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The Montafon Valley (Vorarlberg, Austria) has been one of the key investigation areas of the Research Center HiMAT. Initiated by local partners from the tourism industry the establishment of a mining heritage trail was planned. As information on ancient mining in the region was already widely available, the topic of the heritage trail was not to be mining itself, but modern interdisciplinary research on mining.
Namend “Silberpfad” (Silver Trail), the trail is 2.5 km long and situated right on the Kristberg, a former mining district and now a hiking and recreation area with approx. 100,000 visitors per year. It comprises twelve individual stations, all of which are outdoor and hands-on interactive. The aim of the trail is to show methods of modern mining research. Each station reflects one of the disciplines involved with the HiMAT project. Visitors can learn about the scientific methods currently applied in mining research. Together, all twelve stations add up to a complete view of an ancient mining district, thus emphasizing the benefits of interdisciplinary approaches. All stations are located in close vicinity of landscape characterise corresponding to mining activities. Funded via an EU-Leader+ program, works have started in Autumn 2010, and the trail was opened in September 2011.


Hardly any other discovery has influenced human cultural development as much as mining did. Even when mining activities disappeared a long time ago traces are still noticeable in the landscape, in stories, picture, local names and traditions. Intensive mining research has brought forward some knowledge of ancient mining already, but there is still much that needs to be uncovered (Oeggl 2008).

Ancient mining and its impact on environment and society is only one out of many modern research topics. A strong interest on preserving heritage sites and using abandoned mines in modern tourism has been seen the last view decades already. In addition public interest in mining and mining knowledge is increasing not last because people in mining areas themselves have a strong interest to communicate their local or regional traditions. Only in Tirol 13 tourist mines where opened to the public between 1988 and 2008 (Schneider 2009).

Besides tourist mines “Mining History Museums“ and trails are becoming more and more popular. Hardly ever do these learning opportunities inform about how this knowledge is gained and which methods are used to collect it.

Science communication in an outdoor setting

Based on Humboldt´s idea of humans gaining autonomy and independence through education learning opportunities should be available to all citizens on an ongoing basis (Benner 2003). Thus learning is not restricted to formal education institutions like schools, colleges or universities, but occurs also beyond the classroom (Bentley 1998). Field trips or visits to non-formal science education sites are a well-accepted way of teaching and learning science. Learning outside the classroom opportunities like those science centers, zoos or signed trails provide, have the potential to promote inquiry and to stimulate constructive science discussions among field trip participants (Dillon 2007, Wandersee and Clary 2006). These learning sites can also engage, motivate and even captivate learners whose science interest is not always align with the prescribed science curriculum at school (Serell 1996).

The “Silver Trail” is a science communication project that aims for providing experiential learning opportunities for families, various groups of interest and interested individuals. It strives to support lifelong learning in general as well as to enhance visitors motivation to learn more about how scientist develop their understanding about the world, its history and its future in particular.

From a constructivist point of view, learning is a social, constructive, active, self-determined, situate and emotional process. Therefore environments which include these qualities have a great potential to actively facilitate learning.

Research has shown that through hands on activities visitors approach scientific knowledge more easily (Ebers et al. 1998). Therefore the communication principle applied in this project is to use weather-proof hands on exhibits which provide information at all times and invite visitors to interact with the exhibit physically.

HiMAT is an interdisciplinary research project in which research groups work hand in hand to profit from synergies while answering research questions. Each research method helps to get a better insight into a particular research aspect investigated and contributes to a bigger picture scientist are able to draw about the landscape hundreds of years ago. Although single exhibits can be consumed self-contained an overall theme is providing the link between them. A picture of the ancient and modern landscape is connecting element between single stands.

Each research method presented at the various stations along the trail contributes a certain amount of evidence scientists use to create the current understanding of how the Silber valley has looked like a couple of centuries ago.

Research groups working in the HiMAT project have participated actively in developing the hand- on exhibits explaining a research method fundamental to their work and students of a Vocational High School in Graphics and Design did the graphics and the layout of the signs.

The Silver Trail

The Trail is located at the southern side of the Kristberg (Crystal Mountain) in the Silbertal (Silver Valley – the name indicates the former silver mining), a small side valley of the Montafon valley in the very western end of Austria, close to the borders with Germany and Switzerland. The Silver Trail is 2.5 km long and counts 12 stations each representing one or two research methods used in the interdisciplinary Research project HiMAT.

The trail starts off with a map of the trail and short general information text right at the exit of the top station of the Kristbergbahn cable car. The trail is marked with signs that are easy to follow. All stations have interactive elements. By manipulating the exhibit the fundamental principle of each research method can be tested and written texts are only needed to develop a deeper understanding.