New interpretive signs are in place along the trail that passes through the meadow and out to Miller Point. They represent a project jointly supported by the Alutiiq Museum, Alaska State Parks, the City of Kodiak, and the National Park Service. They're useful both for identification of the plants and conveying information on traditional uses by the Alutiiq people of some of our common species for food, medicine, raw material, and ritual practices. (There are additional interpretive signs from the project at Rotary Park on Near Island.) A first-rate job has been done on the signs, and they're not particularly intrusive. Posting signs in parks actually becomes a delicate issue, an issue which was a matter for discussion as this project was being carried out. The interpretive role must be balanced with the desire to provide a reasonably pristine environment, with a minimum of jarring by obvious evidence of human presence. Both information and rules need to be conveyed without posting signs all over the Park.
There are whole books written about guidelines for natural area signage. The cover of one of my favorites shows a crowd clustered around a park sign which reads, "At this point, since 1954, thousands of tourists have stopped to read this meaningless sign." I first stumbled upon this body of literature when faced with the need to post a simple message about not picking wildflowers. Besides the conspicuousness of the signs themselves, there is the possibility of setting an overly-authoritarian tone to visitors to the Park. It does seem that park rules are most effectively communicated when reasons for regulations are given, and well as consequences for violation. Picking wildflowers in the meadow, for instance, means both disturbing the environment in which they are growing and destroying the ability of those flowers to reproduce, sometimes for years. That last is a consequence that can push a threatened species over the biological edge. In my third summer at Fort Abercrombie, I can already see the negative impact on a few of our rare species. Picking those flowers shows some self-centered behavior that diminishes everyone else's opportunity to enjoy them.
One perennial issue which falls in the park rules category is occasional vandalism and trashing of park areas. Unfortunately, signs aren't particularly effective in these cases. Some dedicated park staff bear the brunt of these events, which take them away from tasks needing to be accomplished simply to keep the Park running well. One park staff member, at a particularly frustrating moment, wished that park vandals could realize that there are actual people who get stuck with cleaning and repair chores in the Park--even to the point of wondering if it might help to leave a note for a particular group of repeaters, something like: "I know you're raging against the machine and all, but I'm the person who has to clean up after you. My name is ---, I have a big black dog, and my hobbies are rock climbing and cooking. Well, that's about it. See you on Rezanof." An idealistic approach, perhaps, but one sending the message that making the Park an enjoyable place is labor intensive, and is only possible because of efforts of some committed and talented individuals.
Come out to the meadow this summer, learn from the handsome new interpretive signs. And give out a thank you to park staff you might meet.