“INSPIRE”-ing Interpretation on the Old Spanish Trail: Rob Sweeten Awarded BLM’s 2021 INSPIRE Award

Author: Carin L. Farley, National Scenic and Historic Trail Lead, Bureau of Land Management

New signage on the Old Spanish Trail connected by the Explorer App. Courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

The Old Spanish National Historic Trail Co-Administrator from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Robert “Rob” Sweeten received the agency’s 2021 Inspirational Interpretation and Resource Education “INSPIRE” Award. The INSPIRE Award recognizes BLM employees who have made significant contributions to BLM programs, initiatives, projects, and events through innovative interpretation and education. 

Rob recognized the complexity of interpreting a trail of this length and sought an innovative and creative solution that utilized an app to connect signs, new wayside interpretive panels, and kiosks to create continuity. The Explorer APP is a GIS-based platform for interpretation and direction-finding. The new kiosks and app don’t just tell people the story of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, but also ask the visitor to engage further through questions. For instance, at Head Rock located along the Cottonwood Wash hiking trail, a historic sketch from the mid 1800s is presented next to a picture of the rock formation known as Head Rock. The visitor is asked if they would have been able to identify Head Rock and known to turn West at this location. Elements of the interactive app help bring the trail to life and transport the visitor back in time. Visitors are asked if they would reroute around difficult landscapes and think about what it would be like to have to cross a raging river without modern equipment. 

As an advocate for youth engagement and employment, Rob worked closely with several interns over the past few years to implement the project. Rob was honored at the National Association for Interpretation National Conference in December. The BLM will release the Explorer App (3 years in the making) to the public this summer.