If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. --Maya Angelou
The Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association (MTIA), the official cooperating association for Mount Tamalpais State Park, held its annual meeting on March 9 at the California Alpine Club and focused on a very contentious issue. For years, there has been talk of a name change for the organization and this year the board of directors decided to take on this difficult matter. MTIA will henceforth be known as Friends of Mt Tam (FMT), a name that conveys support for the state park in a more concise manner. The name change was needed, many members felt, to reach out to supporters with modern-day language, with the goal of increasing membership and volunteers, and strengthening the group’s presence in the community.
Many members of the organization have long felt that "Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association" sounds too academic, takes a long time to say, and confuses people about the purpose of the organization. The word "Interpretive" in particular has been a major stumbling block in communicating the mission of FMT. The California State Parks' Interpretive Mission Statement defines the word very clearly, stating that:
Interpretation is a special form of communication that helps people understand, appreciate, and emotionally connect with the rich natural and cultural heritage preserved in parks. It is the mission of interpretation in California State Parks to convey messages that initially will help visitors value their experience, and that ultimately will foster a conservation ethic and promote a dedicated park constituency.
This definition very succinctly describes the function of MTIA, and this role does not change for FMT. The problem is that outside of the specialized world of park, museum, and historical interpreters, the word is often misunderstood. Many people think of it in the context of language translation, or such rarefied disciplines as Interpretive Dance. One visitor to an MTIA information booth surmised that the organization was interpreting the Bible on top of Mount Tamalpais.
The name change proposal was publicized to members in the past two issues of The Mountain Log, the quarterly newsletter of FMT, and members have been encouraged to submit comments about it to the Board of Directors. The response was overwhelmingly positive toward the new name. Roger Rose, a FMT member who volunteers at the Visitor Center on East Peak, wrote:
I think I'm one of the happiest with the new name. As a journalist, I understand the power of words, and the new name is friendly and easy. I already use the new name when I talk with my friends, and people pick it right up. I don't think I mentioned, I worked as a State Park Interpretive Ranger in San Diego County 20 years ago, and no one ever knew what "interpretive" meant.
One of the most vocal opponents of the name change was Dorothy Gibson, a writer and longtime member of the group. Dorothy wrote an impassioned letter to the board, explaining how MTIA came into existence back in the 1980s. It was a time when park rangers were being expected to play more of a law enforcement role, so volunteers were called upon to help, "especially for the interpretive function." She recognizes the importance of the word "Interpretation," writing eloquently:
The word may be new to some and a mouthful to others. But, it is the only word in the English dictionary that states succinctly our purpose – our one and only purpose which the State of California and the rangers of Mt Tamalpais State Park have acknowledged in our Bylaws.
At the annual meeting, Dorothy presented her case for keeping the name. "I sat down and I literally cried when I heard about the name change" she said. "It felt like I was losing a child."
She made a motion for the membership to draft a letter to California State Parks, expressing concern about the lack of membership involvement in the decision to change the name, but only a small handful of people voted in favor of it. The vast majority of people in the room were ready to adopt the new name and move on. Change can be difficult, but it was clear there was a positive feeling about the change when the new Friends of Mt Tam logo was revealed to enthusiastic applause.
Other state park cooperating associations have undergone a name change as part of an effort to reach out more effectively to the community. The Angel Island Conservancy was previously known as the Angel Island Association, and before that the Angel Island Foundation. Even on Mount Tam, with its rich history of hiking clubs, making a name change is not unprecedented. The Cross Country Boys Club was one of these clubs, founded in 1890 by men who claimed that female hikers were slowing them down. They were shown the error of their ways by famed botanist Alice Eastwood, who not only kept pace with them, but did so while carrying her plant presses and collecting plant specimens along the way. They begrudgingly granted her membership in their exclusive club and changed the name to the Cross Country Club.
After the contentious issue of the name change was dealt with, the meeting moved on to reports from President Arlin Weinberger, Treasurer Linda Futrell, and State Park Supervising Ranger Ryen Goering. Then it was time for giving out awards for outstanding service, one of the highlights of the meeting and an important time to recognize some of the volunteers who have contributed so much to this all-volunteer organization. Hiking program leader Jordan Herrman presented the Bigfoot Award to hike leader Celeste Burrows, Astronomy Program leader Tinka Ross gave an award to longtime volunteer Stephanie Koutsaftis, Visitor Center director Paulette Lueke gave an award to Anne Komer, Gravity Car Barn Project Manager Arlene Halligan gave an award to Richard Torney, and the "Big Time" award for most hours worked was presented to Arlene Halligan. Arlene put in almost 500 hours in 2012, much of it dedicated to the campaign to bring the #9 Heisler locomotive back to Mount Tamalpais.
The finale of the annual meeting was a screening of The First 70, a short documentary about the threatened closure of 70 California State Parks that was averted last year. Mount Tamalpais was not one of the state parks on the closure list, but other Marin parks such as China Camp, Tomales Bay, Olompali, and Samuel P. Taylor were slated for closure. The film gives a moving portrayal of the struggle to prevent this from happening, with stunning cinematography that highlights the beauty of the natural world that is preserved in our state parks.
Friends of Mt Tam will still carry out the same programs and events that were done by MTIA. Interpretation of natural and historical features of the state park will continue to be the primary function of the organization. This is done through guided hikes, an Astronomy Program, and special events throughout the year. FMT runs the Visitor Center at East Peak and the Gravity Car Barn, a museum that commemorates the history of the old Mount Tamalpais Railway. A quarterly newsletter called The Mountain Log is sent out to members, both in print and PDF format.
Friends of Mt Tam is an all-volunteer organization, supported in part by membership dues. New members are always welcome, especially those interested in volunteering at the Visitor Center, Gravity Car Barn, on the guided hikes, or with the Astronomy Program. Upcoming events include Earth Day at East Peak on April 13, and the first of seven Astronomy Programs that same night. More information can be found at the Friends of Mt Tam website. For those who join today, the next Mountain Log will be sent on March 31.