be a scenic route – but they will see lots of those on their trips. So what makes this scenic byway so special? That’s the job and role of the byway interpretive plan, and byway interpretive media and services. It is the interpretive communications strategy that will help each visitor understand the unique and special stories associated with each unique byway. Interpretation reveals the story of the people, places and events that have occurred, or are occurring along the byway, and help guide visitors through a living museum of regional natural and cultural heritage. It changes the byway from being a "place" to being an edutainment experience. It gives the byway a totally unique character, personality and life. Without interpretation, it’s just a road!


What is Interpretation?

While you may have heard of "interpretation" and the need for it to be an essential part of the total byway planning and experience, you may not know exactly what interpretation, and interpretive communications is.

Interpretation is defined as "a communication process designed to REVEAL meanings and relationships of our cultural and natural heritage to the public, through first hand experiences with objects, artifacts, landscapes, or sites".

Information vs Interpretation Most byway "interpretation" is not really interpretive! It is just "information". Lots of facts, figures, pictures, dates, or other data arranged and presented to visitors via signage, brochures, cassette tapes, or other media given to visitors. In many cases it presents "answers to questions that visitors are not asking"!

Interpretive communication takes the "information" – transforms and translates the information into "the language of the visitor". To be truly "interpretive", the message (interpretive panel, brochure, etc.) must follow the following criteria:

bulletThe communication must first Provoke the attention or curiosity of the audience.
bulletRelate to the everyday life of the visitor – tell them "why they need to know this information".
bulletReveal the key concepts of the message or story through a unique viewpoint – save the surprise ending or answer for last.
bulletAddress the Whole – illustrate to the visitor how each individual stop along the byway relates to the larger main interpretive theme or educational concept of the total byway experience or story.
bulletHave Message Unity – the design and presentation of the interpretive media along the total byway will have a uniformed themed look (design, fonts, historic dating, etc.).


Interpretive Planning for Scenic Byways – basic considerations.

In developing an interpretive plan for any scenic byway, the following areas are essential to the successful communication of the byway story to the visitors.

bulletConduct an interpretive story inventory along the total byway (historic sites, industrial sites, natural sites and features, historic events, current sites/events of interest, view sheds, perceptually exciting areas (visitor perceptual psychology), etc.
bulletDevelop a main interpretive theme, sub-theme and story line for the byway. This might include developing a variety of themed self-guiding tours based on visitor interests such as: railroad heritage stops, historic landscapes, geology tours, industrial heritage tours, watchable wildlife tours, natural history from the car window tour stops, etc.
bulletDevelop very specific learning, behavioral, and emotional objectives that the total scenic byway tourism/education experience is to accomplish. Then develop specific interpretive objectives for each individual byway stop.
bulletAudience or market analysis – who are the current or potential byway users or potential tourists, what kinds of heritage topics would they most be interested in, what are their travel destinations, why would they want to drive this byway. In any heritage tourism marketing you only market one thing "BENEFITS". What are the specific benefits that a byway visitor would get from driving the byway?
bulletDetermine the most cost effective interpretive media for the byway: Interpretive Panels (number, size, locations); self-guiding booklets; self-guiding cassette tapes, step-on guides for tour busses, etc.
bulletDevelop an implementation strategy for the byway interpretation. This would include costs of media, development and installation times, maintenance or distribution considerations, etc.
bulletEvaluation – it is important to pre-test any/all interpretive media (panels, self-guiding booklets, etc.) to make sure that the interpretive objectives are met, and that the visitors can easily understand, relate to, and remember the information being presented to them by the media in question.


You see or hear interpretive communications in use every day!

It is important to remember where "interpretation" and interpretive communication has its roots. Interpretation communications techniques, principals, and practices come from the following professions and academic subject areas:


bulletConsumer Behavior
bulletPsychology of the Audience
bulletNon-Formal Learning theories
bulletRecreation Planning and/or historic site planning
bulletAnd more!!!


Interpretation and advertising:  Based on the above, essentially every advertisement you see or hear is based on interpretive principles: ads must Provoke, Relate, and Reveal to the potential user: why they need this product or experience, how the product or experience will benefit them, and how easy to obtain or inexpensive the product is in relationship to its benefits. These are the same principals we use in developing interpretive plans and media. This is how we "market" the byway experience.

Ten reasons your byway needs "interpretation" to be successful.

Of course this depends on how you define "success". I define success based, in part, on how well the educational and tourism development objectives are accomplished. Here are my "ten reasons", not in any particular order of importance you need interpretation:

  1. Regional residents/byway users will gain a greater appreciation and pride in their own local heritage.

  3. Regional residents may be inspired to take a more active role in the stewardship of local natural and heritage sites and features.
  4. Regional residents may take on a individual pride in the byway resource (have a sense of community ownership in the byway).
  5. The byway interpretation serves as a "heritage tourism" draw or enhancement to bring other visitors to the communities, sites or attractions located along the byway. This may have direct positive economic impact to these communities or heritage sites.
  6. Visitors will use the byway in a safer and more responsible manner.
  7. Visitors will have a positive educational as well as recreational experience, learning more about the natural and cultural history of the region(s) they are passing through.
  8. The byway interpretation of local natural or cultural history may inspire visitors to visit other nearby heritage sites – helping regional heritage tourism grow.
  9. Byway interpretation can increase repeat use of the route for recreation/scenic driving.
  10. Having a variety of interpretive themes and topics of interest can increase the marketability or use of the byway by more diverse target market groups.
  11. Interpretation can present information at a variety of experience and educational levels, helping to expand the marketability of the byway and its associated attractions.

These are a few of the desired outcomes for a "successful" scenic byway interpretive program or plan. These outcomes will not happen without "interpretation"! So as Paul Harvey would say "now you know the rest of the story" as to why you need interpretation to have a truly successful scenic byway.



Veverka, John A. Interpretive Master Planning, 1994, Acron Naturalists, Tustin, CA.

Veverka, John A. "Interpretive Communications – The Key to Successful Heritage Tourism Marketing, Planning and Program Design", 1998. Occasional paper presented at a number of interpretation and heritage tourism conferences in the US, Wales, England, and Scotland. (This and other interpretation articles are available for downloading at our LIBRARY found at our web site:

John Veverka, PO Box 189, Laingsburg, MI 48848 517/651-5441 E-Mail: