First-place award reflects importance of centering Indigenous voices
What an honor! The National Association for Interpretation (NAI) has recognized Save the Redwoods League and its partners for interpretive excellence on the Grove of Titans project in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.
The League was thrilled to receive first place in the NAI’s Interpretive Media Awards, which promote excellence in the delivery of natural, cultural, and historical nonpersonal interpretive services. Grove of Titans was selected from projects all over the United States, giving national recognition to the importance of inclusive storytelling and redwood conservation.
From the start, Indigenous perspectives were central to storytelling and interpretation along the new boardwalk and restored trail at Grove of Titans. “Since the site is on the traditional lands of the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, it was important to us that Tolowa voices, stories, and culture be included throughout,” says Deborah Zierten, League education and interpretation manager. “Having the Tolowa language, art, and stories on all the interpretive panels was a way to show visitors that the Tribe is living and active, rather than something from the past.”
The League worked closely with EDX Exhibits on the exhibit designs and partnered with the Redwood Parks Conservancy, Redwood National and State Parks, and the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation on the interpretive content. Says Zierten, “We were so fortunate to have a representative from the Tolowa on the interpretive team to guide us through how the Tribe wanted to be represented.”
Protecting giant redwoods while telling a larger story
Home to some of the tallest trees on the planet, the Grove of Titans was for many years inaccessible and relatively hidden, though local Indigenous peoples have sustained relationships with this sacred redwood forest since time immemorial.
When the grove’s location was revealed, visitation increased dramatically. So did negative impacts. Hikers created unofficial “social” trails to reach the old-growth giants, destroying understory plants and compacting soils. This also impacted the redwoods’ shallow root systems, threatening the long-term survival of the grove itself.
In 2019, Save the Redwoods League, Redwood National and State Parks, and the Redwood Parks Conservancy joined together to protect the grove. To shelter sensitive root s, the partners constructed a 1,300-foot elevated walkway around the base of the giant trees. The team also improved the existing Mill Creek Trail and updated all interpretative elements.
The interpretation story along the trail focused on the incredible natural history of the grove, the importance of redwoods conservation (and staying on-trail), and the enduring relationships between the Tolowa people and the land. Interpretive elements included tactile models of various animals and a tactile trail map for visitors with blindness or low vision.
What started as a rescue mission for threatened redwoods became an opportunity to share a larger story with people from around the world. “Originally visitors flocked to the park to see a collection of amazing trees,” says Zierten. “Now they will walk away with a greater appreciation and understanding of the entire ecosystem and the Tolowa culture.”