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Reimagining the History of the (Inter)National Park Service

By Guest Observer February 7, 2018

by Joana Arruda

Note: This piece originally appeared in the National Council on Public History’s blog History@Work. We thank NCPH for giving us permission to reproduce it here. 

On May 13, 1918, less than two years after the National Park Service (NPS) was established, U.S. Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane wrote to first National Park Service (NPS) director Stephen T. Mather regarding ways in which the new federal agency could interpret and expand its mission. Lane urged Mather: “You should keep informed of park movements and park progress, municipal, county, and State, both at home and abroad, for the purpose of adapting, wherever practicable, the world’s best thought to the needs of the national parks.”[1] Specifically, he suggested that Mather create ties with Canada’s park system (1911), “and assist in the solution of park problems of an international character.”[2]

The idea that international work shaped the NPS as early as 1918 may appear surprising because popular imaginings of the NPS traditionally center on the mystique of Western parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. The parks are often perceived as the stronghold of the uniformed figure of the knowledgeable, but fun, park ranger traversing the West’s expansive landscapes. These fascinations are best illustrated in Ken Burns’ documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009). “America’s best idea,” a phrase coined by writer Wallace Stegner, drives Burns’ portrayal of the parks. It focuses on the “invention” of the national park “idea” to preserve American natural landscapes, and later, in the 1930s, its cultural sites. However, Burns and even the agency itself have failed to engage as rigorously with the remainder of the agency’s twentieth-century history. This type of institutional amnesia makes it difficult for some narratives to make their way into the larger story. For example, where is the equal focus on cultural parks, which by the way, make up two-thirds of the NPS’s 400+ units? And more intriguingly, what about that bit about international engagement?

Historical and archaeological base map of the borders of Petra National Park, as assisted by the national Park Service Jordan in the 1960s.[5] Image credit: United States Agency for International Development

My research has examined the NPS’s engagement overseas, specifically when it founded the Division of International Affairs (DIA) in 1961.[3] In that time, NPS Director Conrad Wirth began to expand the agency in time for its fiftieth anniversary in 1966. Sweeping changes—and $1 billion in federal money over a decade—included buying new lands to build parks, building accessible roads, and revamping visitor centers and interpretation capabilities to make the agency bigger, better, and more equipped to host an unprecedented influx of park visitors in the postwar years. But this vision spilled over domestic borders, as the NPS sought to expand its work during Wirth’s Mission 66 initiative. The DIA was established to create an overseas support network regarding conservation issues and broadly about national parks, but it was also organized to provide technical assistance to nations seeking to build their own national parks.In one compelling case, scholars Lary Dilsaver and Terence Young briefly describe the first official DIA trip to Jordan in 1966 to the ancient site of Petra. Twelve NPS employees and their families relocated to Jordan, where they were tasked with rebuilding six historic sites and teaching Jordanian officials to manage this park system in the future. In 1968 the NPS “Team” developed an interpretive plan to meet this purpose.[4]

Ultimately, these projects were fueled by larger Cold War anxieties. Often funded by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, these technical assistance projects fit into larger American concerns about containing communism and other political pressures. The idea that national parks were used as nation-building at the height of the Cold War is a compelling story on its own, but even more importantly, it shows the NPS is not a neutral entity, nor its individual parks neutral spaces. Public historians should be aware of and interrogate the degree to which the NPS has shaped both American and international landscapes, both spatially and ideologically.

The NPS Office of International Affairs manages “Sister Park” relationships between parks in the U.S. and overseas. Here is an agreement between Denali National Park and Mongolia, 2017. Image credit: National Park Service.

In August 2016, the NPS celebrated its centennial. This time of reflection and future projections invited questions into the perceived simplicity of the NPS origin story and later history. I kept thinking about the success of the NPS as an “idea,” but as a former seasonal NPS employee, I began to see a lot of the issues that scholars raised in the 2014 Imperiled Promise report about the state of the agency. It identifies issues such as lack of support, low funding, and poor historical interpretation, just to name a few. Advises the report, “The more central history can be to the NPS’s missions and activities, the more relevant and responsive NPS can be to the needs of twenty-first century American society.”[6] “How things are normally done” won’t work for the challenges presented by this century.

The story of NPS’s international engagement serves as an important tool in reimagining the agency’s future. First, it propels us to think about how its mission has shaped and been shaped by global forces. If we can begin to understand how the NPS has contributed to American power structures domestically and internationally, contextualizing its history within our national narrative can push the NPS to do better history by embracing interpretations of how it has shaped park sites at home and abroad. Secondly, it can strengthen the decreased capacity of today’s renamed Office of International Affairs, as well as engage with global narratives at sites for better interpretation and audience engagement. Finally, rethinking NPS history complicates a simplistic, overtold narrative. If we re-examine a complicated past that challenges what we think we know, we can create something better for the future. Receiving Congressional support in these times is a feat in and of itself when the NPS is under attack on several fronts—lower funding levels, pushback against climate change policy in the NPS’s operating agenda, possible de-nomination of various national monuments, and visitor fee increases in parks, just to name a few.

The NPS is imperfect, but its work is worth doing, now more than ever. As concerned, invested, and engaged American residents and history professionals, let’s rethink how it can thrive and make a persuasive case for its importance.

Joana Arruda is a public historian whose research interests include twentieth century U.S., material culture, and the National Park Service. Most recently, she served as the International Exchange participant in Paris, France with the International Council of Monuments and Sites.

[1] Letter of Franklin K. Lane to Stephen T. Mather, May 13, 1918, in Lary M. Dilsaver, ed., America’s National Park System: the Critical Documents (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 51. Terence Young and Lary M. Dilsaver, “Collecting and Diffusing “the World’s Best Thought”: International Cooperation by the National Park Service,” The George Wright Forum 28 (2011): 271.

[2] Letter of Franklin K. Lane to Stephen T. Mather, May 13, 1918; in Dilsaver, ed., America’s National Park System, 51.

[3] Joana Arruda, “The National Park Service Division of International Affairs: The Case for International Perspectives, 1916 – 2016,” M.A. thesis, Temple University, 2016.

[4] Young and Dilsaver, “Collecting and Diffusing “the World’s Best Thought”: International Cooperation by the National Park Service,” 271.

[5] Master Plan for the Protection & Use of Petra National Park, (United States Agency for International Development, 1968): 7.

[6] Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash, and David Thelen, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, (Bloomington: Organization of American Historians, 2014): 6.


Filling Mines with Fish: Rebranding the Mesabi Range as a Recreational Landscape

By Guest Observer August 30, 2017

by John Baeten

Post-mining landscapes often lie. What we see on the landscape today does not necessarily reflect the complex history in which that landscape was shaped. Instead, post-mining landscapes tell a story designed to convey a specific message to the public, often by heritage organizations or reclamation agencies.

In most post-mining landscapes, the story told by heritage organizations is often centered on either mining technology or architecture, seen in the focus on memorializing monuments representative of industrial capital. Consequently, the story that industrial heritage managers tell about post-mining landscapes often revolves around the interpretation of only a select few buildings and machines. However, these tangible manifestations make up only a small percentage of the post-mining landscape, while the overwhelming environmental impacts from mining are generally avoided.

Likewise, reclamation agencies wish to convey a story that speaks of environmental cleanup, told through the recontouring and revegetating of waste piles, and the removal of derelict buildings. These reclamation efforts obscure many visible signs of mining, while presenting a landscape to the public that has been seemingly re-naturalized. Yet, reclamation often functions like a band-aid on a tumor, as immediate physical hazards are prioritized for remediation while the more widespread contamination is often left unaddressed.

llo_overview copyIn Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, the post-mining landscape tells a story of state-driven heritage strategies and reclamation efforts aimed at rebranding the range as a recreational rather than deindustrialized landscape. Located in Northern Minnesota, and extending for nearly 100-miles, the Mesabi Range was North America’s most productive iron range.

From 1890 to today, more than 400 mines operated on the Mesabi Range removing over 3.8-billion tons of iron ore, the majority of which was extracted from highly efficient open-pit mining methods. Open-pit mining produces massive landscape transformations, evident in piles of mine waste along with deep surface chasms, impacts that persist long after a mine ceases production. During the late 1960s to 1970s, the Mesabi Range witnessed an increase in open-pit mine closure and abandonment, which accelerated the Range’s transformation from an active to a post-mining landscape, reflective of the economic, social, and environmental consequences of an industry based on a finite resource.

Beginning in the 1970s, state land managers and local communities began to grapple with how to reckon the landscape transformations that accompanied mine land closure and abandonment. Realizing that the Mesabi Range was entering a post-mining epoch, state personnel began to develop strategies to reimagine and rebrand the Mesabi as something more than a post-mining landscape, by promoting the Mesabi Range as a recreational destination cushioned with a rich and ongoing mining history.

Greenway Pit-Lake

Greenway Pit-Lake

This process included the reclamation of the post-mining landscape, consisting of the revegetation of mine waste piles, and the removal of derelict buildings. Steps were also taken to bolster the Range’s heritage tourism economy, through the installation of a rails-to-trails system, and the marketing of active mine-viewing areas to promote the ongoing efforts of the iron mining industry.

In rebranding the Mesabi Range as a recreational landscape, the Minnesota DNR also made use of the abundance of new surface waters. As open-pit mines were closed and abandoned, the pumps used to dewater them were shut off, creating a veritable landscape of water. Today, there are 250 more lakes in the Mesabi Range than existed in 1890. Called pit-lakes, these waterbodies are the result of open-pit mining and abandonment, and represent a hydrological contrast from the dereliction that often defines a post-mining landscape.

The Hawkins Pit-Lake

The Hawkins Pit-Lake

By the late 1970s, the Minnesota DNR began stocking these lakes with trout, hoping to lure Midwestern anglers to the region with this new renewable resource. Although this fish-stocking program has been met with much success, these pit-lakes are currently managed by the DNR as natural resources rather than historic mines, blurring their cultural significance. Yet, the stocking of trout into these abandoned mines has also functioned as an unintentional form of landscape conservation and an innovative approach to adaptive re-use. Today, visitors in the Mesabi Range can fish for trout in abandoned mines, as well as scuba dive in the former chasms of the Sparta and Gilbert mines, collectively known as Lake Ore-Be-Gone (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Garrsion Keillor’s Lake Wobegon). At Lake Ore-Be-Gone, scuba divers can explore a number of out of place artifacts, including a helicopter, a bus, a pirate skeleton, and a WWII era military plane – adding a layer of confusion for future archaeologists.

Negotiating post-mining landscapes, like the Mesabi Range, present challenges for communities, land managers, and heritage organizations. Although mining may have ceased, communities within these landscapes often persist, as do the environmental legacies of extraction. It is the responsibility of heritage managers to articulate to communities and to the broader public not just the features on the landscape that they have selectively memorialized, but also the abundance of environmental impacts that may have become obscured by either reclamation or heritage efforts. Doing so provides a more honest interpretation of the post-mining landscape and helps ensure that future generations won’t forget how these landscapes came to be, or what latent mysteries they might contain.

John Baeten holds a PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology from Michigan Technological University. He is interested in analyzing the historical decisions that have shaped our understanding of post-mining landscapes, and is especially keen on contextualizing contamination as meaningful cultural heritage.
Future Reading:

Baeten, John, Nancy Langston, and Don Lafereniere, “A geospatial approach to uncovering the hidden waste footprint of Lake Superior’s Mesabi Iron Range,” The Extractive Industries and Society, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Nov. 2016) 1031-1045.

Baeten, John, “Contested Landscapes of Displacement: Oliver Iron and the Hibbing Mining District,” forthcoming in Change Over Time: An International Journal of Conservation and the Built Environment (Fall, 2017).

Goin, Peter, and Elizabeth Raymond, Changing Mines in America (Santa Fe: The Center for American Places, 2003).

Langston, Nancy, Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

Manuel, Jeff, Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Svatos, Ray, “Fishing Minnesota’s Abandoned Iron Pits,” Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (July-August, 1986) 14-18.


Schoodic Head: Where Forest meets the Sea

By Guest Observer July 26, 2017
  Lower West Bay Pond in Gouldsboro CREDIT: Ben Emory

Lower West Bay Pond in Gouldsboro
CREDIT: Ben Emory

*This article originally ran in the Summer 2017 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine and is reprinted here with the permission of Northern Woodlands. Many thanks to the author Ben Emory.

Eastern Maine is the last place on the East Coast where large tracts of forest still meet the sea. On a blue-sky October day at the height of foliage season, I went to explore one such tract – a critical 300-acre parcel that Frenchman Bay Conservancy was considering for purchase. On a landscape scale, conserving it would have been one more step in maintaining the connection between the fabled North Woods and the shores of the Atlantic. On a smaller scale, as a long, undeveloped stretch of Route 1, the property was important to preserve as a wildlife crossing. I stepped past the steel gate and started up the woods road that not long before had provided access for logging trucks and harvesting equipment. Then, I trudged northward past various harvest areas toward the uncut shore of Lower West Bay Pond, identified by the Maine Natural Areas Program as important inland waterfowl and wading-bird habitat and alewife run. Not a soul was around as I reached the sun-drenched shoreline and worked my way toward a lovely cove of shallow marsh, hardwoods along the edge ablaze in red and orange.

Many conservation projects in the Northeast are trying to conserve natural land linkages between critical ecosystems and habitats. The Schoodic to Schoodic project (S2S) seeks to preserve an ecological corridor running north from Acadia National Park’s famed Schoodic Point to the 15,000-acre Donnell Pond Unit of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands, which includes Schoodic Mountain. The vision of Schoodic to Schoodic includes conserving contiguous tracts of forest, associated wetlands, and non-contiguous parcels that can serve as “stepping stones” for mammals, birds, insects, and plant seeds to travel. Corridors can help species that range widely, can minimize the debilitating effects of genetic isolation, and can enhance survival in the face of environmental changes. Corridors with a north-south axis allowing poleward movement seem especially significant in species’ adaptation to a changing climate. The S2S corridor is doubly important, for it not only leads north toward higher latitudes but also provides a path southward toward the coast, which the ocean keeps cooler than the interior in summer. While benefiting flora and fauna, the S2S corridor offers many opportunities for the public to enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreations.

Schoodic2Schoodic Map Conserved Areas in Green Map: Martie Crone/Bob DeForrest

Schoodic2Schoodic Map Conserved Areas in Green
Map: Martie Crone/Bob DeForrest

The conservation of this corridor began in the late 1920s when private landowners donated Schoodic Point and it was added to Acadia National Park. Today, Acadia’s Schoodic District comprises 3,500 acres and forms the end of the massive peninsula south of Route 1. The brutal Atlantic Ocean frequently crashes spectacularly against the great sloping rocks at the tip.

On the north end, the Donnell Pond Unit was acquired by the state beginning in 1988. Its natural character is reminiscent of the better-known Mount Desert Island a dozen miles southwest. Prominent glacier-sculpted hills with much exposed granite rise above remote woods and clear lakes.

Once these bookends were established, conservation partners – federal, state, municipal, and nonprofit – began working in close cooperation to conserve linking parcels with fee acquisitions and conservation easements, sometimes by purchase and sometimes by gift. As of late 2016, the total mainland acreage permanently protected between Acadia National Park and the Donnell Pond Unit, excluding them, is about 3,300 acres in fee ownership and 3,100 acres under conservation easements.

For years, there was an elephant in the room between Acadia and the Donnell Pond Unit – 3,200 privately owned acres abutting Acadia. Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele called the parcel “a dagger to the heart of Acadia” because the property spans almost the entire width of the peninsula, and too much or poorly sited development there could seriously impair scenic vistas and the ecological integrity of S2S. Years of effort by many parties to protect the parcel led nowhere until 2011, when an anonymous philanthropist bought the property. The conservation-oriented investment firm Lyme Timber facilitated the transaction. The southern half, mostly rough land dominated by red spruce, white cedar, and jack pine and recovering from hard cutting 20 years ago, has been added to Acadia National Park, with old logging roads transformed for biking.

