Monument chief up for national interpretive award

Michelle Wheatley, chief of interpretation, education and visitor services at the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, is under consideration for a national award for her efforts.

Wheatley received the regional Freeman Tilden Award for excellence in interpretation. She’s now among seven regional winners under consideration for the national award, scheduled for presentation in November at the National Association for Interpretation annual workshop.

The award, sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS) and National Parks Conservation Association, is among the highest presented to an NPS interpreter. Nominees are selected on the basis of their creativity, originality and contributions to enhancing public understanding of the NPS and the resources it protects.

Wheatley was nominated for establishing the junior ranger explorers day camp at the Colorado National Monument. For eight weeks each summer, third- to sixth-grade students from surrounding communities participate in a variety of educational activities at the monument. Sessions focus on such themes as botany, geology, insects, park history, raptors, reptiles, water conservation and wildlife biology.

The goal of the program is to connect youth with the monument, the NPS and its mission to protect natural and cultural resources.
Since its inception in 2008, the camp has served more than 1,300 students. For the past three years, Wheatley has obtained various grants to fund the camp as well as interpretive staff positions leading the camp and associated transportation costs.