Park Ranger shares knowledge of city’s history, culture

Seattle Park Ranger Peggy Bohan speaks to visitors at Victor Steinbrueck Park.

 

How many buildings were destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of 1889? How many coffee shops does Seattle have per 1,000 people? What was the catalyst that helped establish Pike Place Market?

You don’t know? Seattle Park Ranger Peggy Bohan does:  116,  3.5 and the skyrocketing price of onions (respectively).

This September, Park Ranger Bohan launched a new series of interpretive talks at Victor Steinbrueck Park. When most people hear the word “interpretive,” they think of foreign language interpretation, but Bohan explains that in the ranger world, interpretive means connecting people with what makes a place special.

Interpretation is about helping people find their own meaning and value of a place by presenting information in a way that helps forge intellectual and emotional connections, Bohan said. By giving a talk on say, the Pike Place Market, it may motivate people to volunteer or donate money to the restoration of the Market. The talks also offer the chance for people to learn about the city, its founders and First Peoples, and discover that Seattle and the Parks Department are preserving pieces of history. The idea is to get people to care about something so they will care for it.

By that definition, Bohan is a great interpreter. Bohan has a degree in geology and served as a national park ranger for 12 years before joining the ranks of Seattle Parks and Recreation. She said as a National Park Ranger, her job was to teach visitors about the history and culture of places like the Grand Canyon, and she’s always wanted to bring that type of programing to Seattle.

“People are always in Victor Steinbrueck Park, it’s a great place and people enjoy the view, but they don’t necessarily know about the history that makes this place and Seattle so special,” Bohan said. “This is a way to let tourists learn about our city and to help locals enjoy the park in new ways.”

On a sunny Friday afternoon, people from all over gathered around Bohan near the totem pole in the park. There was a couple from Boston who had just arrived from the airport, a group of tourists from South Carolina and a few Seattelites in the mix.

Bohan talked to the group about Seattle’s history, how it was named, how it was formed, its first millionaire, the great fire, and the innovative people (Jeff Bezos, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain) and companies (Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon) that started here.

At the end of her talk, she urged the group to grab a cup of coffee at the first-ever Starbucks (in the Pike Place Market).

“Let the city influence you,” she said.

Bohan researched information for her interpretive program for about six months and got certified by the National Association of Interpretation.

“Bohan’s animation and presentation style make these talks incredible experiences,” Bohan’s fellow Park Ranger Ken Conder said. “She’s wanted to do these ever since we got hired together a year ago.”

Currently, the Park Ranger interpretive program is in its pilot phase. Bohan will host 20-30 minute talks at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at Victor Steinbrueck Park throughout September and October (though talks may be canceled in inclement weather). If the talks continue to grow in popularity, Bohan hopes the interpretive program will become a regular part of downtown programming.

“There are always tourists and people in Victor Steinbrueck Park,” Park Concierge M.K. Skinner said. “We have the perfect market and need for this here. It’s a wonderful addition.”

The tourists downtown seem to agree. Right after Bohan finished her talk on that sunny afternoon, a visitor from Minneapolis walked up to her and said, “Sorry I’m late, would you mind starting again?”

Bohan smiled and responded, “Sir, pull up a bench.”

Download a copy of the interpretive program schedule here: Interpretive Program Schedule