Decisions about the final disposition of the northern half – arguably the most important part ecologically because of its extensive freshwater wetlands – are ongoing. The anonymous owners have already given permission for the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park to establish forest monitoring plots as part of a plan for such study sites from Schoodic Point to Schoodic Mountain. The Institute’s forest ecology program director, Dr. Nicholas Fisichelli, explained that, “This area has a strong climate gradient driven by the maritime influence and thus provides a tremendous opportunity to study forest dynamics and change across the local landscape.” This research follows work done by University of Maine forestry students on the Schoodic Point area’s significant jack pine stands.

The north-south endpoints of S2S are easy to determine, but the east-west span is open to interpretation. Included in the corridor vision are coastal islands flanking the peninsula, for birds, some mammals, and some plant species easily cross narrow stretches of water. A milestone success in this geography was The Nature Conservancy’s first Maine island purchase, 129-acre Turtle Island, home to a rookery for great blue herons. Subsequently, many more islands east and west of the Schoodic peninsula have been preserved. Turtle Island was bought in 1963 to prevent its being denuded for the St. Regis pulp mill on the lower Penobscot River in Bucksport. Taking wood from Maine islands was still economically viable, although subsequently the economics became prohibitive. Today, that mill and others nearby are gone. A biomass electric generation plant in Jonesboro has also closed, adding to the challenge of profitably managing even mainland working forestlands in the area. So far, markets continue to exist for sawlogs and, with additional trucking costs, lower quality wood at more distant mills. In the S2S corridor, there are private commercial timberlands, large and small – many well managed – which hopefully someday will be protected with working forest conservation easements.

Leaving the cove, I struggled across slash left in a clear cut to reach the property’s other side, which fronts on a large marsh, much of which is on abutting property under conservation easement. Not only was this parcel important to wildlife crossing Route 1, but, significantly, it would enlarge a block already conserved and one with promising conservation opportunities to the north linking to the Donnell Pond Unit. If ever a property exemplified the importance of strategic connector parcels in preserving a corridor, this was it. This parcel that Maine Coast Heritage Trust spotted as an opportunity, and on which the conservation fund helped negotiate, was purchased by Frenchman Bay Conservancy 18 months after my visit, fabulously exemplifying the effective partnerships powering S2S.

Ben Emory has worked in Maine and national land conservation professionally and as a volunteer for nearly half a century. In his free time, he enthusiastically engages in all that the Maine outdoors offers on land and sea.


Virtues of Good Government

By Guest Observer May 29, 2017
Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

In this piece, originally published in the May 2017 issue of the George Wright Forum (vol 34, no 1), guest observer Rolf Diamant explores the significance of National Monuments to the National Park system. He calls attention to Fort Monroe National Monument, located in Hampton, Virginia, as an example of how National Monuments have played a key role in expanding the depth and breadth of the stories interpreted at park units.

Also highlighted in the article is the recently created Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina. President Obama’s decision to designate this site shortly before leaving office will likely be regarded as one of his most significant uses of the Antiquities Act, as the Monument interprets a period described by historian Greg Downs as “America’s first great experiment in bi-racial democracy.” Until the creation of the monument in 2016, no unit of park system focused primarily on Reconstruction.

In addition to his discussion of National Monuments, Diamant touches on current funding and management challenges facing the agency, including shrinking numbers of staff and decreased support for some newly designated units.

Thanks to the George Wright Society for permission to use this piece.


Looking for Detroit’s Urban Landscape: My Experience on the George Wright’s 2016 Park Break

By Guest Observer May 27, 2017
Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems Credit: Ariel Schnee

Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems
Credit: Ariel Schnee

When I was growing up in the suburbs outside of Detroit in the early and mid-1990s, it was easy to forget that the city existed. Generally speaking, if you were white, you didn’t go downtown. Even on the odd occasion that you found yourself in the city, you didn’t hang around, and you definitely left before dark. Detroit is a place indelibly marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows of American history. Its crumbling buildings and forgotten factories are the tangible evidence of economic booms and busts, the rise and decline of American manufacturing, and the after-effects of WWII, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, racism and classism, as well as decades of local mismanagement and corruption.

In Detroit, hope and resilience, despair and neglect, are not only inscribed upon the landscape, they are often next-door neighbors. Over the years, I saw family and friends steadily abandon their homes around the city as their neighborhoods went “bad.” In the 1990s, and even now, Detroit was a hard place to love, and an even harder one in which to live. But Detroit is also so much more than the disaster porn the media likes to show, and the city has a weirdly magnetic attraction. Some insanely determined people do, in fact, live in Detroit, and they do incredible things there—Detroiters create art, perform and record cutting-edge music, and work at the very forefront of urban agriculture. The people who have managed to remain there literally make the city bloom around them. But regardless of their incredible accomplishments and tenacity, it is a sad truth that, since the advent of white flight from urban America in the 1960s, almost anyone who was able to go somewhere other than Detroit, did. The wealthier and whiter you were, the further you went, and you never looked back.

And that was why I was sitting at a desk in Colorado, and not one in Michigan, when the notice for the George Wright Society’s 2016 Park Break appeared in my email inbox. When I saw that the program was taking place in Detroit, I knew I had to seize the chance to go back, so I applied. Park Break is a week long program for graduate students to gain experience working on public lands, usually in National Parks. Park Breakers normally work on a defined project and are supported by the hosting park’s staff and resources.

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn
Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Despite the amount of NPS tax breaks and grant money invested in rehabilitation projects in Detroit, there was no national park we could rely on to help us in our work. As an NPS Urban Fellow, Dr. Goldstein was looking for a way to implement the NPS Urban agenda—an NPS program aimed at making parks more relevant and accessible to urban populations—in Detroit (for more information on the Urban Agenda, click here). Dr. Goldstein created the Park Break in order to lay the research basis for a full National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) district nomination that highlighted Detroit’s longstanding importance to musical history in America. The need to preserve these buildings is pressing. Detroit is currently experiencing a burst of revitalization centered on the downtown area. Nearby neighborhoods are redeveloping quickly, but often haphazardly, and in ways that threaten historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Without a park home base, we pieced together the project from the resources that were available in the community. We borrowed workspace at Wayne State University, research materials from the Burton Library’s Special Collections and the Detroit Historical Society, and expertise from local music authorities and the property owners themselves to try and reconstruct the history of four of Detroit’s most important musical heritage sites. In partnership with Wayne State University and the City of Detroit, Dr. David Goldstein identified the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems and Submerge Studios as candidates for an NRHP historic district.

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.   Courtesy:  Google Earth

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.
Courtesy: Google Earth

Each property represents a distinct element of Detroit’s musical heritage. The Bluebird Inn was a popular African-American nightclub and the birthplace of Bebop, a highly energetic and improvisational form of Jazz. Motown Records was home to Berry Gordy’s “Empire on West Grand Boulevard,” where musical legends like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Martha and the Vandellas made timeless Motown hits. Though it has changed hands several times, United Sound Systems remains to this day a professional recording studio, and famous musicians like John Lee Hooker and the Motor City 5 made music at United Sound Systems ranging from Blues to Punk Rock. Submerge Studios represents yet another musical genre born in Detroit—Techno. The building was once used as a union gathering place. Today, the historic building houses a Detroit techno music label, radio station, and recording studio.

The buildings themselves reflected the full range of conditions one might find in Detroit as a whole. The Bluebird Inn, for example, has sat vacant in a rough neighborhood for fifteen years. It lacks doors and a complete roof, and is in an advanced state of decay. United Sound Systems, while well-maintained, is currently under threat of eminent domain from a proposed highway expansion. Motown Records and Submerge Studios are not under threat, but should be recognized on the National Register due to their integrity and historic significance to Detroit’s musical heritage.

The buildings we examined were the survivors of a formerly broad and dense network of recording studios, radio stations, record stores, and talent agencies . African American musicians, recording artists, and entrepreneurs created economic opportunity in their own neighborhoods that the outside world often denied them. Banks refused to approve African Americans for commercial loans on the basis of their race. Even if African Americans had business capital through other means, racist city zoning practices, or “red lining,” made buying property outside of certain neighborhoods was nearly impossible. To start their businesses, Black Detroiters got creative, borrowing money from family and friends, and setting up fledgling recording studios in non-commercial spaces, like private residences. From their homes, Berry Gordy (founder of Motown), James Siracuse (the North African founder of United Sound Systems) and other African American entrepreneurs created, captured, and distributed a timeless sound that was assertively Black and distinctively Detroit.

Although not yet an official historic district, the spatial arrangement of the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems, and Submerge Records are physically grouped so closely to one another that regarding them holistically as a historic district was natural and intuitive. However, a lack of sources remains a barrier to any future NRHP nomination. Because businesses and studios changed hands frequently, many of the records necessary to prove the sites’ historic significance are now lost, and development now threatens their historic integrity. Under-funding of cultural institutions like the Detroit Public Library also means that while the library has retained its collections, much of the research infrastructure is under-developed. For example, the library still relies on a physical card catalog, which makes the research process slow and laborious by the digital age’s standards. Thanks to Wayne State University’s recent archaeological investigation of the Bluebird Inn, the building has yielded a forgotten cache of documents, including receipts, pay stubs, and other invaluable historic evidence. The collection now resides at Wayne State University and is the subject of an Archaeology Master’s thesis by Wayne State University student and 2016 Park Break participant, Lorin Brace .

Apart from the four sites we researched as part of Park Break, we do not know how many of the buildings where other African-American owned music businesses once operated still exist. Hundreds of African American-owned businesses in Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods were demolished to make way for the I-75 highway as part of an urban renewal project. Most of the former residents relocated to public housing, such as the Brewster projects, to the profound detriment of Detroit’s African-American community.

Over the course of that whirlwind week in Detroit with Park Break, I got to see the city as it enters a new phase, one that, shockingly enough, includes breweries, artisanal coffee shops, trendy restaurants, and high-end watches. While it was thrilling to see the city coming alive for the first time in my lifetime, Park Break was also an opportunity for my team and me to think seriously about who Detroit was coming alive for, who was being pushed out, and what was being lost in that process. Outside the small bubble of revitalization in downtown is where you find the people who are the most passionate about the long, hard, and often painful history of the places and of the city where they live and work. Helping to preserve these sites and the stories they represented during Park Break made me feel like I was doing a small part to preserve Detroit’s (pardon the pun) soul.

Ariel Schnee is a writer, researcher, and Public History Master’s Candidate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached online at, or by email at





Featured Voices – Interviews with Landscape Practitioners and Scholars

By Guest Observer February 28, 2017

Jackie M. M. Gonzales is an environmental historian. Her policy research is informed by several years working at non-profit environmental policy organizations in Albany, New York. Gonzales has also worked as an interpreter for the National Park Service at Cape Cod National Seashore, Chickamauaga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and Manzanar National Historic Site. Her dissertation project, Coastal Parks for a Metropolitan Nation, examined the postwar federal initiative to buy America’s beaches, with a focus on how communities across the country reacted to a federal plan to make their backyards public space. Gonzales currently works as a research historian with Historical Research Associates, Inc. in Seattle.

Credit: National Park Service

View of Cape Cod National Seashore in
Provincetown, Massachusetts, one of the landscapes examined by Jackie M.M. Gonzales in her dissertation.   Credit: National Park Service

LLO: Your dissertation, Coastal Parks for a Metropolitan Nation: How Postwar Politics and Urban Growth Shaped America’s Shores, examines the rapid growth of national park units (like Cape Cod and Point Reyes) in coastal locations after World War II. What big ideas or arguments do you tackle in your work?

Gonzales: Communities reacted differently to plans for a park in their backyard—some welcomed it, some fought it, and all worried about their private property rights—and those reactions shaped each park into distinctive management units. Because of this pull between local and federal policy, my argument is two-pronged: that the National Park Service (NPS) coastal conservation strategy ushered in a new era of cooperative park planning for the NPS, and that this new approach occurred because coastal community involvement and coalition-building shaped those plans in ways unprecedented in NPS history. This was one of the first examples of the NPS incorporating a myriad of local concerns into the park establishment process, and it only happened because those who owned summer homes at the seashore were often wealthy and politically connected (for example, Arthur Schlesinger owned a summer home on Cape Cod).

I also look at how the coalitions that formed out of movements to preserve coastal lands laid groundwork for the environmental movement. While that was just one of many conservation initiatives in the 1960s, it is one that was very much in the public eye, but that has been overlooked by historians. Including this coastal conservation initiative in the narrative of the early environmental movement strengthens the argument that environmental awareness arose in the urban outskirts in the postwar period (see Chris Sellers’s Crabgrass Crucible, in which he argues that the suburbs facilitated the growth of the environmental movement).

LLO: How did you become interested in the topic of coastal parks? What drew you to this aspect of environmental and U.S. history?

Gonzales: The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore drew me into this topic. I worked and lived in the Dunes one summer as an undergraduate, working on an energy efficiency grant. What struck me—what strikes most people about the Dunes, really—is that this beautiful and unique dunal ecosystem is surrounded by steel mills, coal-fired power plants, and other factories. I couldn’t square away why anyone would decide to create a park in a place so littered with heavy industry. When I found out that the mills were actually built at the same time as the park’s establishment, I was hooked on the story. Who, in the 1960s, in an era when conservation leaders waxed poetically about untouched wilderness, had the foresight to realize that industry and conservation often walked hand-in-hand, that one could not always exist without the other?

After the Indiana Dunes drew me in, I realized this was part of a much larger federal initiative to preserve coastal lands. In each case I checked, there were citizen organizations fighting for or against the park, shaping uniform federal blueprints in distinctively regional ways. What’s more, historians of the NPS have given this coastal initiative short-shrift in histories of the agency. I believed that this story illustrated a shift in how the NPS entered communities and created parks, and that these coastal parks therefore merited further study.

LLO:  In your dissertation you write that, often times, establishing a park was the easy part – actually buying land and/or figuring out how best to cooperatively manage a complex landscape over time proved more difficult. Can you give some examples of the challenges faced by park supporters, including the NPS?

Gonzales: Most of the major challenges had to do with land uses and private land ownership. At Point Reyes, provisions were included to allow some dairy ranching to continue in order to get the local community on board, but the NPS did not know how to manage a landscape with intensive agricultural operations within its boundaries. There, the NPS has stumbled time and time again (and still are today) with how to cooperative with the dairy ranchers on that peninsula (Laura Watt tackles these challenges in depth in her recent book, The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore).

At Cape Cod, some of the well-intentioned legislative compromises to buy back certain homes and return that area to open space fell through when the park lacked funds to follow through on the purchases. At parks like Cape Cod or Fire Island that are dotted with privately owned homes within the park’s outer boundaries (called “inholdings” by the NPS), the NPS relies on zoning laws to manage land. The NPS has learned the hard way that zoning laws only work if the towns are willing to enforce them and update them over time.

LLO: What are some of the success stories you came across in your research and what mistakes or missteps did the NPS and/or others make in the development of coastal parks?

Gonzales: The “Cape Cod Formula,” in which the National Park Service allowed citizens to remain in their homes in order to achieve conservation of surrounding lands, was fairly successful at Cape Cod, Indiana Dunes, Fire Island, and others in preventing future development of areas along certain coasts. However, that model also had drawbacks that the NPS has had to deal with over the last several decades. At Fire Island, for example, inholdings within the park are so extensive and have so much autonomy that land uses within those pockets can sometimes weaken park-wide conservation goals.

A major misstep that came to a head in the 1960s was the NPS effort to take lands from the U.S. Forest Service along the Oregon coast. NPS takeover of Forest Service lands had been common practice in the early 20th century, but the NPS underestimated the level of loyalty of Oregonians to the Forest Service amid a thriving logging industry. That area remains under Forest Service control.

LLO: In your view, how did the boom in coastal parks change conservation in the United States?

Gonzales: Coastal park establishment changed how the NPS made new units, and in so doing, altered the definition of national parks. Because citizens of coasts had the wealth and political clout to shape founding legislation for these parks, the NPS listened to and actually incorporated citizens’ wants and needs into founding legislation for these parks. The parks that came out of this coastal conservation push were piecemeal, segmented, and some even had formal mechanisms like Advisory Councils for communities to have a say in how the federal government managed land in their neighborhoods. This was a major shift towards cooperative management of federal conservation and recreation lands, which accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s as land purchases became increasingly cost-prohibitive. In addition, cooperative models for coastal parks empowered fledgling grassroots environmental organizations which then went on to push for additional conservation measures in following decades.

Previous Featured Voices

January 2017 – Allen Dieterich-Ward, urban and environmental historian and author of Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the State of Industrial America


More Than Campfire Conversation

By Guest Observer January 29, 2017

By Rolf Diamant

* this article originally appeared in the The George Wright Forum, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 271–274 (2016)

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt insisted on camping alone with John Muir while the president was on a tour of Yosemite. This encounter no doubt encouraged Roosevelt to support the eventual inclusion of Yosemite Valley into the larger Yosemite National Park. With the 2016 National Park Service (NPS) commemorations winding down, I took another look at the agency’s centennial webpage where there is a special feature with the biographies of “early national park visionary leaders.” Muir and Roosevelt are there, reunited once again and given top billing as the lead visionaries of the national park movement, along with Stephen Mather, the politically adroit and charismatic first NPS director.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.


They are all credited with “groundbreaking ideas preserving America’s treasures for future generations,” with Muir praised as “the father of national parks.”

Roosevelt was of course a great conservation-minded president and Muir was a brilliant publicist and a passionate and influential park and wilderness advocate. However, national parks had already been in existence for more than 30 years at the time of the camping trip, and the establishment of a National Park Service would not happen until 1916, 13 years later, when Roosevelt had long been out of office and John Muir was dead. What is most striking about this official web feature is not only who is being given all the credit but also who is being erased, in effect, from this high-profile NPS history lesson.

To begin with, there is no mention of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and his landmark Yosemite Report, or of his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who penned the compelling statement of purpose for the 1916 Organic Act. The elder Olmsted’s 1865 park plan for Yosemite Valley presciently called for the “establishment by government of great public grounds for the free enjoyment of the people”—a prescription for a future system of national parks. There is no mention of Congressman John Lacey, principal sponsor of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been referred to by historians as the first national park service “organic act.” And there is no mention of J. Horace McFarland, long-time leader of the American Civic Association, who was the driving force behind 16 bills introduced into Congress to establish a national park service. Neither is there any mention given to Mary Belle King Sherman, also known as “the national park lady,” who mobilized 3,000 clubs and nearly one million mem- bers of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs behind McFarland’s campaign. Looking years into the future, Sherman envisioned the contributions national parks would make to American civic life and education, asserting that they provide “the better, greater things of life” possessing “some of the characteristics of the museum, the library, the fine arts hall, and the public school.”

Part of this official adulation of John Muir, as “the father of national parks,” is, I suspect, in part due to his larger-than-life popularity with contemporary environmentalists and wilderness enthusiasts. The fabled Roosevelt–Muir encounter was also a story made for television. In 2009, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan obliged, devoting part of an episode of their documentary series on national parks to the Muir–Roosevelt camping trip in Yo- semite—further canonizing the two, in the public’s eye, as the main architects of “America’s best idea.” NPS has made little official effort in the centennial to present a more inclusive, scholarship-based narrative. This has been a recurring problem for the agency. For much of the 20th century NPS clung to a story, discredited by its own historians, that the national park idea was first suggested by explorer Cornelius Hedges seated around a campfire in the Yellowstone wilderness. A high-level NPS official once said, when scholars challenged the story, “If it didn’t happen we would have been well advised to invent it.”

In the case of the 2016 centennial web page, I am not questioning the very significant contributions Muir, Roosevelt, and Mather made to conservation and national parks, but the story being told is too neat and woefully incomplete. This was just what the Organization of American Historians’ report Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, issued in 2011, five years before the centennial, cautioned NPS to avoid: interpretation that is “less the product of training and expertise and more the expression of conven- tional wisdom.”

I think the inclusion of Olmsted (and, for that matter, his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.), Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman could have in fact strengthened the overarching themes of the 2016 centennial campaign in a number of helpful ways:

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.—forcefully argued that the concept of protecting special places for the benefit of all people, not only privileged groups, has always been an idea worth fighting for. His example suggests that meaningful change arises from an engaged citizenry and the duty of government, based on principles of “equity and benevolence.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.—called for an agency with the highest ethical and profes- sional standards and understood and consistently promoted the advantages of a strong and unified system of national parks.

Congressman John Lacey—made profound contributions to American conservation and reminds us all that NPS cares for places with multiple values and layers of meaning. In our current era of scaled-up landscape conservation, there are lessons to be learned from the way Lacey brought natural, scientific, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and eth- nographic interests together in a big conservation tent.

J. Horace McFarland—repeatedly emphasized that public lands are the heritage of all Americans and are essential to the health and well-being of our democracy; or, as he said, “a plain necessity for good citizenship.”

Mary Belle King Sherman—clearly saw how central to continuous life-long learning national parks could be, and how education and civic engagement have always been a fundamental purpose of public land stewardship.

A 2016 election postscript
The results of the recent election mean there will likely be hard times ahead for America’s national park system. Park supporters everywhere will have to resist the temptation to retreat into a defensive posture solely focused on protecting park resources and budgets while putting aside or perhaps abandoning our highest aspirations for the future of the national park system. Though many difficult and painful battles over resources and budgets may lie ahead, there are higher purposes for the system also at stake—a broad vision that had its roots with people like the Olmsteds, Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman. It is a vision that has been refined and expanded by several incarnations of the National Park System Advisory Board since the 2001 John Hope Franklin report, by the careful work of the 2009 National Park Second Century Commission, and by the 2016 NPS/National Park Foundation centennial campaign that is now concluding. This is a vision of a national park system that is inclusive and committed to engaging diverse constituencies in cooperative stewardship and life-long, real-world learning. It is a vision that always embraces the best current science and scholarship. It is a vision that values national parks and programs for their many contributions to climate resiliency, to ecosystem services, and to the public health and well-being of the nation.
It is a vision we have to hold on to.


Thirtieth Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

By Guest Observer November 1, 2016
Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge
Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Political compromise is unappreciated in our culture of late. It should not be so. Sometimes compromise works. Last July I returned once again to the Columbia River Gorge to visit dear friends and relish the beauty of a treasured landscape. Coming back to an old home—I served as Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999—put me in a reflective mood.

The Columbia Gorge has long been recognized as one of America’s majestic landscapes. It stretches for some eighty miles from just east of Portland Oregon through the Cascade Mountains to the open hills beyond The Dalles Oregon. From temperate rainforest and waterfalls in the west to grasslands in the east, the Gorge is diverse in many things–scenery, topography, climate, botany, cultural heritage and recreation.

Discussions of how to conserve the majesty of the Gorge landscape date back to at least the 1930s. Efforts to do something were almost cyclical for decades. But the Gorge is complicated. It encompasses parts of two states and six counties; is part publicly owned land, but mostly private; includes areas covered by treaty rights of four American Indian nations; holds key communities like Hood River, The Dalles, White Salmon, Cascade Locks and Stevenson; and supports major transportation routes and hydroelectric dams.

By the 1980s concern over development pressures and inadequate land use controls created a turning point. Thirty years ago, on November 17 1986, President Reagan signed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act into law. The Act is a marvel of compromise, worked out through what may appear unfathomable bi-partisan collaboration among the two states’ congressional delegations and Governors. Creative solutions are written throughout the law. It combines public land acquisition in roughly a third of the Gorge with land use controls in the remainder. Growth boundaries are set for thirteen towns and cities but the areas within them are exempted from the Scenic Area Act’s regulations. An intersecting management structure involving the US Forest Service, a bi-state commission and local governments is set up to administer the Scenic Area. Financial incentives for early local implementation are written in.

Overlooking the Columbia River Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

Overlooking the Columbia River
Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

The creativity of the Act does not mean it wasn’t controversial. For a decade or more, some wanting a national park were sorely disappointed. Some counties and landowners bitterly resented the management plan and land use controls imposed under the Act. Thirty years later I am struck by this: if the Scenic Area Act is judged by whether its broadest purposes have been achieved, it can only be regarded as a tremendous success. Driving through the Gorge I scanned the landscape looking for changes. The stunning scenery of the heavily forested western half is virtually the same. The sweeping walls and hills of the more open and sensitive east are equally unaltered.

This is what the Gorge Act sought to accomplish. In face of Portland metro’s explosive growth—from 1.5 million people in 1990 to 2.35 million in 2015—it is a stunning achievement. The Scenic Area abuts the metro area. It is not hard to envision the changes that would have occurred in an unprotected landscape over the past thirty years. At the same time, the Gorge landscape is not set in stone. Most dramatic to me is the evolution of some of the small mid-Gorge towns in Washington formerly dependent upon the lumber economy. By the 1990s recreation had stimulated economic activity in Hood River Oregon, but across the Columbia the small city of White Salmon (population 2,000), where I lived, lagged behind. Walking around town in 2016 is clearly different. A local brew pub, people at restaurant sidewalk tables, a lively new bakery –all driven by a locally-based tech company now employing hundreds, plus the people attracted to the region’s vast recreational resources.

There is another side to this. Median housing costs in White Salmon have more than doubled since 2000. Teachers report new school hires are unable to afford homes in town. The mid-Gorge’s farm workers likely also struggle with housing costs. Recreation demand is also higher. Trailhead parking lots throughout the Gorge fill quickly. A researcher reported the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River has a higher use by rafters and kayakers than any river he has studied nationwide.

The Scenic Area Act sought to support economic growth in the thirteen small urban areas that conserves the Gorge landscape and enhances recreation. After decades it is remarkable to see this playing out. Still, it brings new challenges to managers and communities: a smaller version of affordable housing issues faced in larger cities; how to manage the huge numbers of people from Portland and around the world visiting iconic sites like Multnomah Falls and Dog Mountain.

Addressing such challenges, collaborating with local, state and federal agencies and tribal governments, being responsive, monitoring how the Gorge is doing, adjusting conservation measures and economic strategies – these things take staff and resources. Unfortunately, the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the tiny bi-state agency charged with stewardship of the Scenic Area, is as constrained in resources as ever. Despite three decades of success in protecting the Gorge, the Commission today can only afford six staff to run a nationally important planning and regulatory agency. Adjusted for inflation today’s budget is less than that of the mid-1990s. This amounts to just seven cents annually for each of the two states’ residents. Not enough to ensure the success of the Scenic Area for the next thirty years.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act stems from a period of great innovation in approaches for conserving large landscapes. Like the Pinelands National Reserve in New Jersey, it falls within the “green-line park” movement of the 1970s and 80s. The effectiveness of these landscape-scale conservation experiments is evident today. We need to glance back thirty years and recognize how a forward-looking accord was forged by people working across state lines, parties, and barriers between state and federal government. They knew the Columbia River Gorge was a nationally significant landscape, vital to the heritage of the Northwest and the nation. They knew it was threatened. And they looked to the future and did something about it. Three decades later the wisdom of their actions is clear for anyone to see. To view the success of compromise, just take an eighty-mile drive through the Gorge. We should all take inspiration from it.


Jonathan L. Doherty was Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999. He now works on landscape conservation matters in the Chesapeake Bay region.





Some Lessons from Appalachian Traditional Cultural Places

By Guest Observer October 1, 2016
Greater Newport Rural  Historic District Photograph: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD

Greater Newport Rural Historic District
Photograph: Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD

Recently I prepared a report at the request of the Greater Newport Rural Historic District Committee – whose National Register-listed district is one of several identified rural historic districts transected by the route of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) across the Appalachians. My charge was to see whether the impacted districts met the criteria for a traditional cultural places” (or properties) – that is “TCPs” – per National Register Bulletin 38.

For those not directly affected by the proposed pipeline, some of the most interesting things that I learned from this effort were:

  • The National Register nomination documentation for the historic districts was not very helpful in figuring out whether the districts were TCPs;
  • The nominations were also of little use in ascertaining whether the districts were “rural historic landscapes” per National Register Bulletin 30;
  • In fact, the documentation were unenlightening even about why the districts were viewed as districts; the documentation was overwhelmingly about the individual buildings, structures and sites within the districts, not about the districts as landscapes, or as the “concentrations” and “linkages” to which the Register’s definition of “district” refers.

Luckily, some very interesting and helpful studies had been done quite outside the context of historic preservation, about the “cultural attachment” that people in the area feel for their landscapes. Applying the results of these studies to the districts, it became clear that they – or perhaps more likely a landscape embracing all or some of them – was indeed eligible for the National Register as a TCP.

Why does this matter?  After all most of the districts in question have either been listed on the National Register or authoritatively identified as eligible for it, hence are already entitled to consideration under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. I think it matters in at least two ways:

First, when one looks at a “district” nomination and finds a list of specific buildings, structures and sites, with little or no treatment of the spaces around them, it’s pretty easy to design a new project – like a power line or pipeline – right through the district and think you’re having no adverse effect on it, because your project doesn’t knock down or dig up a “contributing” building, structure or site. You may give some consideration to things like visual effects, but only on those “contributing resources.” The whole idea of the “district” as an entity gets lost.

Second, when a district is characterized only with reference to its constituent buildings, structures and sites – with their significance defined, of course, by historians, architectural historians, and archaeologists – one has no basis for appreciating what makes the district important to the people who live there, work there, or otherwise experience the place. The significance of the district to the people who value it is effectively submerged. When a question arises about a planned project’s potential effects on the district, the concerns of those people can easily be denigrated, as long as one can assure the world that one is not going to muck with the architectural qualities of a building/structure, or the archaeological values of a site.

So – the lesson I take away from this experience, and that I suggest to others, is: if you’re interested in preserving a place that’s important to you, and are encouraged to nominate it to the National Register or offer some representation about its eligibility, think carefully about what you call the place. If you call it a “rural historic district,” you may wind up with something that doesn’t help you much in terms of ensuring that the values you ascribe to the place are given due attention. If you call it a rural historic (or cultural) landscape or TCP you’re probably better off, but even then, pay careful attention to how whoever compiles the documentation describes the place. “Preservation professionals” may automatically slip into architectural and archaeological modes of thought when assigned to describe the historic and cultural qualities of a place. If you use such professionals, somebody needs to be looking over their shoulders to remind them to attend to the spaces around the buildings, structures, and sites, and particularly to listen to the people.

And if you’re a preservation professional (or non-professional) responsible for writing up a place with reference to its National Register eligibility, get familiar with the “cultural attachment” literature – which has mostly been produced with little or no (or ill-advised) reference to historic preservation, but is very, very relevant. My full paper including key sources to the literature can be found here.

Thomas F. (Tom) King is the author, co-author, or editor of ten books on aspects of cultural heritage, and the co-author of National Register Bulletin 38 on the identification and documentation of traditional cultural places. He is a consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and can be contacted at 

This post was first published on the author’s blog CRM and is used with his permission.




Rappahannock Retracing their Past.

By Guest Observer August 29, 2016

By Joe McCauley

Historic marker Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Historic marker
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

In 1940, Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, a novel about finding one’s identity in the modern world.  In popular American speech, the phrase has come to mean it is impossible to relive the optimistic expectations of youth once you have experienced the world as an adult.  Perhaps so, but through the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service intend to turn that concept around for the American Indian tribes of the Chesapeake region, and demonstrate that in some respects, you can go home again.

The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative (or ICL in short) is an attempt to identify and map geographic areas where Chesapeake tribes once lived, where they worked the land, fished and hunted, gathered materials for pottery, weaponry and utensils, and where they fought for survival against the English incursion.  ICLs are defined as trail-related resources for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in its Comprehensive Management Plan. From the Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy perspective, identifying and mapping these places help us achieve one of the Trail’s three goals, that being to “to share knowledge about the American Indian societies and cultures of the 17th century.”  Equally important, this initiative provides an opportunity for Chesapeake American Indian tribes to, in a sense, go home again.  This collaboration among the tribes, the Conservancy, and the Park Service is also critical to achieving another of the goals of the Captain Smith Chesapeake Trail: “to interpret the natural history of the Bay (both historic and contemporary).”

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

The ICL concepts and opportunities came together beautifully on a warm, blustery April day when six members of the Rappahannock Tribe, including Chief Anne Richardson, visited several sites along the Rappahannock River and two tidal tributaries.  Tribal members were joined by archeologists from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, along with staff from the National Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy.  Stops included Sabine Hall, which may have been the site of the Rappahannock town of Toppahanock; Cobham Farm, where the Rappahannock dug clay for pottery even into the 1960s; and Totuskey Creek, which formed one boundary of the land grant to Moore Fauntleroy that resulted in one of many moves the Rappahannock were forced to make by the English.

The day was filled with excitement and discovery.  Most tribal members had never before visited these sites with the exception of Cobham Farm, where Chief Anne remembered digging clay for pottery when she was a teenager.  Vestiges of the Packett family campground that once thrived there along the Rappahannock River still remain and brought back memories from decades past.  At Menokin, the ancestral home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, the group toured the visitor center where artifacts from the original 18th century building are on display.  Of particular note for the Rappahannock was an engraved “X” in a mantelpiece that resembled one they had seen on a 17th century treaty.  Was it the same mark used as a signature by the tribal leader who signed the treaty?

This is just one of many questions that surfaced throughout the day, and during another similar visit in early May.  In fact, there are now more questions in search of answers than before the ICL Rappahannock initiative was begun.  Does an Essex County farm hold remnants of palisade walls erected by the Rappahannock?  If so, it would be the first such palisade documented along the river.  Where are the exact locations of the many Indian towns mapped by Captain John Smith along the Rappahannock River?  To date, none have been accurately mapped or documented.

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

During the second of the two trips, the group visited Beverly Marsh, a special place whose history is unquestioned.  On August 18, 1608, as Smith’s shallop approached the narrowest part of the river at what is now called Fones Cliff, Rappahannock bowmen let loose a volley of arrows directed toward the English.  Smith had erected shields along the gunwales of his boat, so the arrows did no harm.  The event is exquisitely captured in Smith’s writings and there is little doubt as to the location, with the high white cliffs being a prominent feature in the story.  What remains in doubt is the future of this ecological and historic treasure as Richmond County has approved two development proposals that would place hundreds of homes and townhouses atop Fones Cliff.  While Beverly Marsh is permanently protected through the generosity of the Wellford family, Fones Cliff is highly threatened.

From Smith’s journals and maps, it is believed that at least one, and perhaps more, Rappahannock towns existed on the Fones Cliff properties, but no archeological work as been performed.  As Chief Anne noted during the May visit to Beverly Marsh, ” I was amazed to find the places we frequented on the South side of the River were directly across from historic towns on the North side of the River.”  But exactly where those towns were remains unknown.

The entire Fones Cliff ecosystem is within the boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and efforts are ongoing to bring the properties into public ownership, or at a minimum, protect them via conservation easements.  If they were to come into public ownership, it would provide opportunities for tribal members, young and old, to visit their ancestral lands.  It would provide equal opportunities for visitors from around the Nation and the world to experience what it must have been like to be there in 1608, since the landscape is remarkably intact with few intrusions of 21st century habitation.

Documentation is key to the ICL project and any similar archeological endeavor.  Investigators, in this case from St. Mary’s College, NPS, and the Rappahannock tribe, are attempting to piece together what is known from historic records with oral history to get as close to the “truth” as possible.  The St. Mary’s team is using geographic information systems to map the best corn growing soils, high-resource marshes, fresh water sources, and routes of travel among other key ingredients for pre-17th century survival. Those layers are augmented by reports of known archeological sites maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. What sets the ICL initiative apart is the added layer provided by the Rappahannock themselves, adding their oral and written history to the mix, which will provide the most comprehensive mapping project of its kind for indigenous occupation along the river.

When completed, the Rappahannock ICL report will have multiple uses.  Areas mapped as having a high probability of being sites of occupation and utilization by the Rappahannock Tribe can provide another layer of information for those who wish to conserve their lands.  Adding this information to known priority areas for fish and wildlife for example, will help focus efforts to work with willing landowners who are interested in both habitat and cultural resource conservation.  Participation in the endeavor is encouraging the tribe in ongoing efforts to revisit their cultural heritage and relearn the traditional skills involved.

The ICL work will also help identify those sites that warrant further investigation by archeologists on public land, and with landowner concurrence, on private lands as well.  There is great public interest in the pre-17th century indigenous use and habitation of the Chesapeake Bay region, as evidenced by well-attended public lectures on the subject.  Public land managers have a duty to understand where important cultural resources exist on lands they manage, so they can both protect these sites and interpret them for the visiting public.  Private landowners too have shown great interest in knowing where on their property these sites exist, so they can avoid accidentally damaging resources that are vital to our understanding of the earliest days of what would become the United States of America.

And then there are the Rappahannock themselves, without whom the ICL project would be just another academic exercise.  Tribal members’ recollections, research, and willingness to become fully engaged in the process are what set the ICL initiative apart from more traditional archeological endeavors.  Where this path will ultimately lead, only time will tell.  But for now it offers hope for the Rappahannock and other Chesapeake tribes that you can go home again.

Joe McCauley retired in 2015 after 32 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now serves as the Chesapeake Fellow for the Chesapeake Conservancy (, Joe can be reached at


Bridging the Nature/Culture Divide with Ecological Restoration

By Guest Observer July 28, 2016

By Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada
Courtesy: Jon Weller

Lately, many members of the conservation community have been asking the question of how we resolve the dissonance in our thinking between the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. One area where this question is being dealt with in an engaging way is within the field of ecological restoration. What the dialogue happening within this field demonstrates is that far from being antagonistic towards each other, as it is often portrayed, the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ can be intricately intertwined and mutually reinforcing.

Restoration ecology is a practice that has traditionally sought to return disturbed natural environments to what they were before a point of human disturbance. But, this is increasingly recognized as an unlikely goal. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that there has never been an original point of pre-human contact to return to, and secondly, in a world where anthropogenic change is pushing flora and fauna far beyond their historical range it is “futile to try to restore past conditions.”1 Therefore, contemporary restoration ecologists do not aim to ‘recreate’ the past, so much as to reestablish the historical trajectory of an impaired ecosystem in order for it to continue its evolution.

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago  Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago
Courtesy: Jon Weller

More than a changing understanding of the role of history, however, the field has also broadened its mandate beyond the natural world. What is being called ‘comprehensive ecological restoration’ is an approach to intervening in ecological systems that takes as its goal the recovery of the entire socio-ecological system. A comprehensive approach recognizes that, if successful, its efforts contribute to the overall well-being of the ecosystem and the societies that rely on them by renewing economic opportunities, rejuvenating traditional cultural practices, and enhancing ecological and social resilience to environmental change.2 Emphasizing this broader picture pushes ecological restoration into the realm of what alternative fields understand as cultural landscape management. Furthermore, a broader mandate injects an important element of transparency, engagement, and communication with citizens and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of interventions.

Off the west coast of Canada, on a small island in the Gulf Islands archipelago, The Galiano Conservancy Association offers an exciting model of how traditional nature conservation, can, and is, being transformed by these dialogues and practices. Formed in 1989 with a mission “[t]o preserve, protect and enhance the quality of the human and natural environment” on Galiano Island, the Galiano Conservancy Association was one of BC’s first community-based land trusts.3

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network
Courtsey: Jon Weller

Originally organized as an “instrument for community-based acquisition, management and conservation of land and habitat,” the Conservancy has successfully protected important ecological communities through direct land purchase and cooperative partnerships. It conducts work such as extensive long-term biological monitoring; but it has also grown to take on a broader range of activities than traditional conservation organizations that focus on the preservation of relatively intact ecosystems. This work includes the stewardship and restoration of ecosystems, (much of the island’s land was degraded through intensive logging operations) as well as efforts to educate the public and raise awareness of sustainable human relationships with the natural world. Instead of simply seeing their sites as degraded ecosystems, the Conservancy has embraced the history of human habitation (and degradation), not by preserving it in the sense of a cultural landscape, but rather by documenting it, allowing it to remain, incorporating it into educational programming, and refashioning it in contemporary ways such as establishing food forests on earlier agricultural land.

Galiano Island Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano Island
Courtsey: Jon Weller

The management of a multi-use landscapes is most certainly a complex and complicated process, but because of the kind of activities that are available it is possible, in the words of Conservancy Board Member Lorne Wilkinson, to “begin to create a model of how we might bring together natural systems and human systems in ways that are mutually reinforcing” and serves also to educate “people in their relationship to the natural world.”4 More than simply a protected natural or cultural landscape, the Conservancy’s properties are an ongoing example of how the restoration and conservation of natural and cultural systems can be integrated in a sustainable way. Such a model for community-led restoration of ecological systems, where the cultural connections to the land are deeply connected to all of the activities, offers a compelling case for reconciling the division between nature and culture.

1) Luis Balaguer, Adrián Escudero, José F. Martín-Duque, Ignacio Mola, and James Aronson, “The historical reference in restoration ecology: Re-defining a cornerstone concept,” Biological Conservation 176 (2014): 13.

2) Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group, The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration, Society for Ecological Restoration International (Tucson, AZ, 2004)

3) Galiano Conservancy Association, “Our Mission.” (accessed 18 June 2015)

4) Deborah Curran, Resource Guide to Collaborative Conservation Planning (Galiano, BC: Galiano Conservancy Association, 2013), 8.

Jon Weller is a researcher and heritage advocate from the University of Victoria where he studies alternative approaches for culture-based land and resource management. This article was first presented as a paper at the University of Massachusetts’ 2016 conference ‘Nature/Culture: Heritage in Context’ in Prague


Introducing the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN)

By Guest Observer May 22, 2016
Yellowstone to Yukon a transboundary conservation initiative Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Yellowstone to Yukon a transboundary conservation initiative
Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Private land conservation has been used as a land protection tool for centuries. Working within local and national political and legal frameworks, private and civic organizations have been protecting and stewarding private forestland, farmland, natural habitats, and historic/cultural sites around the world. Less well known than public protected areas, such as national parks and preserves, privately protected areas are gaining attention and momentum as a critical tool for modern day conservation.

In the last several years, conservationists in the US and around the world have started to quantify and assess international private land conservation efforts. Publications by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the European Commission highlight the broad scope of this movement, as well as opportunities to strengthen efforts through collaboration, legal reform, and capacity building. The IUCN report goes as far as to say that “privately protected areas deserve far greater recognition and support” than they have previously received, and that such recognition and support “will help bring the private conservation movement fully into the mainstream of global conservation practice.” It is also becoming increasingly clear that if nations are to meet international biodiversity, conservation, and preservation goals, privately protected land will have to be part of the equation.

The need and the recognition of a growing movement inspired the founding of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN), which is working to connect organizations and people across a broad spectrum of action relating to private and civic land conservation. The ILCN envisions a world in which the public, private, civic (NGO), and academic sectors, together with indigenous communities around the globe, work collaboratively to protect and steward land that is essential for wildlife habitat, clean and abundant water, treasured human historical and cultural amenities, and sustainable food, fiber, and energy production.

The ILCN formally launched at its First Congress in Berlin, Germany in October 2015. Attended by 90 participants from 27 counties, the Congress catalyzed and reinvigorated national efforts and international exchanges around the world. Attendees from such disparate locations as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Myanmar have continued to build relationships and learn from one another since the Congress. Overwhelmingly, participants called for a forum through which to share best practices, model documents, technology, case studies, and professional development/career training opportunities across the globe to address shared challenges and empower organizations.

The ILCN is working to implement these suggestions, beginning with an e-newsletter and a census of organizations working on private land conservation around the world. This is the first comprehensive effort to determine a baseline of organizations, and, already, over 1,600 organizations in more than 100 countries have been identified. As interest in, and support for, this movement grows, there is an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen this global community of practice and accelerate efforts worldwide.

Emily Myron
Program Manager, International Land Conservation Network
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

If you are affiliated with an organization that engages in private land conservation or stewardship, we invite you to please take our brief survey: We look forward to learning about your important work.


Parks Without Borders: Valuing NPS Programs

By Guest Observer April 24, 2016

images (2) The National Park Service celebrates a milestone in 2016: the centennial of its inception. There will be much fanfare about the past 100 years of what some call, “America’s best idea.” For its part, NPS is looking to the future, strategizing how to capitalize on its birthday and bring the idea of National Parks into the 21st Century. It is the perfect opportunity to affirm the transformative potential of its cooperative programming.

In addition to hailing its achievements, NPS hopes that its centennial will turn attention to its role in telling the American story. Director Jonathan Jarvis has outlined his plans for the agency in a Call to Action, which describes a series of strategies to connect people to parks, advance the NPS mission, preserve America’s special places, and enhance the agency’s organizational excellence. One such strategy is to build awareness of the value of the NPS mission by studying the economic value of the full range of its operations. This action item acknowledges the importance of an accurate public understanding of the NPS mission, and the common good that the mission creates.

Environmental economists have traditionally focused on the management of physical park units when performing economic valuations. The value NPS creates by operating cooperative programs outside of its park boundaries (including programs aimed at education, conservation, historical preservation, and recreation) through collaboration with local partners is just as relevant albeit more difficult to define. Still, we cannot omit the value that programs provide just because it is harder to quantify: programming can be the most effective and efficient method of achieving some of the agency’s long-term objectives. An accurate valuation of NPS must include these programs, and accurately describe how they create public value.

I recently observed this problem when conducting a case study of the NPS Chesapeake Bay Office.  The office operates solely through collaboration and programming.  People often told me that it was as the “glue” between disparate partners in the region.  By convening and collaborating with partners big and small, they connected stakeholders throughout the watershed. However, the significance of this role was never well defined.

The qualitative interviews I conducted with partners in the region helped to put this vague description of value into context. Analysis revealed how NPS leverages its connections and strengths within a collaborative network of partners. In economic terms, the impact of NPS programming is its potential to produce positive intermediate outcomes that feed back into their operations.

Intermediate outcomes include increased trust, greater public awareness and appreciation, cross-agency and interdisciplinary training, and a shared sense of purpose and place. These make the network’s shared efforts to conserve and restore the Chesapeake Bay more efficient and effective.  Recent studies have even shown that this kind of approach can lead to better environmental regulatory compliance. For NPS, programming allows the agency to collaborate with partners outside of its physical landholdings. This expands the potential of its conservation efforts to create public value (ecological, cultural, historical, recreational, and economic) on a large landscape level that extends past park borders.

Despite the problems of quantification, acknowledging these outcomes explicitly as benefits in a discussion of value will ensure that the public is aware of cooperative programming and its role in stewardship and conservation. Most importantly, it forces us to consider the role that these outcomes can play in a future when partners form strong, flexible networks unified by common objectives. Indeed, this forward-looking perspective is precisely why economic valuations can be a powerful tool.

I found that the NPS brand instills trust that can be leveraged to create a strong and cohesive narrative about natural and cultural conservation and public access. Ultimately, NPS connects the public to the Chesapeake Bay, and the Chesapeake Bay to the public. This effort produces stakeholders out of people who did not know they cared, and aligns the interests of those already passionate about the living landscape that is the watershed. This is a critical step towards ensuring the long-term success of conservation efforts aimed at preserving this public good.

As NPS makes plans to scale up its mission for the next 100 years, it should look no further than how it can expand its role as organizational “glue.” Its cooperative programming has the ability to span levels of governments, geographical boundaries, interest groups, and ideologies in order to effectively connect the American public to its natural and cultural history.  There is real public value in performing that role well.  We should all consider how to articulate that value so it is better understood and appreciated.


The author Stephen Thompson is a Master in Public Policy student at the Harvard Kennedy School. He spent last summer as a consultant with the National Park Service in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Prior to graduate school, Stephen served as Director of Program Quality at Cross-Cultural Solutions and was responsible for program evaluation and impact assessment.  He is a graduate of Carleton College, where he studied History.


New US ICOMOS World Heritage Gap Study Report

By Guest Observer March 30, 2016

gap-study-logo-square-600x400 (1)The US/ICOMOS Gap Study Report is the product of a series of consultations that took from August to December, 2015. US/ICOMOS is grateful to the hundreds of heritage professionals and experts who participated in this process. Drawing from their feedback, the Study identifies categories of U.S. cultural resources with potential universal and national significance that could both represent the breadth of U.S. heritage and also fill gaps in the World Heritage List previously identified by international experts.

The Tentative List is an inventory of those properties that a Nation intends to consider for nomination to the World Heritage List in the future. Only properties that have already been included on Tentative List can be considered for inscription.  Nations are encouraged to submit in their Tentative Lists cultural and/or natural heritage sites that they consider to be of outstanding universal value and therefore suitable for inscription. In addition, in 1994 the World Heritage Committee launched the Global Strategy for a Representative, Balanced and Credible World Heritage List which further encourages Nations to prepare Tentative Lists from categories of eligible cultural resources not currently well-represented on the World Heritage List.

The difficult context in which the U.S. World Heritage efforts now operate must also be acknowledged.  The U.S. ceased all budgetary support to UNESCO, including to the World Heritage Center, in the fall of 2011. This is the first time the U.S. has failed to provide financial support for World Heritage since its ratification of the World Heritage Convention 40 years ago.  The cut-off of U.S. funding has not only undermined our country’s status within UNESCO, it has had profound consequences for the staff who work there.   Budget cuts and layoffs have hit particularly hard the heritage professionals who administer the World Heritage Convention.  The resulting erosion of the World Heritage Center’s capacity to address the destruction of heritage as a tactic of war currently occurring on a shocking scale across North Africa and the Middle East is an especially unfortunate consequence of this policy.

In short, it has never been more important that Americans who cherish the World Heritage program demonstrate their passion through informed, respectful, professional and committed engagement of all its processes.

In view of the importance of this process, US/ICOMOS has launched this U.S. World Heritage Tentative List Update Resource Center.  The site provides a rich array of background information on the legal, regulatory and heritage aspects of the pending Tentative List revisions. This includes resources developed during the U.S. Tentative List Expert Consultation that occurred in 2015.  This site will also provide updates on the revision process as it unfolds over the coming months.

US/ICOMOS has been committed to the principles of World Heritage since even before the U.S. ratified the Convention in the summer of 1973. As the U.S. affiliate of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, US/ICOMOS remains deeply committed to the World Heritage program, both working to build domestic support for this international program and aiding in the nomination and conservation of U.S. inscribed sites. This work builds on the international work of ICOMOS, the formal advisory body to the World Heritage Committee on all aspects of cultural heritage.


Andrew Potts

Executive Director US/ICOMOS




Diamonds in the Rough Panel Looks at Past, Present and Future of National Park System in Urban Areas

By Guest Observer March 25, 2016

By Angela Sirna

On March 16-20, 2016, public historians from across the United States convened in Baltimore, Maryland for the National Council on Public History annual meeting. I joined a group of scholars and practitioners for a roundtable discussion about the National Park Service’s involvement in urban parks since World War II.


Mahoney points out that documentary film maker Ken Burns devoted 16% of his series “America’s Best Idea” to the history of the NPS after World War II. That’s not a lot of time! Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Eleanor Mahoney, a doctoral candidate in history at University of Washington, could not attend in person, but offered the opening remarks. She pointed out that the historical narrative about the NPS has largely been dominated by the creation of scenic, western parks before World War II. Yet, the system has expanded dramatically since then and has become increasingly involved in urban parks. This roundtable was formed with the intention of disrupting this narrative. She also pointed out that the importance of the interaction of political economy with conservation policy. The Great Society programs of the 1960s and environmental movement of the early 1970s provided the impetus for park expansion, but the growing austerity of government spending under Ronald Reagan and his successors prompted the invention of flexible, though not always adequately funded, programs like partnership parks and National Heritage Areas. One of her last points was that these new parks, which are now the standard bearers for the NPS Centennial, are very different from the older, western parks that are continuously referred to as the “crown jewels” of the national park system.

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Cover of Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area, 2014-2015 Visitors Guide. Source: Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area.


Patrick Nugent, a doctoral candidate in American Studies at George Washington University, provided deeper introspection about a specific NPS planning effort at Gateway National Recreation Area, located in the Port of New York and New Jersey. Patrick’s research on Gateway is part of his larger study on the environmental history of Staten Island in the decades surrounding the completion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964).

He shows that by the late-1960s, government officials and urban planners were in favor of creating high-density housing with access to mass-transit, and were considering a proposal from James Rouse for a “New Town-In-Town” to help alleviate unorganized, racially-segregated growth in the lower-third of Staten Island. However, the NPS forestalled these efforts when they added the Great Kills Unit on Staten Island to a proposed national park in the area. Congress established Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972, which thwarted opportunities for affordable housing and mass-transit opportunities in southern Staten Island.

Instead of bringing a national park to diverse communities as a way to smooth racial tensions, which was President Nixon’s expressed interest, critics argued that the NPS created a playground for rich, white New Yorkers. Nugent concluded his remarks saying that when reaching out to urban audiences, especially low-income residents and people of color, officials need to consider the lost opportunities (jobs, housing, and transportation) and unfulfilled promises associated with the formation of urban parks. He expressed his belief that officials taking on the new Urban Agenda should use program funding to fulfill some of those promises and add a new goal to its long term vision: “to bring affordable housing and mass transit to the parks.”


View of Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (1964). Photographed by Arnoldius. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Map of Gateway National Recreation Area. Source: National Park Service












I presented a brief case study on the Job Corps program (here is a slightly longer post) to bring attention to the fact that urban concerns were often transplanted in rural, traditional national parks. The Job Corps was a War on Poverty initiative during the Lyndon Johnson’s administration. The National Park Service helped launch the Job Corps program by opening nine Job Corps Centers in eight national parks between 1965 and 1969. This program was modeled after the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, which put young men to work on conservation projects across the U.S. Program administrations targeted impoverished young men from inner city areas and the hills of Appalachia to live and work in these rural national parks. Unlike the CCC, the Job Corps was integrated, reflecting the influence of the Civil Rights Movement. This added an additional layer of complexity that I think makes this program worthy of study. As the Johnson administration fell out of favor, so too did his domestic programs like the Job Corps. President Nixon closed all but three of the NPS Job Corps Centers. The Forest Service administers these three centers today. The Job Corps program is important to look at because it was a notable point in the agency’s effort to diversify its workforce. Corpsmen completed a number of projects that are enjoyed by visitors and park staff on a daily basis, but are often unattributed to them. Finally, it underscores how the NPS has been involved in social and economic reform.


President Lyndon B. Johnson talks to a Job Corps enrollee at Catoctin Job Corps Center in 1965. Source: Catoctin Mountain Park.

Rolf Diamant, co-author of the recently released A Thinking Person’s Guide to the National Parks, brought to the roundtable nearly forty years experience working with the NPS, including some of these urban areas. He reminded the audience that the agency’s interest in urban eastern areas is not new. In fact, the first directors Stephen Mather and Horace Albright wanted to create parks and historic sites in the east to attract the majority of the nation’s population. They knew if they didn’t have the support of the citizens, the agency would not thrive. The New Deal provided the opportunity for the NPS to expand, using emergency relief funds for land acquisition and labor. This New Deal legacy continued after World War II with the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Review Services Commission and programs like the Job Corps. President Nixon latched onto the urban parks initiative, but dropped it quickly after the 1972 election. Urban parks continue to remain an important political tool. At the dedication of Pullman National Monument in Chicago, President Obama said that it was as worthy of protection as the Grand Canyon. His administration also saw a number of park programs, including “Healthy Parks, Healthy People,” and “Every Kid in a Park.”


President Barack Obama signs a proclamation regarding the establishment of the Pullman National Monument at the Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in Chicago, Ill., Feb. 19, 2015. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Missy Morrison is the DC Urban Fellow for the new NPS Urban Agenda’s Model Cities Program. The name itself borrows upon the Model Cities Act of 1965. Missy could not make the panel because of last minute emergency. Her perspective was certainly missed, but Rolf was able to step in to provide an overview. The agenda has three main goals: 1) Be relevant to all Americans 2) Activate “ONE NPS” 3) Nurture a Culture of Collaboration. Some of these ideas go back to the 1987 Urban Superintendent’s Conference.

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NPS Model Cities and Urban Fellows Program. Source: National Park Service

Brenda Barrett, our moderator, asked how we should look to the future. Patrick responded that we need to reconsider national parks as non-residential landscapes. The agency needs to consider lost jobs, homes, and transportation when these parks are created. Rolf emphasized the need for parks to have multiple uses to better meet the needs of visitors. The NPS is more sophisticated and should be able to accommodate a changing population. I responded that the lessons learned from urban parks could be helpful for those units that were once rural, but are now urban. Additionally, we can learn lessons from youth programs like the Job Corps to help improve our current youth initiatives.

We then invited audience questions. These questions ranged from the impact of the National Heritage Area program on the national park system to current resistance to federal landownership. Another audience member pointed out Imperiled Promise’s directive to interpret how the NPS has shaped the landscape. We also discussed the new Coltsville National Historical Park (Connecticut’s first national park) and how/if the park will interpret gun violence at a place that was created with the support of pro-gun groups.

Here are a few tweets for the session, but I’m afraid I didn’t catch them all.

Special thanks to Eleanor and Patrick for their input on this post and Rolf and Missy for participating in our roundtable. Thanks to Brenda Barrett for being a calm, fabulous, and brilliant moderator.

Angela Sirna received her PhD in Public History from Middle Tennessee State University in April 2015 and is currently working on an administrative history of Stones River National Battlefield. Her dissertation traced the development of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park from the New Deal through the Great Society. Angela also served as the Public Historian in Residence at Catoctin Mountain Park in 2013-2014 and completed a Special Resource Study on human conservation programs at the park throughout the twentieth century.  This post was originally published on Angela’s blog, Landscape Redux.


Politicians, Conservationists, And National Parks

By Guest Observer February 21, 2016

It’s rich political theater, watching the ongoing debate over a possible national park in Maine’s North Woods as well as the long-running efforts to resolve land-use practices on millions of federal acres in Utah. Boasts have been made, promises allegedly discarded, and no resolution in either state has been made.

Seemingly ignored have been residents of the two states, as the politicians opposing a new national park in Maine and those opposed to a new national monument in Utah are ignoring majorities who have voiced support for both. About the only thing that has been assured through the sound bites, letter writing, and draft legislation is that neither issue will be resolved soon.

Maine North Woods –Letter writing and bluster have been the latest developments in the years-long debate over whether Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby can hand over some 100,000 acres of her private property to the National Park Service for a North Woods park adjacent to Baxter State Park, one that would have spectacular views of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Last week Maine Gov. Paul LePage directed the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands to reestablish a road through Ms. Quimby’s lands to state-owned lands within her tract. In issuing that order, the governor said the state-owned acreage were “threatened by efforts to create a National Park/National Monument in the Millinocket area.”

“Despite lack of local support and lack of support from members of Maine’s Congressional delegation, this proposal has now changed direction,” said Governor LePage in a release. “Through the use of high-paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., the Quimby family has focused its efforts on lobbying the Obama Administration, seeking to have the President use sweeping authority granted to him under the Antiquities Act to unilaterally designate this area a National Monument.”

While the governor maintained there was lack of local support for a national park or monument, a survey last summer of the congressional district that would be most affected by creation of a Katahdin Woods and Waters National Park and National Recreation Area overwhelmingly voiced support for it. And according to the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, a recent statewide survey found that 60 percent of Maine residents support the idea.

In response to the governor’s directive, Ms. Quimby said if the state wants to upgrade its right-of-way to reach the 2,500 acres, she won’t object. “The [right of way] to the public land cited by the governor has never been denied,” she said Saturday. “With little wood of commercial value to harvest, the [right of way] has not been maintained by the state. If the state wishes to upgrade its [right of way] to begin a harvesting operation, so be it. No argument from us.”

Meanwhile, three members of Maine’s congressional delegation were miffed with a response National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis wrote to address their concerns that the president might turn to the Antiquities Act to create a monument. In their letter to the president (attached) sent in November, the delegation urged him not to turn to his pen to establish a monument but rather to send “financial support for research to back the development and use of wood products and fibers, advanced engineering projects that use wood, and support for policies that will create strong markets for wood products.”

The three — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Jr., and Rep Bruce Poliquin — went on to say that if the president was determined to designate a monument, he should direct in his proclamation that all currently allowed recreational uses in Maine be permitted in the monument, that “proper forest management, including timber harvesting,” be allowed, that all state or private lands adjacent to a monument continue to have easements and rights-of-way (e.g., roads), with “freedom from view shed, air quality, or buffer zone regulations or requirements.”

In short, the delegation doesn’t want any monument to come with limitations on how the land would be maintained or accessed.In responding to the politicians for the president, Director Jarvis pointed out the economic benefits of a national park.”Last year, the National Park Service recorded 305 million visitors to the (National Park) System, which generated over $16 billion into the economies of communities within 60 miles of parks,” he wrote in his letter (attached). “… The NPS experience has been that such influxes of new visitors result in the launching (of) new businesses to start, such as food and beverage, lodging, guides and outfitters, and camping and outdoor supply. Often local entertainment and other attractions appear in neighboring areas. Land values often increase as well.”

That said, the director added, there can be challenges and negative impacts associated with an NPS property.  “The DOI (Department of the Interior) looks forward to the opportunity to better understand these and other issues as you continue to solicit public input and lead this option dialogue about how best to protect important resources within your communities, while recognizing the economic needs in the region. We also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on what you believe would be critically important considerations ranging from public access to private property rights, for your communities if the Federal Government received a land donation for a park or similar use,” he wrote.

The politicians weren’t mollified, however, and took exception that Director Jarvis didn’t respond directly to their requirements concerning state and private property rights, access, logging, and recreational activities, as well as state management oversight for any monument.“These conditions are critical to ensuring that future economic activities in the Katahdin region are not stifled by burdensome regulations that upset the Maine tradition of multi-use working forests,” Sens. Collins and King wrote.

Utah Public Lands – When U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz last month released their long-awaited Public Lands Initiative for designating wilderness, releasing lands from wilderness consideration, expanding Arches National Park, and basically deciding how millions of federal acres in eastern Utah should be managed, they said there was a lot to like, and a lot not to like, in the draft legislation. Those who have found aspects not to like have been vocal lately.

