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Shelby Township

Stony Creek interpreter honored for his commitment, knowledge

January 9, 2013

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Stony Creek Metropark interpreter Mark Szabo won the National Association for Interpretation’s 2012 Master Front-Line Interpreter Award Nov. 17.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — As an interpreter for Stony Creek Metropark, Mark Szabo is fluent in the park’s nature, history and what makes nearly every one of its more than 4,000 acres special.

Contrary to what some might think from his title, Szabo doesn’t translate or study linguistics for the park. Rather, he relates the park’s nuances to the public to help them better appreciate everything it has to offer.

“A tour guide will tell you as much as they know about a house, but when the tour is over, what have you really learned?” Szabo said.

“It’s a nice tour, but what did you really learn, because there was so much? As an interpreter, we take this massive information and compact it in a way that people can digest and in a way that’s entertaining.”

Whether it’s with his guitar at fireside sing-alongs or on a canoe with a French accent as he re-enacts fur-trading traditions, Szabo has helped visitors digest information at Stony Creek since 1989 and worked his way into a part of park lore as “Mark from the Park.”

“Mark is that front-line interpreter; he’s the person directly dealing with people, the park and the vast knowledge of the park and its surroundings,” Stony Creek Operating Manager Gary Hopp said.

“He’s been here a number of years and has a real rapport with the public, adults and children, as well. He does a lot with Voyager’s Canoes, and he’s in school working as well as putting on programs here in the park.”

As a nod of recognition to Szabo’s commitment to telling Stony Creek’s story, along with his overall dedication to helping the public better appreciate the world around them, Szabo was honored by the National Association for Interpretation Nov. 17. He won the 2012 Master Front-Line Interpreter Award for “mastery of interpretive techniques, program development and design of creative projects.”

“It’s not about just telling someone what is in the park and what kind of plants and animals are here,” Szabo said.

“It’s about showing them and letting them find things for themselves. Then you get that ‘Oh, wow’ moment, when the light bulb goes on, and they make a real connection to something.”

Szabo’s love of nature, history and parks is part of his DNA, as he followed the example of his father, Bert Szabo, who was a park naturalist near Akron, Ohio.

“My dad’s love for the outdoors and his knowledge of the natural world inspired me to follow a similar path,” Szabo said. “I love teaching both children and adults about the amazing connections we have to our past and our natural world.”

Szabo has seen Stony Creek change with the advent of an expanded nature center, as well as infrastructure to bring road access to all portions of the park.

But he believes some of the biggest changes to his profession have taken place outside the park. These changes have created an even greater need for his services and the park’s offerings.

“The idea with this profession is to make people feel connected to their past and to the natural world around them,” Szabo said.

“We’re not separated from them in any way. We are connected to it, even though we insulate ourselves in our home with modern technology. Nothing has changed that way.”

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