Maritime Heritage Trails at Public Outreach Tools: An Ethnographic Model for the Apalachicola River, Florida

Irina Tidmarsh Sorset

           With the infusion of ethnographic research into the development of the Apalachicola River Maritime Heritage Trail (ARMHT), this research provides an effective methodology for making the past relevant through public interpretation and heritage tourism. Maritime heritage trails allow for the interpretation of multiple archeological, historical, and natural resources, while social research into the study area and potential trail users addresses the needs of contemporary communities. Researching the historical context, identifying available heritage resources, and visually assessing potential trail sites provided the foundation for establishing the Apalachicola River's interpretation potential. Information from community observations, community participation, free listing, group interviews, and cultural informants illuminated public opinions and attitudes. Data from the focus group, pilot study, and the Apalachicola River Questionnaire (ARQ) established parameters for trail design, layout, interpretive content, and interpretive materials. By allowing ethnographic data to steer and guide each stage of the ARMHT model, this research was able to identify, adapt to, and address public wants and needs during the developmental stages. As demonstrated throughout this research, public interpretation of heritage resources that begins with community assessment creates the foundation for a successful and community-relevant heritage tourism product.