In their response to Rep. Bishop, the Grand Canyon Trust pretty much rejected the draft in its entirety. Our opposition is rooted in the fact that the PLI does not represent a positive, solution-oriented step toward resolving land use and land tenure matters in eastern Utah. Chief among the harms contained in PLI are: management language not found elsewhere in law that undermines new wilderness and national conservation areas; special management areas and canyon country recreation zones that weaken existing protections; release and hard release of millions of acres of deserving potential wilderness; disposal of lands far in excess of standards set forth by the Public Purposes and Recreation Act; a wildly unbalanced and unfair SITLA state land exchange; creation of “energy zones” in excess of 2.5 million acres where multiple-use land management principles are cast aside and the reality of climate change is unacknowledged; excessive grants of RS 2477 road claims and a Book Cliffs Highway corridor to the State of Utah; hobbling of livestock management necessary to conserve ecosystems and species; inadequate provisions respecting sovereign Native American tribes with regard to protection and management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape; and the stated goal of the authors of PLI to place limitations on the President’s authority to use the Antiquities Act of 1906.

At the Natural Resources Defense Fund, Sharon Buccino, the group’s director for its Land and Wildlife Program, wrote the two Republicans that their vision “does not represent the values of the diverse stakeholders that have been engaged.”

Some of our greatest concerns with the PLI discussion draft include:

* Provisions that would undermine the integrity of the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act;

* Language that would undercut the management of proposed wilderness areas, national conservation areas, special management areas, and recreation zones;

* Unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah, including the sanctioning of questionable R.S. 2477 claims and the establishment of 10,000 miles of unnecessary public roads;

* Designation of over 2.5 million acres of energy zones that will allow development to override other considerations;

* Insufficient protections for critical cultural resources, including provisions that would allow San Juan County to supersede sovereign tribal considerations;

* The hard release of over two million acres of public land, much of it wilderness quality land that should be permanently safeguarded.

The PLI discussion draft, as it now stands, is a missed opportunity to resolve longstanding issues that deserve a more deliberative approach—one that fully assimilates input from stakeholders who have been historically invested in how these critical public lands should be managed and safeguarded for generations to come.

As to what Utah residents want, a survey earlier this year by Colorado College found that 47 percent of the respondents oppose giving federal lands to the state, and that 65 percent “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” a “Bears Ears National Monument” that would protect some 1.9 million acres “in large part to protect cliff dwellings and sacred American Indian sites.”

Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have opposed such a monument, and instead have called for a 1.2-million-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area.Last week the entire Utah congressional delegation wrote President Obama urged him not to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. In their letter, the delegation stated that “(F)ederal land-use policy has a major impact on the lives of those residing within and near federal lands. We believe the wisest land-use decisions are made with community involvement and local support.”

If 65 percent support isn’t enough, how much is?

This article was written by Kurt Repanshek Editor and Founder of the National Park Traveler and was first published on February 15th, 2016 in the Traveler’s Newsletter.


Nantucket Island: Preservation Sans Connection

By Guest Observer January 11, 2016
Nantucket Town Credit: Maanvi Chawla

Nantucket Town
Credit: Maanvi Chawla

We understand that the built heritage of a place establishes a lot in terms of values for the place – in fact it makes up the  cultural, environmental, social, and historical  identity of the community. These values are entwined to form the heritage of a place, which may stand preserved or unpreserved as its built environment. At the same time, I believe that the value that usually does not get talked about and perhaps could be the most significant of all, is the economic value of heritage. On the ground, the profitability of a heritage building (to be preserved) is often the driving factor for the stakeholders and policy makers in deciding the fate of that building. I have also seen several situations where if economic gain is one of the goals of preserving a building, then it is easier to make the preservation case. Clearly, our role as professionals, which is to make heritage matter, gets easier where preservation models yield profits and this helps buildings attain cultural significance and meet other emotional and social goals.

But could it be possible that in our quest to preserve our heritage for economic value, we actually might be devaluing the intangible cultural and historical values? I believe yes, but this devaluation probably happens as an after affect of our pursuit of methodical preservation practice (even if aimed at profitability), which is to provide first aid to dilapidated heritage sites in need of rescue.

Possibly this first aid, the physical preservation of built fabric, was one of the primary needs of the island of Nantucket after mid 19th century. The island, lying off the coast of Massachusetts, was in its glory days the whaling capital of the world. I am told that decline in whaling, a huge town fire and the famous Gold Rush were reasons that caused Nantucket’s depopulation and left buildings unused and uncared for. For almost a century since that economic down turn, the deteriorating built fabric of hundreds of years sat in deep reminiscence of its grand history of prosperity, seamen and Quakerism.

Nantucket Flower Boxes Credit: Maanvi Chawla

Nantucket Flower Boxes
Credit: Maanvi Chawla

Towards the end of 19th century the resilient community of Nantucketers, did begin promoting the island as a summer resort (among several other efforts) to bring back its economic status and welfare. But 100 years down the line, the process of recovery had not picked up much speed. Until one particular summer visitor, Walter Beinecke Jr., a business magnate from New York, saw the profit-making potential of Nantucket’s rich historic fabric and conceived of a way to make a financial profit by revamping Nantucket to its former glory. He understood that Nantucket’s dilapidated built heritage, if refurbished, could be sold as a unique value to visitors in addition to the relaxing beaches and the serene landscape.

Capitalist that he was, Walter Beinecke Jr. began with small purchases of a few properties on the island’s waterfront in 1960s; by gaining stakeholder’s trust and partnering with key organizations he established a strong hold on the island. With this hold on the island’s policy making process and with the purchase of most of the island’s water front, Beinecke began refurbishing and revamping both buildings and streets restoring their structural integrity, aesthetics and in some cases giving them a vintage look. He also began marketing and packaging the island as a holiday destination to tourists on the mainland. This well-directed redevelopment of Nantucket came with a high degree of profitability. Beinecke also controlled the ferries to the island and made sure to attract only the touristswith deep pockets, who would stay overnight on the island and spend money, whereas day-tripperswere discouraged. The revamped hotels were in the luxury class and rentals for most properties were high so as to cater mainly for the elite, deep pocketed tourists making the stays on the island an unaffordable affair for many old time visitors.

The Village of Sconset Nantucket  Credit Maanvi Chawla

The Village of Sconset Nantucket
Credit Maanvi Chawla

The shabby shanties of the previously dilapidated waterfront had residents living in them before Beinecke bought and restored them as new, high end rentals. The original residents were either community members or longtime visitors to the island some of them artists and hippies; mostly people who had been on this island before the revitalization took place. With elitism and high rentals, encouraged, Nantucket soon became unaffordable and hence unlivable for these residents or natives, although rich visitors kept throngingto the island. During my reading and research, I could sense the socio-cultural change the gradually came about on the island- the delineation of visitors and natives became blurry to be renamed as ‘summer residents’and ‘year round residents’. Two decades after the ‘makeover’ as Beinecke stepped down and sold his holdings to other conglomerates, the idea of Nantucket being an affluent holiday destination only grew bigger.

Following a few decades after the redevelopment, there came a time when the local bodies struggled to maintain the original “village concept” of Nantucket. Throughout the summer that I spent on the island, I wondered about this ambiguity that could have existed at that time – the ambiguity of the local bodies being concerned about losing the originality of Nantucket when the built heritage was so effectively preserved all over the island.

Five decades down the line since the Bienecke makeover, Nantucket looks as charming as it ever did. Strict regulations in designing new buildings and tight land use zoning, an administrative change brought by Walter Beinecke Jr., has maintained Nantucket’s pristine environment and historic built fabric. However, I feel the exclusivity of this environment, being accessible only to the moneyed, has changed the way people approach Nantucket today, an approach, which perhaps even Beinecke did not intend to bring about? Maybe yes, maybe no, skyrocketing rents in the summer that lead to the annual ‘Nantucket shuffle’ (a phenomenon where year round residents have to move out their homes in summer due to the seasonal rent hike) and extremely expensive properties make Nantucket a destination only for a handful that can afford being here. I am told that a century ago, one could take pride in being a Nantucketer only if he/she were born and also raised on the island; I believe pride still exists except it is less about being a Nantucketer and more about owning a grey-shingled house on Nantucket.

Personally, I sense a lack of that intangible link between this rich, historic backdrop of heritage buildings and the fashionable summer residents who wish to make a statement about their presence on the island. Perhaps these two impermeable layers, that of well preserved historic built environment and the trendy visitors/residents, need the connect through the native spirit that was once evident on Nantucket.

A subtle example of this native pride, the intangible culture caught my eye this summer and unbelievably so, among the millennials of the island! Young men who spoke of their roots being on the island were observed to be sporting sideburns, those heavy beard patches near the ears, like the yesteryear sailors and whaling captains. Nothing can be presumed about this preference of their appearance but it clearly set them apart from the men who were just visitors/summer residents. I strongly feel that such spoonfuls of intangible cultural heritage (intentional or unintentional) are great way show regard to the rich history of the island. More meaningful solutions about valuing the history of Nantucket could connect the architectural treasures preserved by Beinecke to the realm of today. There could to be more on the island that speaks of the cultural history besides the Whaling Museum. For example, an adaptive reuse scheme for the iconic roof decks that were once used by families of sailors or a special day marked to celebrate the historical Quaker values.

Perhaps the native, cultural pride is needed to be the essence of the built heritage and not elitism. Verily, I believe so.

Maanvi Chawla is an architect working in Srinagar India. The summer of 2015 she was an international intern for US/ICOMOS on Nantucket Island sponsored by Preservation Institute: Nantucket which is associated with the historic preservation program at University of Florida. For her internship, she was assigned research work for the ‘Beinecke Book project’ which is involves the entrepreneur Walter Beinecke Jr., the man who contributed with his business ideas and preservation efforts towards the heritage of the island



National Heritage Areas Deliver Place-Based Education

By Guest Observer November 20, 2015
By the Student for the Student  Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

By the Student for the Student
Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

My interest in this topic began during a visit to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area (JTHG NHA), where I was introduced to the Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student Service Learning Project (OBF) . This program became one of two case studies I explored in my thesis research. Created and customized by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership (JTHG Partnership) in 2009, OBF connects students with surrounding historic, natural, and cultural resources reaching from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to Gettysburg National Military Park.

This innovative program presents students with the challenge of

By the Student for the Student  Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

By the Student for the Student
Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

interpreting for themselves, some aspect of a particular historic site they find most interesting, and then conveying their discoveries through mini documentaries or Vodcasts. The project is entirely student-driven, with guidance along the way from JTHG Partnership professionals in areas such as time management, provision of funding and filming equipment, interpretation and film editing. In short, OBF completely immerses middle school students in surrounding heritage sites as they work in small groups to research primary documents (i.e. newspaper articles, personal accounts, etc.), film on site, edit, and produce a short film. Students are encouraged to incorporate music, art, dance, poetry, and other creative elements to give meaning to the story they are trying to tell. In some cases, the resulting Vodcasts are incorporated into the official interpretive materials at various historic sites. In all cases, students embrace the important responsibility of telling a story to their community, to their academic peers, and to the world at large. In the process, students cultivate skills in teambuilding, media technology, and the humanities, as well as develop a deeper connection with and understanding of place. A school administrator involved in the program more poignantly explained: “Every day as our students rode their buses to school they travelled past battlefields, Presidents’ homes, and other places of historical significance which they did not know or appreciate. We were committed to changing the way that our students saw the historically rich county in which we lived, but we did not have the vehicle to achieve that change. [The JTHG Partnership] provided that for us through the Vodcast experience. Please follow this link to view completed Vodcasts. 

OBF is a gripping case study in which the NHA directly connects with students –with the cooperation of the teachers and administration. My second case study, Park for Every Classroom, reaches students indirectly, by way of educating their teachers. Developed by the Northeast Regional Office of the NPS in 2011, this program was intended to build collaborations among NPS staff, local community and educational partners, and teachers in order to engage students in place-based learning that would promote stewardship of parks and communities. During an intensive, week-long seminar, teachers assume the roles of students, absorbing the possibilities of integrating their local National Park site into the school curriculum. In addition, teachers are introduced to the concept of service learning and the many ways it can be tailored to meet an authentic need in their own communities. While this program has been successfully implemented at National Park sites all over the Northeast region, one case in particular stood out to me.

A Coast for Every Classroom Essex National Heritage Area

A Coast for Every Classroom
Essex National Heritage Area

Unlike other applications of the program, the NPS staff at Salem Maritime National Historic Site (SAMA) in Salem, Massachusetts decided to take advantage of the site’s position within Essex National Heritage Area (ENHA), and expand the program beyond park boundaries to enable teachers to utilize heritage resources closer to their own communities. Essex Heritage, the managing entity for ENHA, was chosen as the community partner. As a result of this more inclusive approach, the name of the program at SAMA was changed to A Coast for Every Classroom (CEC). Maryann Zujewski, Education Specialist at SAMA and Saugus Iron Works National Historical Site, and Beth Beringer, Education Coordinator at Essex Heritage, lead the seminar together and have a tight-knit partnership. This strong collaboration between NPS and NHA professionals produced a tremendously successful program –proof being in the seminar’s waiting list and the overwhelmingly positive evaluations from participants. A recent CEC participant explained that PEC triggers “a revolutionary shift to student driven learning that takes them out of the classroom into a partnership with their community.” Like OBF, these projects build students’ technological skills as well as their ability to work in teams while at the same time facilitating a deeper community connection. For a list of project examples please follow this link.

            While CEC is NPS-driven, personal interviews with program leaders and participant evaluations indicate the important role of ENHA and Essex Heritage in contributing to the success of the program. For example, Essex Heritage utilized pre-existing partnerships with local sites to bring additional experts to the seminar panel. An important NHA-cultivated partnership with Salem State University offers teachers graduate credit for participating in CEC –a strong incentive resulting in numerous beneficial service-learning projects. Essex Heritage also leveraged additional funding for the project. Lastly, Essex Heritage brought to CEC participants, a greater awareness of the plethora of heritage resources within their communities and the potential, not only for lending a localized context to the classroom curriculum, but for addressing real community needs through service learning. Zujewski and Beringer’s partnership has garnered a great deal of positive feedback from CEC participants and accolades from their colleagues. To learn more about the seminar please follow this link:

Both OBF and CEC strongly embody the principles of place-based learning, a teaching approach that is gaining momentum in schools around the country. Though the concept of lending a localized context to the classroom curriculum is as old as organized learning itself, it was lost in the push to meet national learning standards. As a result, young people lack a deep connection with their communities, and more so, an appreciation for the elements that make their communities unique. So what’s the big deal? A major problem is the missed opportunity within these communities to benefit from civic-minded young people, and in many cases, the loss of future productive citizens to other more appealing locales –future productive citizens that may very well take on the responsibility of preserving the resources that make their hometowns unique.

So where does the NPS come into the equation? The ripples of this disconnect with place have also affected National Parks. In fact, the NPS’ official document, A Call to Action, notes a decline in the diversity of visitors to National Parks, including younger populations. The document goes on to suggest more creative approaches to engage young people in parks, and, a key point, to instill in them a stewardship ethic that will better ensure the preservation of the nation’s special places. Indeed, the importance of place –connection with place, appreciation of place, and stewardship of place- stands out as a critical shared goal among NHAs, the NPS, and the place-based education initiative.

So why are NHAs so important in this equation? In short, NHAs

By the Student for the Student  Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

By the Student for the Student
Credit: Journey Through Hallowed Ground

specialize in collaborative partnerships, leveraging funding, and helping denizens to interpret the landscape as a meaningful whole. Over the course of my study, this combination of characteristics played a key role in effective place-based educational programs –programs that draw students outside the conventional classroom to participate in community-oriented, enriching learning experiences. With this in mind, NHAs around the country should move toward assuming a greater leadership role in the realm of place-based education. My hope is that my thesis work will contribute to an ongoing national conversation regarding the value of NHAs, their purpose, and their sustainability in the 21st century. With numerous proposed designations awaiting approval in Congress and annual budget cut threats for those NHAs already in existence, my research findings provide a different angle of advocacy, which further intertwines NHAs with the nation’s foremost preservation agency, and equally important, the nation’s young people.

The author Marie Snyder received her Bachelor’s Degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Mary Washington and her Master’s at Goucher College. She recently relocated from Norfolk, VA to Fallbrook, CA where she lives on an avocado farm.



