Friday, November 25, 2016


Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

For the last two months, I have been mulling over the best conference of my career—CampingCon 2016. The theme of the conference was “Public History in the Outdoors” and the format was--we camped. The conference occurred at Cade’s Cove campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Best conference name tag ever!
But wait, you say, you can’t have a conference in a campground! What about Powerpoint? What about Starbucks? How did people present? WHAT ABOUT BEARS??!!
 Andrew Denson and Lynda Doucette talk about Cherokee
Indians and historical interpretation at the park.
The conference agenda is here. Presentations took a variety of forms. Some folks presented their research in the form of a casual conference talk—working from a few notes, and perhaps using a map or circulating some handouts as they spoke. These took place at the picnic area (or under the pavilion on rainy Saturday morning.) It worked great, as the more casual atmosphere and intimacy encouraged questions and conversations.

Other presentation involved what I learned is “kinesthetic learning” or what you may know as “taking a walk." Brian Forist combined the two in his session on Two-Way Interpretation, first drawing out the audience in a guided discussion in the picnic shelter, then demonstrating the interpretive technique on a walk in the campground.

The most successful experiment was the hike and talks led by Aaron Ahlstrom and Jared Champion (and Caty the dog). We walked to the John Oliver cabin, and there we spoke about the 20th-century presentation of log cabins, scrape versus save preservation, and the fact that the restoration of this cabin was financed by Log Cabin syrup.

Aaron Ahlstrom, sharing the knowledge.
Then we walked another half mile to a spot where we could see the ridges on either side of Cades Cave. On a perfect and bugless afternoon, Jared Champion spoke of how Benton MacKaye’s sense of gender identity explains why there is no water along the Appalachian Trail through the park.
Jared Champion and Katy
Our keynotes were campfire talks. On the first night Nigel Fields, Chief of Resource Education, spoke about interpretation in the park. On the second, we had a discussion of the assigned reading for the conference, the book Black Faces, White Spaces by Carolyn Finney. Dr. Tameria Warren facilitated the conversation over some difficult topics.

Sunday morning we gathered for a conference wrap up. We shared what we had learned in the two days of conferencing about doing public history in the outdoors. And then we discussed the format—what worked, what could be better. Most of all, we excitedly discussed future Camping Cons. Because it had quickly become clear that this was a replicable model, that just as THAT Camps went from a yearly conference to an international movement, so could Camping Con.

Dear Readers, who among you would like to help organize a Pacific Northwest Camping Con? I am thinking Mount Ranier--a storied site with close access to Seattle, Spokane, and Portland. But a Camping Con can take place anywhere with a group campground and some landscape to interpret. Mount Hood, the Oregon Coast, or the Columbia River Gorge have numerous sites where we could do a Camping Con. Whose with me?


Karl Johnson said...

Sign me up. That sounds really cool. The only issue is MT rainier camp sites can fill up fast, and for the more popular ones during the most popular time of year they can fill up months ahead of time. The organizer would need to check on availability and then go from their.

Larry Cebula said...

Right. It may already be late for Rainier next summer. I wonder if there is a spot in the Columbia River Gorge? Weather might be more reliable.

Krish Banzet said...
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