Cultural Heritage, Environmental Impact Assessment, and People

By Guest Observer November 19, 2015
Regulatory Man Credit: Tom King

Regulatory Man
Credit: Tom King

Government development projects, or any large infrastructure projects, have the potential to damage the environment–which includes its cultural heritage aspect. While most nations have put in place a process to assess such impacts, when applied to the consideration of cultural resources the process often seems formulaic, does not address impacts to the broader cultural landscape, and ignores or discounts what communities value as their heritage and their living traditions.

Since such projects will continue to be proposed, may it be transportation upgrades or new energy delivery systems, and some will move forward, the question must be raised: is it possible for us to do a better job? Recently, I read Tom King’s provocative paper “Cultural Heritage, Environmental Impact Assessment, and People”. He identifies many of the barriers to effectively considering a project’s impact on a landscape scale. Even better, he proposes some solutions. Originally presented in 2011 at a World Archaeological Congress “intersession” in Beijing, the paper was published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

I strongly recommend reading the whole article. However, for those readers who want a quick overview, I asked Tom King to summarize his main points, which he has done in his own inimitable style:

  1. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an important tool that governments use – in theory – to control the damage that their decisions can do to the human environment.
  2. The cultural aspects of that environment — those aspects that communities value for their cultural significance – should be given careful attention in EIA, in consultation with the people and communities that value them.
  3. That doesn’t happen, because “cultural heritage” is defined narrowly, to mean just historic places, landmarks, and artifacts recognized by government based on their value to historians, architectural historians, and archaeologists.
  4. EIA typically doesn’t even consider things like impacts on culturally important plants and animals, traditional lifeways, and cultural practices. It gives short shrift to community values, relying instead on the official values of “cultural” agencies like – in the U.S. – the National Park Service and the State Historic Preservation Officers. Who understandably advise only within the scope of their legal authorities.
  5. This kind of EIA is easily manipulated by agency proponents in the name of expediency or by consultants to advance their clients’ interests at the expense of local cultural heritage.
  6. We should back away from reliance on “official” lists and “professional” evaluations, in favor of consulting local communities about how to manage cultural heritage as THEY define it. The Akwé: Kon Guidelines, issued under the Convention on Biological Diversity  provides a good model.

Thomas F. (Tom) King is the author, co-author, or editor of ten books on aspects of cultural heritage, and the co-author of National Register Bulletin 38 on the identification and documentation of traditional cultural places. He is a consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and can be contacted at 



The U.S. Biosphere Reserve Program: Can the challenges of the past contribute to the resiliency of the future?

By Guest Observer October 25, 2015


Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biosphere Reserve

It is easy to acknowledge our current state in UNESCO’s international Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program, but neglect to see how we got to this point. As one of the innovators in large landscape conservation, biosphere reserves paved the path for many future landscape-scale efforts over the past several decades. Yet, most people in the United States are unfamiliar with the term, biosphere reserve, or assume the program has dissolved because of its long period of inactivity. While many countries’ biosphere programs have grown around the world, the United States’ relationship with the MAB program has been quite tumultuous. Serving as a role model in the international program in the 80s and 90s, the U.S. program’s reputation was quickly transformed by the skepticism of a few vocal groups worried about land sovereignty and any program associated with the United Nations among other challenges. While this contributed to the downfall of the U.S. program, it is important to look at the evolution of the program instead of just a snapshot in time. For example, there were many factors that contributed and inhibited the success of the program at the beginning and these differed from challenges faced decades later.

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

Big Bend National Park: A Biospehere Reserve

While the biosphere program now coexists among many newer large landscape initiatives, their significance continues to serve as a foundation for other efforts. The long history and evolution of the biosphere reserve program can offer lessons learned for many of these new initiatives such as identifying obstacles to anticipate and offering strategies to overcome these governance challenges. In addition, biosphere reserves’ long history has created an invaluable network of relationships that have strengthened over the past several decades, which serve as a key benefit for newly emerging collaborative efforts.

In a recent attempt to revive the U.S. biosphere reserve program over the past year, there is a renewed enthusiasm for the U.S. to reengage with the international network. However, with a decade of inactivity the U.S. has a long road ahead to rebuild the image of the biosphere reserve concept and gain the necessary support at the local, regional, and national levels. Some of the recent activities have included reestablishing the U.S. National MAB Committee, individual units submitting reviews to UNESCO to maintain their biosphere reserve designation, and engaging in international meetings with MAB constituents. Additionally, Biosphere Associates has emerged as an organization this past spring as a forum for professionals to collaborate on biosphere reserve efforts. Some of these efforts include creating an information-sharing platform, gaining a better understanding of the needs and perceptions of the individual biosphere reserve units, strengthening international partnerships, and supporting the efforts of the National Committee.

It is through these voluntary efforts and support that maintains the momentum for the U.S. to once again become an active participant in the international MAB network. For the program to reach its full potential, the U.S. program needs to learn from its history and also from other large landscape conservation efforts. Quoting from George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For the success of the U.S. biosphere reserve program and new large landscape initiatives, let us learn from the past to anticipate and actively respond to challenges in order to create a more resilient future.

The author Jennifer Thomsen is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Society and Conservation at the University of Montana. She has done research that involved biosphere reserve units in the U.S., serves on the U.S. National MAB Committee, and is leading the working groups in Biosphere Associates. Her research interests focus on large landscape conservation and stakeholder collaboration. To get involved in biosphere reserve efforts or if you have any questions, contact Jennifer at jennifer.thomsen@umontana.


Invisible Landscapes: Why Historic Site Interpretation is Needed for Today’s Narrative

By Guest Observer October 20, 2015
Mulberry Row Slave Quarter at  Monticello  Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

Mulberry Row Slave Quarter at Monticello
Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

In August 2015, the Washington Post posted an article comparing Monticello to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, except that the author argued that the Holocaust Museum encourages its visitors and provides them an opportunity for reflection and contemplation. The Holocaust Museum places an emotional demand on its visitors, which is something I can certainly agree with. The atmosphere at the Holocaust Museum acknowledges the horrors of captivity, and the loss of people and humanity. The author argues that at Monticello however, visitors are not given that opportunity of reflection, and, in fact, allows people to skip over its related slave sites.

So while I can agree with the author that the atmosphere at both places is quite distinct, and that visitors do have the opportunity to skip over these sites, the interpretation of these sites has vastly changed over the past 20 years. Having visited both Monticello and Mount Vernon quite recently, there was a distinct difference in the atmosphere between the slave memorial and Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon, and at Mulberry Row at Monticello. At Monticello, the slave tour I participated in was full of visitors of all ages, most of whom were engaged and intently listening and learning about the enslaved community. Mulberry Row is distinctly visible from various areas of the house, and makes its presence known, despite having only a single building remaining. While Mulberry Row might not force its visitors to engage the horrors of slavery head on, the slave tour subtly reminds the visitors that Jefferson was in fact not perfect, and very much a part of the system that encouraged slavery. The tour was educational, personal, and encouraged visitors to understand the resilience of the enslaved community by making note of their cultural traditions and institutions that assisted them.

Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

At Mount Vernon, while the slave cemetery is in fact quite appropriately designed and does provide a space for contemplation, it was quite isolated with very few visitors, while just a few short steps away, visitors were surrounding both Washington’s tomb and the main house. The slave cabins are further isolated from the main house and cemetery, and while adequately reinterpreted to provide information on the lifestyle of the enslaved community, it lacks the personal connection created at Monticello. However, Mount Vernon has one of the oldest memorials dedicated to the enslaved community, dating back to 1929. In fact, Mount Vernon also holds a remembrance ceremony on an annual basis in October, where the public and descendants are invited to participate and honor their ancestors.

The question begs, what role does historic preservation and thus site interpretation play in creating a discussion on the current narrative of race and inequality. The slave trade was a period of history which has consequences many descendants are still suffering from, and a part of historic preservation is to make known aspects of intangible heritage. Interpretation at historic sites needs to change, with wider views being taken into consideration to understand the interactions between diverse groups. Mount Vernon is working towards an exhibit on slavery, due to open in 2016, and the staff states that it was long overdue. Slavery has always been an aspect of Mount Vernon, and in presenting the material culture of the permanent exhibit, the people who interacted with that material on a daily basis should not have been excluded. However, this is not the first instance of exclusion in site interpretation. One can look towards the beginnings of any major historic site as an example. Both Mount Vernon and Monticello can take their interpretation a step forward by asking visitors to question and engage in the legacy of slavery.

Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery
Credit: Sehba Imtiaz

Slavery and the slave trade are significant aspects of the cultural landscape, both a product of the past landscape and has shaped the current landscape. With the face of historic preservation changing from house museums with a specific perspective on society, it is important that we address those changes by countering it through the narrative of the other. Diversity in the field of historic preservation is something that we as a field are just beginning to deal with, and by understanding the role of diverse people and communities in our past for what it was, we can encourage people to recognize themselves in today’s continued narrative. Telling these diverse stories and sharing these diverse practices is part of a broader context of what makes America today and connects people to various communities around the globe. By sharing these stories and traditions through the lens of historic sites, new views can be offered on engaging people on discussions of race and history to understand present day cultures, such as that of the Gullah Geechee community. Cultural landscapes are continuously evolving and often are not visible immediately. These landscapes have the potential to be representative of all people in way few other things can, if they are not forgotten.


The author Sehba Imtiaz is currently pursuing her Masters’ in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland. She has an Honors BA in Architectural Design and Art History from the University of Toronto. Her thesis is focused on how interpretation at historic sites can be used to engage the community and public on creating a dialogue on today’s narrative and social justice issues. She started working at US/ICOMOS (United States Directorate of International Council on Monuments and Sites) in June 2015, assisting in planning a convening to be held in 2016 to discuss ways to expand US participation in the UNESCO Slave Route project, which seeks to understand the global nature of slavery and the African diaspora by linking together heritage sites across the globe that touch elements of those stories.



Anthropogenic Landscapes: The Idea of PLACES

By Guest Observer September 30, 2015

The authors of the following article live along the banks of the Nanticoke River near Seaford, Delaware. After working for forty years in field archaeology, they have turned their attention to analyzing existing landscape features, such as clusters of specific plants and animals, found at or near archaeological habitation sites. In the following article they theorize that by arranging these features into anthropogenic landscapes, ancestral Native Americans had developed new types of economic systems. Through managing nut groves, fruit orchards, and berry patches, utility and medicinal gardens for examples, close to their home-base residences, Native Americans were able to successfully and sustainably manipulate their environments, ensuring predictable yield, while decreasing effort and distance traveled to desired resources


Anthropogenic Landscapes and the idea of PLACES

Chinquapin  Credit: Glen Mellin

Credit: Glen Mellin

Why do we continue to struggle with the abrupt division between Hunter/Gatherer and Horticulture/Agriculture Native American economic programs? Antediluvian definitions ascribed to the catch-as-catch-can Hunter/Gatherer economic program and the genetically modified domesticates Horticulture/Agriculture economic program may provide reason enough to discourage the progressive thinking needed to explore concepts like Cultural Landscapes, and more recently, Anthropogenic Landscapes.

Unfortunately, our national narratives, often written into history and law, describe unoccupied natural landscapes; expanses of forest, unbroken plains and waters, as virtually free for the taking. There is little wonder why jingoistic eyes fail to see how Native Americans altered and improved their living environments by employing creative cultural solutions that sustainably transformed few into many. This essay illustrates a sampling of the many ancestral Native American landscapes that were established between the Hunter/Gatherer and Horticulture/Agriculture economic programs.

Making this essay easier for pragmatists to support, we elected not to tinker with the accepted “third rail” definitions of the Hunter/Gatherer and Horticulture/Agriculture economic programs at all—we simply pried those two programs apart and inserted our concept of Public Landscaping—Agroforestry—and Creating Economic Strategies, or PLACES, in the following manner:

Hunter/Gatherer  – PLACES  – Horticulture/Agriculture

Let’s take a look inside PLACES and see how our model identifies and organizes cultural solutions to environmental deficiencies in the following three categories.

1) Public Landscaping—involves the organized manipulation of environmental settings (upland, wetland, tidal, and seascapes) to encourage and maintain desired species of plants and animals and discourage undesired species.

2) Agroforestry—involves selective burning, ringing, and bark stripping to reduce specific species profiles, while planting and transplanting native species and acquiring adventive species that increased desirable species profiles. These manufactured groupings, or clusters of beneficial plants and animals developed local landscapes into an array of concentrated and efficiently retrievable stores. Through the arrangement of nut, fruit, berry, grape, and vegetables as edible gardens; the arrangement of bark, twine fiber, and basket making materials as utility gardens; and the arrangement of wellbeing species like cohosh, jimson weed, and prickly pear as medicinal gardens for examples, these and other prepared landscapes were likely developed as visionary templates of ancestral Native American world views.

3) Creating Economic Strategies—involves the conception and manufacture of sustainable beneficial anthropogenic landscapes as economic programs. Briefly, lets differentiate between the “active agency” (designed for prosperity) and the “idea agency” (designed for posterity). Active agency involves the organized construction and maintenance of groves, orchards, and gardens within woods, meadows, and seascapes that promoted the growth and accumulation of beneficial resource where and when they were desired. Idea agency involves kincentric responsibilities, or the “consequences” of achievement. Inheritance, trade and exchange, feasting, and mortuary practices are some examples of the ideaology of excess, or the consumption of affluence and the symbolic storage of wealth. Together, these agencies seem to greatly intensify local mobility through accumulation, while offering periodic extensive mobility through trade and exchange.

Publically available surveys found verify that ancestral Native American cultural landscapes, or PLACES, are typically found within one to seven miles’ radius from the core areas of larger basecamps and villages. Any detailed Ethnoecological survey encompassing fifty square miles surrounding these large base camps and villages should be sufficient to identify the types, characters, and locations of whatever cultural landscapes had been manufactured and maintained in the distant past. However, we need to be aware that development, agriculture, erosion, the proliferation of non-native species, and diseases are the principal destroyers of these PLACES.

The results of our recent Ethnoecological surveys (2013—2015) here in Delaware are very consistent with the information provided above. Thus far, our largest identified botanical cluster is a six-mile wide American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) circular nut-grove encompassing Kuskarawack Towne, a Native village documented by Captain John Smith (ca. 1608), along the banks of the upper Nanticoke River. After all these years, many of those planted Chestnut trees are still alive. We documented as many individual remaining trees as we could find using GPS readings (Mellin and Truitt, 2015).

We now know that many PLACES remain as significant cultural resources because we have found evidence that can only be described as cultural in origin. Recently, a number of other researchers have corroborated our interpretations. For example, Tulowiecki and Larsen (2015) described Ethnobotanical data for an entire county in western New York. Using sophisticated statistical analysis, they demonstrated meaningful differences in proportion for beneficial tree species in association with known Iroquois villages. How did they do that? They found that late eighteenth and early nineteenth century geographic grid system land surveys had itemized tree species along lines and axis points in Chautauqua County, NY. When the authors plotted these species, they found significant differences in proportion between beneficial (edible) species and non-beneficial (non-edible) species out to 10 to 15 km from Iroquois village sites. The authors attributed this phenomenon to pre-settlement “forest compositional modification” through persistent large-scale landscape burning (2015:3). Additionally, their analysis stipulates that Walnut and Butternut groves were found close to the villages and American Chestnut, Hickory, and Oak groves clustered further afield. We find it difficult to understand how their assumption of landscape burning could create and maintain groves of specific species without additional forms of cultural selection having been in play. Addressing their data within our model of PLACES provides opportunities for more thorough and more meaningful interpretations of both the anthropogenic landscapes and the world views of the people who created them.

Anthropogenic landscapes, like the ones Tulowiecki and Larsen found, continued on through the Colonial Period. Many of them are observable today, at least the ones that have not been erased by modern processes. For example, we found a distressed two-acre Chinquapin (Castanea pumila) tree cluster that contained about two hundred coppiced trees (coppicing is the result of an Asian bark fungus). We found Native ceramic shards and clamshell within that tree cluster, which indicates a ancestry or age of origin approximately 1,500 BP. Castanea roots are known to live for 1,600 years, so, together with any original (Native planted) trees and their descendant offspring (still growing in the very definable oval cluster), this cluster epitomizes what a small, relict Native American Chinquapin nut grove would look like today (Mellin and Truitt, 2013c). Since we (the authors) subsequently rescued that Chinquapin cluster (we bought it and restored it), we have become actors in our own archaeological narrative by rescuing and restoring the trees and subsequently eating the nuts. Essentially, this Chinquapin cluster exhibits continuity—it has quite remarkably retained its sustainability. But sadly, its original Native meaning has been lost, or at least temporarily misplaced.

This is by no means a unique story. For example, we documented the fifteen-acre ancestral Native American Pawpaw fruit orchard cluster in Alapocos State Park near Wilmington, Delaware (Mellin and Truitt 2013b). In addition to the popular hiking trails, the principal program at the park is the yearly Pawpaw festival where participants may compete by baking edible deserts. Here too, the State of Delaware as well as the park’s participants are actors in our archaeological investigation and narrative.

Where few original trees remain, Dendrochronology is usually not a dating option. However, determining the ancestry of these PLACES may be estimated using various forms of archaeological association. The age of carbon, animal bone, and shellfish remains found in or on candidate landscapes can be estimated using either carbon dating, direct association, or strata sequencing. These dating procedures can be applied to some of the found specimens in the first two of our three artifact categories (Mellin and Truitt, 2013a): (1) Archaeobotanical evidence consisting mainly of carbonized wood and seeds, and pollen, and phytoliths, and recently, starch grain identification shows promise, and (2) Traditional Plant Artifact evidence is usually preserved in either saturated or dehydrated environments. The above dating methods may be used to estimate the antiquity of each specimen tested, and by relationship, or association, offer an estimated ancestry of nearby PLACES. But, how can we address the ancestry of living artifact plants? (3) Living Artifact Plants are the actual plants, or the descendants of plants that were originally arranged in PLACES. We typically find these plants arranged in clusters within definable or candidate cultural or anthropogenic landscapes.

These plants may include native plant species whose original location or quantity have been altered (citing high bush blueberry as an example) and all of the adventive species that arrived in Delaware during the Holocene (citing jimson weed as an example). In Delaware, we suspect there are even now a couple of dozen plant species assumed to be native that probably are actually adventive (citing prickly pear as an example).

While it has been thought that the ancestry or age of things like plant and animal clusters are un-dateable, thus, the origin of cultural processes like PLACES are un-dateable. Nevertheless, viewing evidence of these PLACES in association with dateable cultural contexts may provide avenues for “relationship precocity” or “origination brackets”. Certainly, the origin of PLACES and the various elements of plant and animal arrangements, or the things that make up processes like PLACES did not occur evenly across the landscape or all at the same time.

Culturally Modified Soils (CMS) are a result of conditioning through previous cultural activities. Where found, CMS may have profound implications, especially at locations where no subsurface artifacts are located. These forms of soils may contain elevated amounts of carbon and organic material, reduced acidity, altered profile depths, as well as increased archaeoecological remains both within soil pit features and scattered throughout various layers of the local ancestral landscapes. For example, an area of culturally modified soil may exhibit use as a hickory nut grove during the Later Archaic Period, as well as exhibiting use as a chestnut grove or blueberry patch during the Late Woodland Period.

Where datable artifacts are present, we have telltale signs of ancestry. But that doesn’t necessarily make our job easier. Any evidence of anthropogenic landscapes created in the distant past has probably been modified by the efforts of successive landscape modifications and by natural processes through time. At this point in time, we see no reliable association between the formation of PLACES and the Bifurcated tool tradition. We do see associations between PLACES and the technological development of the “Broadpoint” tool type, or as some have referred to these bifacial tool types as “pocket chainsaws”, or the “Swiss Army Knife” of the era. We think the ideological invention and use of these tool types was centered on Agroforestry. With the ringing of trees, the stripping of bark, and the processing of forest products, these tools, along with large cores and axes were likely the quintessential Agroforestry toolkit. The presence of these tools likely indicates economic activities such as landscape burning and the construction of browse lots, monoculture woodlots, gardens, groves, and orchards. Within this timeframe, we also see larger and more durable activity areas with large pits dug into the ground. Collectively, we see in these fragments of people’s worldviews from the distant past that these folks had developed a durable sense of place supported through the construction of desired environmental landscapes, or PLACES, close to home.

The reality of PLACES may produce contradictions—but not necessarily conflicts, within our long-held professional principles. Examples of ancestral Native American sustainable anthropogenic landscapes, or PLACES, are all around us. They still exist as living artifacts, artifacts with DNA, they still function as parts and parcels within our contemporary landscapes. These remaining objects (the individual plants and animals) grouped together as remaining things (the clusters and gardens) fit together into larger processes (the traditional land and management areas) are built into systems (economic programs). We walk through these PLACES on a daily basis—they are here, now! We are adding our footprints to footprints laid down in the distant past—along similar paths, solving similar problems.

Works Cited:

Mellin, Glen, and Lenny Truitt.

2015 February. “Ethnoecological Survey of Kuskarawack Towne on the Nanticoke River, Delaware.” Mellin and Truitt. Keywords: Native American, Captain John Smith, American Beech, American Chestnut, Arrow Arum, Bald Cypress, Box Huckleberry, Christmas Fern, Crowsfoot, Highbush Blueberry, Pecan, Prickly Pear Cactus, Seaside Alder, Shadbush, Yucca, Castanea Circle. Available on request at:

2014 December. “The Clam Gardens on Pot Hook Creek (South of Cape Henlopen, Delaware).” Mellin and Truitt. Keywords: Native American, Jimson Weed, Japanese Wineberry, Skunk Cabbage, Clam Quahog. Available on request at:

2013a November. Transformation of Native American and Historic Botanicals. Mellin and Truitt. Keywords: Native American, Natural, Naturalized, and Adventive Plants, Archaeobotanical, Traditional, and Living Artifacts. Available on request at:

2013b October. “Pawpaw Clusters Evaluated in Alapocas Run and Brandywine Creek State Parks.” Mellin and Truitt. Keywords: Native American, American Wild Crabapple, Black Walnut, Elderberry, Mountain Laurel, Pawpaw, Sycamore, Yellow Poplar. Available on request at: See also

2013c January. “Box Huckleberry and Chinquapin Clusters: Ancestral Native Plantations?” Mellin and Truitt. Keywords: Native American, Box Huckleberry, Chinquapin, American Chestnut. Available on request at:

Tulowiecki, S. J., and C. P. S. Larsen.

  1. “Native American Impacts on Past Forest Composition Inferred From Species Distribution Models, Chautauqua County, NY.” Department of Geography, University of Buffalo, Wilkerson Quadrangle, Buffalo, NY 14261. Preprint, Ecological Society of America.

By Glen Mellin & Lenny Truitt



Keweenaw National Historical Park: Just where is the Park?

By Guest Observer September 28, 2015
Quincy Mine Keweenaw Heritage Site

Quincy Mine Keweenaw Heritage Site


By Scott F. See

Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is an 800,000-acre land mass that extends out from Lake Superior’s southern shore. For over 7000 years, people have come to the peninsula to extract pure copper trapped in its ancient volcanic rock formations. Between the 1840s and the 1960s, the demand for copper – combined with advances in mining technology – resulted in the removal of over 11 billion pounds of copper from the area. Michigan’s copper industry served a growing county’s needs, provided employment for thousands of immigrants, and produced amazing wealth for a number of dominant investors. Mining’s decline and demise, however, left a landscape littered with industrial, commercial, and residential resources too numerous to be cared for by the population that remained.

In 1986, several local residents began talking about the creation of a national park dedicated to the nationally significant resources of the peninsula. They learned about the creation of Lowell National Historical Park, and reasoned that if Lowell could celebrate its textile industry, then the Keweenaw Peninsula could celebrate its copper industry. Over the next six years, the residents created a national park committee, lobbied their federal legislators, worked with the National Park Service (NPS), and rallied public support. Finally, on October 27, 1992, President George H. W. Bush signed Public Law 102-543 that created Keweenaw National Historical Park.

As a creative approach in how to manage the thousands of resources spread across the peninsula, the park’s legislation established a unit of the national park system, as well as a permanent, seven-member Advisory Commission to advise and assist the NPS in the operation of the park. The legislation focused the efforts of the NPS within two small park units, and gave the Commission the authority and the operational powers to conduct activities across the entire peninsula. Although the word “partnership” never appears in the legislation, the structure and authorities of the management model made it clear that collaborating with local partners would be an essential part of preserving and interpreting the copper story.

Credit Scott SeeOccasionally, someone asks whether a national heritage area model would have better served the resources on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Like many heritage areas, the Keweenaw is a lived-in landscape that is not conducive to the creation of a park where the NPS owns all or most of the land within the park boundaries. In addition, numerous former industrial sites contain environmental or safety concerns that make NPS ownership difficult. Unlike many heritage areas, however, the Keweenaw Peninsula is a large region with scare economic resources and a low population density. It would be extremely difficult to generate the cash and in-kind contributions necessary to support the 50% non-federal match requirement of the heritage area model.

Instead, the partnership model laid out in the park’s legislation encompasses some of the best of both worlds. The community benefits from a stable NPS presence; a portion of the copper story will be told regardless of the health or existence of the partner organizations. The Commission can receive federal funds, raise non-federal funds, and operate on a larger landscape providing the flexibility required to maintain important partnership relationships. Finally, the participation by the Heritage Sites and other partner organizations allows for the creation of an even richer visitor experience. Although the model sometimes causes confusion for the visitors – some still ask, “Where is the park?” – the NPS and Commission are able to promote and share a wider story without having to own and operate every important historic resource. This public/private partnership engages the community, leverages federal investment, benefits the visitor, and ensures that future generations will have the opportunity to learn about the story of Michigan’s copper.

Scott F. See, PhD Executive Director

Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission








How is Restoration Relevant to Stewardship?

By Guest Observer August 27, 2015

Peter Bridgewater   Centre for Museum and Heritage Studies, Australian National University.

Groundle Glen Australia Credit: Peter Bridgewater

Groundle Glen Australia
Credit: Peter Bridgewater

Can Landscape Stewardship really include restoration? Even more the concept of novel systems and their management? The upcoming workshops on the implementation of the European Landscape Convention in October have the sub-title “the landscape knows no boundaries”. That is true, but it is as true in time as it is in space, and that’s where restoration, and management of novelty, become important….

At the turn of the century Jessica Brown and Brent Mitchell (2000) described Landscape Stewardship as “usually thought about in terms of the essential role individuals and communities play in the careful management of our common natural and cultural wealth, both now and for future generations”. This was more contemporaneously expressed by Jianguo Wu (2013) as a “place-based, use-inspired science of understanding and improving the dynamic relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being in changing landscapes”. Both of these views strongly emphasis the role of people in landscapes, as key elements of their stewardship. Wu’s quote also embraces the ecosystem service paradigm more familiar in the second decade of the century, whereas the earlier quote emphasises natural and cultural wealth. But all seems linked to the maintenance of landscapes as they are, although Wu does use the word dynamic.

So what’s the relevance of restoration in stewardship? Simply put; we are no longer able to just “preserve” landscapes (or biodiversity at finer scales) as if they were Jams and Marmalades, as Gary Larson (1989) once wickedly suggested!

Landscapes which are degraded do have enormous potential for restoration, but it is often thought that intervention in landscapes now dramatically altered from their “natural” state needs to take into account both their current status and the potential effectiveness of traditional conservation or restoration measures (Richard Hobbs and colleagues, most recently 2014). In this context we should be broadly aware that:

  • Biodiversity can enhance the resilience of landscapes to environmental changes;
  • Biodiversity is changing across many different taxonomic groups and biomes as a result of recent environmental change;
  • Effective sustainable management requires understanding of the ecological, cultural and social dimensions and requires coherent policies at all levels of government;
  • Policy options include community-based projects, carefully designed restoration projects, and/or appropriate management of novel ecosystems, economic incentives combined with public participation, and effective monitoring and enforcement.

Restoration is often viewed as returning a landscape or ecosystem to a previously functioning “natural” state. Yet more and more this is impossible, as landscapes are increasingly a matrix of ecosystems or “biodiversity patches” modified in various ways from an observed, or frequently presumed, original state. This landscape matrix, although it may be ecologically sub-optimal, can, and does, deliver a range of ecosystem goods and services; for people, but also for adjacent landscapes/ecosystems.  It should also be recognised that landscapes which have been changed can either “self-restore” or move to a new state, depending on the prevailing ecological conditions. Management challenges and opportunities presented by these landscape matrices encompass how the degree of modification affects broader-scale processes e.g. eco-hydrological activity, gene flows, cultural perceptions and interactions, animal movements between adjacent or far-distant landscapes etc.

Some landscapes which look (and are appreciated) as natural today are in fact restored or reconstituted. The Isle of Man has many National Glens, which are well forested, and most visitors and many locals see them as natural. Yet most have been deliberately restored to wooded valleys during the early part of the C19th, to attract tourists. A minor consequence has been that such afforestation (often with species that may have been present, or maybe not), has allowed the rich bryophyte and lichen flora to flourish. The photograph (© Peter Bridgewater) is from Groundle Glen, showing the dense understorey – and a surprise component in Cordyline australis- widely grown in gardens across the island, but here established, apparently adventively.

All this means any stewardship plan for such landscapes must include inclusive development of conservation, restoration and management strategies that comprehend rapid spatial and temporal change, and reflect the complexity of the current landscape patterning. Which brings us back to the definition of landscape stewardship quoted at the outset – stewardship is very much about management, recognising that change is inevitable, and embracing and managing for change where that seems preferable to simply leaving things as they are. Above all using restoration as part of landscape stewardship is also about being prepared for surprises and adapting to the new, while valuing the old, where it is still sustainable so to do.


Jessica Brown and Brent Mitchell. 2000. The Stewardship Approach and its Relevance for Protected Landscapes. The George Wright Forum. 17. 70-79.

Richard J. Hobbs et al. 2014. Managing the whole landscape: historical, hybrid and novel ecosystems. Front Ecol Environ 12. 557-564.

Larson, G. 1989. Wildlife Preserves; Far Side collection 10. Andrews and McMeel, Kansa City, Mo, USA.

Wu, J.G., 2013. Landscape sustainability science: ecosystem services and human well-being in changing landscapes. Landscape Ecology. 28. 999-1023.

This blog contribution is used with the permission of  Hercules a project to empower private and public actors to protect and sustainably manage cultural landscapes. It is part of a series on the science and practice of landscape stewardship and will be further elaborated in the course of a book chapter. We are looking for real-world cases of good practices that exemplify the principles of landscape stewardship and that serve as a model to inspire implementation in other landscapes. Please share examples or thoughts by adding a comment!



Find Your Chesapeake

By Guest Observer July 29, 2015
Concord Point Lighthouse

Concord Point Light in Havre de Grace, Maryland, overlooking the point where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office just launched a new partnership website. “Find Your Chesapeake” is tourism-focused and helps residents and visitors explore over 350 special places around the Chesapeake region. By connecting people with the special places and landscapes of the watershed, the site helps support collaborative large landscape conservation efforts for these places.

The website’s moniker deliberately echoes the National Park Service Centennial “Find Your Park” campaign on a regional scale. Find Your Chesapeake includes local and state parks, national parks, historic boats, refuges, museums, downtown communities, wildlife refuges, and more. Blog content highlights specific places, activities, people, and first-hand experiences. So go to: