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Biosphere Reserves: A Second Chance for the United States?

By Brenda Barrett May 25, 2015
credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Tibbs Pond, Pineland National Reserve. The Pinelands are one of the United States’ Biosphere Reserves. Credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Recently their has been a concerted effort to get the United States (US) re-engaged in the Biosphere Reserves program. As many of you may know, the World Network of Biosphere Reserves is part of the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program and is one of the most important protected area networks globally. Biosphere reserves are areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.

Biosphere reserves serve as special places for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.
However, for many years now the biosphere reserve program in the US has been dormant. An initiative to revive the program has been lead primarily by a core group of George Wright Society members who last year they formed a GWS Chapter, called Biosphere Associates, to help advance the cause. Things are approaching a turning point, and this is an exciting time to be involved in this issue.

If you are interested in being part of the effort, or even if you just want to keep up with what’s going on, you are invited to join the Biosphere Associates Chapter. There’s no charge or extra dues to pay. The chapter’s point of contact is Dr. Jennifer Thomsen. She has put together a short newsletter about what happened at GWS2015 that will help you get up to speed.

To join the Biosphere Associates Chapter of GWS, or for more information, contact Jennifer Thomsen (jthomsen at


Blackstone River Valley: Policy Without Money is just Talk

By Brenda Barrett April 27, 2015
Credit: National Park Service

Map of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: National Park Service

The Blackstone River Valley has always been a hotbed of innovation from its earliest industrialization to experimentation in protected area management with the creation of the national heritage corridor in 1986. Recently, the conservation possibilities of the region have been re-imagined yet again. In 2014, Congress authorized the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park with a dual purpose to preserve, protect and interpret the industrial heritage as well as its urban, rural and agricultural landscape that provides the overarching context for the region.

Along with individual industrial sites, the park boundaries include the Blackstone Canal and the Blackstone River and its tributaries. The legislation also recognizes the role of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (BRVNHC), which was re-authorized to the year 2021. And to top it off the park legislation permits the National Park Service (NPS) to work outside of the park’s boundaries and enter into agreements with the BRVNHC. This offers an unprecedented opportunity for the NPS to conserve the Blackstone Valley on the landscape level – a living laboratory for NPS’s signature Scaling Up Initiative.
There is also a pressing need for the new park unit and the corridor to work closely together. The proposed 2016 NPS budget, known as the Greenbook, moved $650,00 in funding for the BRVNHC out of the National Heritage Area category and reassigned it to the agency’s operations budget for the new Blackstone River Valley NHP. So is this bad news for the corridor? Not according to Charlene Cutler, corridor’s Executive Director “In broad-brush, the plan for 2016 is for the heritage corridor to develop a cooperative funding agreement with the new park. The corridor will work within the larger landscape on projects that are outside the scope of the national historical park such as community planning, economic development, tourism and education/interpretation about the environment and watershed, as well as historic preservation. This work will be mutually beneficial to the region and to the new national park.”

This is smart thinking, as a former NPS director George Hartzog said “Policy without money is just talk.” At the same time, there are some real concerns that this action diverts scarce dollars from the National Heritage Areas (NHA) program. The 2016 Greenbook already proposes to cut the NHA funding in half from the 2015 appropriation and the $650,000 for the Blackstone Valley would be deducted from that limited pot. It also brushes aside the NHA funding formula that has been painstakingly negotiated over the past several years. Finally, what if park units continue to dip into the NHA funding? Seems a bit unfair considering the NPS overall budget is approaching three billion and the proposal for the NHAs in 2016 is under $10 million.

Credit: NPS

A former textile mill along the Blackstone River in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: NPS

On the other hand, some veteran national park observers think that this allocation could be an exciting opportunity to jump-start the planning process for the new park. Unlike many newly created parks that languish for years with no capacity and no money, this park in the Blackstone Valley would have a huge advantage. It would have some dollars and just as important a built-in partnership with BRVNHC, an organization with thirty years of successful community engagement and service delivery. What a great opportunity to take advantage of the wholeness of the valley. Charlene Cutler, for one, is optimistic that this is a win-win for the NHAs along with the parks. “Perhaps national heritage area funding would become less volatile if it was coordinated through park operating budgets in a true heritage area/park partnership.”

In an article last year, Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Next Step up for Heritage Areas?, the Living Landscape Observer posed a number of questions for the park and the heritage corridor. Looking back these queries are more critical than ever.

  • Will the new national park fashion a management strategy that takes advantage of these sweeping authorities?
  • Will the heritage corridor be made a full partner in preserving and interpreting the larger landscape?
  • Can the permanent presence and sustainable funding of a park unit serve as home base to continue the innovative holistic approach to the Blackstone Valley?

Stay tuned: Only time and hard work will tell if this might be the new model that will put the Blackstone Valley back on the map as one of the most innovative models for landscape conservation in the country.


In the Face of Destruction: World Heritage Matters

By Brenda Barrett March 29, 2015
Credit: Share America

Image from Nimrud, Iraq. Nimrud was listed on the World Heritage Tentative list in 2000. Credit: Share America

From around the globe there has been shock and censure at the destruction of World Heritage sites by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and from the attacks on museums and cultural sites. In strong words, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova characterized these acts as a war crime and a cultural cleansing of humanity’s ancient heritage. The towers of early Arab Kingdoms, Hellenic and Roman remains, monuments from the Assyrian Empire in 13th century BC and a great museum collection have all been targets of these devastating attacks.

The World Heritage Convention is the most universal of international legal instruments based on the idea of shared values and understanding of the common heritage of humankind. As in the dynamiting of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan in 2001, the targeting of heritage sites by ISIS is a rejection of the rich overlapping heritage of the region and of the world. This is a new kind of destruction not incidental to armed conflict, but the destruction of a nation’s heritage as part of the  arsenal of war deployed against our common humanity.

So what can be done? Organizations such as US ICOMOS and the US Committee of the Blue Shield have taken strong position and offered aid. Representative Elliot Engel (NY) has reintroduced HR 1493, a bill to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, and natural or other disasters. Other proposals are to step-up monitoring of the trade in illicit artifacts, which has dramatically increased in the impacted region. It is reported that ISIS is funding operations by the trade in antiquities. International aid is also needed to help support the efforts of archeologists and curators, the monument men and women of the 21st century, currently working in the region.

But one concrete action the heritage community can take right now is to push the United States to resume funding UNESCO. And if that step is just too far for our current Congress, then push to fund the work of the World Heritage Center.

Credit: wikipedia

Hatra World Heritage Site in Iraq inscribed 1985

As Andrew Potts, Executive Director of US/ICOMOS put it, “the sincerity of American rhetoric can no longer be squared with the very real (if inadvertent) sabotage current United States policies are doing to the global response to this massive use of heritage as a tactic of war. Even while deploring these attacks, many Americans are unaware that the United States is currently withholding funding for the World Heritage Center and UNESCO, the very units within the international community designed to help these sites — with devastating impacts on the capacity of both agencies. After three years in which funding for cultural heritage has been held up as a pawn in another geopolitical stalemate, it is critical that Congress immediately restore this funding before a single additional World Heritage site is lost.”

Now more than ever, we need to stand with the international community that supports the universal values of cultural heritage and understanding. We need to show our solidarity with the rest of the signatories to the World Heritage Convention. Read here for the background on why the United States has stopped funding to UNESCO and its World Heritage programs.

Some of the World Heritage sites at risk or lost forever from conflicts in the region:

World Heritage (1986)

World Heritage Tentative List (1999)

World Heritage (1985)

World Heritage Tentative List (2000)


Large Landscape Conservation Conference: Read all about it!

By Brenda Barrett February 25, 2015
Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Landscape in the Yukon to Yellowstone, an initiative which was honored at the NWLLC. Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Just out is Expanding Horizons,  a report on the highlights of the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation (October 23-24, 2014). Not to be missed is the report’s inspiring foreword by Tony Hiss, a New Yorker staff writer for more than 30 years and now a visiting scholar at New York University.

The scale and depth of the conference, a sell out crowd of over 650 participants with hundreds of presentations, cannot be captured in a report of only 40 pages. However, Expanding Horizons offers an overview of some of the most compelling topics in large landscape conservation. Strategies to tackle the need for ecosystem services, the preservation of cultural heritage and intercultural connections, ways to engage metropolitan regions and of course the overarching issue of climate change. Other hard topics were also addressed like how to sustain the work, evaluate and measure results and reach out to the next generation. Conference Keynote Speakers included a high wattage cast: Secretary of Agriculture Michael Vilsack, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. There is definitely some political and organizational heft behind these big ideas.

Finally, one of the best things about being an online report is that the report is loaded up with links to other sources of information. PowerPoint’s, short video interviews, and links to related web sites are all just a click away. So open Expanding Horizons and begin your own voyage of discovery.

Go Beyond the Covers of the Report

Want to become more conversant in the field of large landscapes and connect to others of the same ilk? Two great sources are highlighted below:

The Practitioners’ Network for Large Landscape Conservation is an alliance of professionals and citizens united in building the capacity and sharing information in the emerging movement. Share your story and stay in touch by registering here.

Sign up for the latest information from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, including free courses and a subscription to the to the quarterly magazine Land Lines. The institute’s mission is to be a leading center for the study of land policy and land-related tax policy throughout the world. It offers publications, web based programing and other educational programs. Check out the latest issue of their magazine, which republishes Tony Hiss’s great piece with gorgeous images.


Preservation Advocacy Scholars Join the Action

By Brenda Barrett February 25, 2015

Each year in March Preservation Action and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Offices (NCSHPO) sponsor Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. The event brings over 250 preservationists to Washington, DC to promote sound federal preservation policy and programs. But as in many professions bringing in new ideas and engaging the next generation is a challenge.

The Preservation Advocacy Scholars  program was created to help bridge this gap. The selection of scholars is a competitive process and is based the student’s response to issues facing the field today. In 2015 the topics were the future of the National Heritage Area program and how to engage the next generation in preservation advocacy. With support from the Preservation Action Foundation and this year from members of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the Living Landscape Observer, four Scholars will attend the March 2-5 Preservation Advocacy Week in Washington DC.

The Scholars have a busy week as the invited guests of Preservation Action Foundation at the Historic Preservation Congressional reception and a Congressional breakfast. Scholars will have the opportunity to meet with Members of Congress from their district and put some of their research into action. And of course the Scholars are encouraged to continue advocacy and engagement in historic preservation policy issues at the local and state level. So if you are coming to Washington for the 2015 Preservation Advocacy Week be on the look out for these Scholars and welcome them and their new ideas!

Meet the scholars:

Credit: Preservation Action

Amber Bailey, Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action


Amber Bailey, Loyola University Chicago, for her paper 
“National Heritage Areas@ 30.“
Amber Bailey is a public historian committed to using the past to educate and engage her community and adopted hometown of Chicago. Her interest in historic preservation is rooted in her desire to be a steward and advocate for marginalized communities and historic places within them. To this end, she is especially interested in how historic preservation can be used as a tool to revitalize economically depressed areas. Amber received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Chicago in 2013. In 2014, she began the public history master’s program at Loyola University Chicago.


Credit: Preservation Action

Kevin Burkman Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action

Kevin Burkman, Rutgers University,
 for his paper “The American Civil War and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area: A Stand for Historic Land Preservation.“ Kevin Burkman is currently in his last semester of graduate studies at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, where he has been pursuing a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, with an emphasis on environmental and physical planning. His academic focus has included independent study projects on the land use and preservation of the battlefield at Gettysburg. It also includes land use and resource issues of the American West, and coastal resiliency and climate change issues, post Super Storm Sandy. Much of his academic research includes geospatital analysis, which he has done professionally for nearly ten years and includes digital mapping and data analysis for wireless communications, state government and local municipalities, and land preservation and outdoor recreation organizations.

Credit: Preservation Action

Katie Rispoli, Preservation Action Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action


Katie Rispoli, University of Southern California, for her paper, “Remaining Relevant: Prior Pitfalls and Future Actions to Emphasize Sustainability and Culture in Preservation.“ Katie Rispoli is a graduate student in the Master of Heritage Conservation program in the University of Southern California School of Architecture, and will graduate in May of 2015. She is passionate about environmental health, cultural heritage, and youth education through preservation. Katie works in Preservation in South Los Angeles County as the Director of We Are the Next, a nonprofit organization. When not working or in school, Katie enjoys splitting her time between exploring both the city and the great outdoors.

Credit Preservation Action

Jennifer Robinson, Preservation Advocacy Scholar. Credit: Preservation Action

Jennifer Robinson, University of Pennsylvania
, for her paper “The Next Generation.” Jennifer Robinson is a second-year master’s-degree student in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Her research interests include adaptive reuse of historic structures, particularly for affordable housing, and the relationship between preservation and social equity. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology in 2013. During the summer of 2014 she interned at the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. She’s actively involved with the preservation of the Conkling-Armstrong house in North Philadelphia.



World Heritage Sites in the United States

By Brenda Barrett January 29, 2015
Credit: National Park Service

Papahanaumokuakea World Heritage Site. Credit: NPS

Quickly now, how many World Heritage Sites are in the United States? Well, there are twenty-two most administered by the National Park Service (NPS). The others are managed by various other interests – states, private foundations, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and an Indian tribe. The United States and Canada jointly nominated two World Heritage Sites: Waterton-Glacier and Wrangell-St.Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek/Kluane. The most recent World Heritage inscription was for Poverty Point in Louisiana, which was voted on in the fall of 2014 in Doha Qatar. For more information on all the U.S. World Heritage Sites visit the National Park Service’s web site.

Why is recognition as a World Heritage site important? The motivations vary from country to country, but include such factors as national pride and of course the economic value of increased attention and tourism. In the past, the U.S. involvement the program has not been touted. A site’s World Heritage status was only recognized in the fine print in a brochure or by a small plaque. However, this is changing. Along with the updated web site on World Heritage, the NPS has recently developed a new travel itinerary for the World Heritage Sites in the United States. The itinerary provides a description of the heritage values of each of the properties and offers information on how to plan your visit. And for younger visitors, they can become a ” World Heritage in the United State  Junior Ranger.

Credit: Susan Guice

The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. Photo by Susan Guice, courtesy NPS Office of International Affairs

Today there is growing interest in achieving World Heritage designation for more places in the United States. And we can certainly ask for more, after all, Mexico has 32 sites and even Cuba has 9! So how do properties advance through the process and what sites will be next? Well one way to see what might be coming up is to look at the tentative list, see World Heritage in the United States: The U.S. Tentative List 2008. This report presents the tentative list as of that date and describes the criteria and process for inscription of potential new sites. As for the future, the NPS has announced that it is in the process of developing the next tentative list with a target date of 2016. This is a great opportunity for the public to be engaged in identifying what they think is worthy of World Heritage designation and to build greater knowledge of the program.

And awareness of World Heritage is very important as the program is at a critical juncture in the United States, but that is another story. Read more about this in US World Heritage Program at Risk.  In the meantime many thanks to the NPS for running a great promotional campaign and special Junior Ranger badges to all who support this effort!


National Heritage Areas Receive Holiday and Anniversary Gifts

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2014
Credit: Laurie Helling

“Snow on the Roof”
American Farmscapes Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, one of 15 NHAs with extended federal funding. Credit: Laurie Helling

Congress wrapped up the 2014 session with two big Christmas tree bills with lots of presents for the National Heritage Areas (NHA). The first was the National Defense Authorization Act, which extended National Park funding for fifteen of the National Heritage Areas. The authorization for funding these NHAs had been set to expire in 2015. The areas are now reauthorized all the way to 2021. Then a couple days later along came the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for 2015, which increased funding for the program from the administration’s original 2015 request of $9.2 to $20.3 million dollars. This was done with the proviso that at least $300, 000 in base funding be made available to all NHAs with completed management plans. There was the additional directive that the agency not redistribute any of the funds of the “longstanding” NHAs. The legislation also restored the administrative funding for the National Park Service that was not included in the 2014 appropriations bill.

What a a great 30th Anniversary present for the NHAs and even though these were small additions to two big bills, people who care about parks and protected areas should pay close attention. What other park programs have such bi-partisan support? What other programs more than doubled their proposed line item? Food for thought…

Now for the rest of the News:

On the 12th day of December our Congress gave us all!

7 new national parks:

  • Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, RI/MA
  • Tule Springs National Monument, NV
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM
  • WW I Memorial – the redesignation of Pershing Park DC
  • Coltsville National Historical Park, CT
  • Harriet Tubman National Historical Park , NY
  • Manhattan Project National Historical Park, WA/NM/TN
Credit: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

Christmas at the Biltmore. Credit: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

8 new studies for potential units

8 boundary adjustments or increased protection

2 new memorials

2 new scenic rivers

14 studies for wild and scenic rivers

1 new commission for a museum of National Women’s History

15 Extended federal funding for 15 Heritage areas


1 Centennial Coin!

Read more details on these gifts here…


Special Update: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park next step up for National Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2014
Credit: National Park Service

Map of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Interested in the future of the heritage movement? Concerned that the program has had to invest so much of its political capital on re-authorization and just hanging on to a flat line budget? Then the recent legislation establishing the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park might be one way forward – offering stability and just possibly a new kind of partnership to conserve landscape scale resources.

A little background, the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor has always been a special case. Created in 1986 as the second of a new kind of National Park Service (NPS) designation, the area was the poster child for this new approach to managing a living landscape. However, in recent years the NPS seemed to retreat from this bold strategy. A special resource study for the Blackstone Valley recommended creating a traditional park around a cluster of historic sites – a very reduced footprint indeed! See Blackstone River Valley: Sounding a Retreat from Landscape Scale Work?

So it is very good news that as part of the recent National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, Congress authorized the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park with some very expansive language.

The park was created with a dual purpose to preserve, protect and interpret the industrial heritage as well as its urban, rural and agricultural landscape that provides the overarching context for the region. Along with individual industrial sites, the park boundaries include the Blackstone Canal and the Blackstone River and its tributaries. The legislation also recognizes the role of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. It authorizes the park to enter into cooperative agreements with the heritage corridor and to offer a range of technical assistance to resources outside the official park boundary.

Credit: NPS

A former textile mill along the Blackstone River in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: NPS

The new park along with the re-authorization of the heritage corridor to the year 2021 in the recent Omnibus Budget Bill provides a new opportunity to conserve the Blackstone Valley on a landscape scale. Charlene Perkins Cutler, the executive director of the Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor certainly sees the new designation this way, saying “This gives recognition to the importance of the entire watershed and the heritage corridor as the birthplace of the industrial revolution,”

Many people have worked hard to pass legislation that ensures that the tools for landscape scale work are at the ready. The next three years will be critical. Will the new national park fashion a management plan that takes advantage of these sweeping authorities? Will the heritage corridor be made a full partner in preserving and interpreting the larger landscape? Can the permanent presence and sustainable funding of a park unit serve as home base to continue the innovative holistic approach to the Blackstone Valley? Only time and more hard work will tell if this is the new model for heritage development.


Compare and Contrast: ICOMOS General Assembly and World Parks Conference

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2014
Photograph Courtesy of Rolf Diamant

Ponte Vecchio in Florence Italy, site of the recent ICOMOS general assembly. Photo by Rolf Diamant.

Last month (November 2014) was a very busy moment for World Heritage. At almost the same time, but half way around the globe, ICOMOS held their 18th triennial General Assembly in Florence Italy and IUCN held their once in a decade gathering the World Parks Congress in Sydney Australia.* A few enterprising individuals managed to make an appearance at both meetings, but as is often the case the forces of culture and the forces of nature were far, far apart.

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 was a landmark global forum on protected areas. The Congress shared knowledge and innovation and helped set the agenda for protected area conservation for the decade to come. Building on the theme “Parks, People, Planet: Inspiring Solutions,” the gathering presented, discussed and created original approaches for conservation and development and focused on how to address the gap in the world’s conservation and sustainable development agenda.

The ICOMOS 18th General Assembly had as its theme “Heritage and Landscapes as Human Values.” The conference presented a series of scientific symposiums, re-examined earlier foundation documents, such as the International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites (known as the Venice Charter) originally adopted in 1964, and the original 1994 Nara Charter was reconsidered with a new document “Nara + 20: On Heritage Practices, Cultural Value, And The Concept Of Authenticity.”

So what was similar about the two meetings? Well, both were gatherings of experts in the field of culture and nature from around the world with the shared mission of how to best conserve our global heritage. At both meetings, there was recognition of the role of sustainable economic development and of people in any conservation paradigm.


Photograph Brenda Barrett

Harbor Bridge in Sydney Australia, site of the recent IUCN Word Parks Congress. Photo by Brenda Barrett.

Both had multiple sessions on the importance of traditional knowledge and specifically on traditional ecological knowledge as the basis for balanced and innovative conservation programs. And finally both meetings recognized the central role of landscape as a framework for both cultural and natural resources.

What was different was scale. Over 6,000 attendees, primarily protected area managers, journeyed to Sydney, while the ICOMOS meeting in Florence only drew about 1,000 registrants. Also different was the level of international attention garnered by the two meetings. While the Florence meeting seemed to have good coverage in the Italian press, the World Parks conference garnered an opinion piece on the front page of the editorial section in the Sunday New York Times written by no less a personage than Thomas Friedman. See Stampeding Black Elephants  from the November 23, 2014 edition.

Is it any wonder that ICOMOS is very enthusiastic about the joint initiative with IUCN titled Connecting Practices. This has been established with the stated purpose of providing an opportunity for exploring how to form a more genuinely integrated consideration of natural and cultural heritage under the World Heritage Convention – ‘bridging the divide’ that is often observed between nature and culture.

With so many areas of common interest, the effort should be off to a good start.

* A quick primer on the two organizations: IUCN, short for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, was established in 1948 to create a communication network for environmental conservationists across the globe. ICOMOS, the International Council of Sites and Museums was founded in 1965 to work for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. It is a global non-government organization dedicated to promoting the application of theory, methodology, and scientific techniques to the conservation of the architectural and archaeological heritage.

Both organizations have a responsibility in an advisory role to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (secretariat of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention) for the evaluation and monitoring of World Heritage Sites.


Reading the Tea Leaves: What can we learn from Australia and Canada?

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2014

Do the recent midterm elections in the United States signal a change in the nation’s heritage policies? To read the tea leaves, we might look to the fate of parks and heritage conservation programs in Australia and Canada – where conservative governments have recently been in power. In the past, both countries had a track record of innovative heritage programs – developing world class historic sites, new approaches to the recognition of indigenous cultural values and strong interpretation of history and nature. So what has been the impact of the fiscal belt tightening of Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada?

Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

In Australia, there has been a wholesale retreat by the national government from heritage programs. Heritage professionals bemoan the lack of leadership, dwindling resources (funding and staff) and less rigorous planning and guidance for the conservation of cultural and natural resources. Environmental organizations are concerned about the devolution of planning controls over heritage sites from the national government to the states. This has raised questions about the protection of World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef. One heritage leader has described the Abbott government’s abandonment of support for the Australian National Heritage List (formerly the Register of the National Estate) in 2007 as “a body blow for the nation’s heritage”.

In Canada the once preeminent cultural and natural resource agency, Parks Canada, struggles under a maintenance backlog estimated by a recent consultant report as $2.77 billion. A continual pattern of budget reductions – in 2014 alone there was a $27 million reduction in operational funding out of a total budget of $650 million – has left parks reeling and struggling to keep the doors open. A decade ago, the agency had a staff of well-respected architects, historians and planners. These services were privatized and then with reduced funding disbanded. Programs such as recognition for National Historic Landmarks have been put on hold indefinitely.

Photograph Brenda Barrett

Prince Edward Island National Park Canada. Photo Brenda Barrett.

Overall not a very happy prospect, but could this happen in the United States (US)? While politically we are close cousins to these two countries, there are some significant differences. For one thing we have a much stronger Federal system. In Australia and Canada their states or provinces always had a more dominant role in heritage conservation and all other government services. For example, in Australia many of the states have their own national park system. The results for heritage have been that wealthy and well-populated areas have been able to pick up the slack and continue heritage programing at the regional level. For poorer, less populated areas like Tasmania and the Yukon not so much.

Another important difference is the US’s long tradition of political advocacy. The National Parks Conservation Association was created one year after the US National Park Service to be a watch dog over park programs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Action and now the Coalition of National Park Retirees play a similar role. While the picture is not uniformly rosy, as the NPS heads towards its centennial in 2016 and the National Historic Preservation Act turns fifty, the future of parks and heritage programs are in a better position than other parts of the world.

The take away from all this is, whether you like your tea with lemon or milk —- it pays to be vigilant.


National Heritage Areas at Thirty: Help tell the Story

By Brenda Barrett November 29, 2014
Credit: Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor

Aqueduct on the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. Photo by Illinois & Michigan Canal NHC

In August of 1984, President Reagan signed the legislation to create a new kind of National Park Service designation – the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. The heritage  corridor or area idea was conceived as a way to cross the culture –nature divide and leap political boundaries with the goal of blending public-private resource conservation, interpretation, and community revitalization. Heritage areas tell stories that are too big, too gritty, too alive, and just plain too expensive to be confined to the boundaries of traditional national park unit. And heritage areas harness grassroots energy to power all this good work. Over and over the National Park Service (NPS) has touted the NHA approach to partnership and community engagement.  Reports such as the now ten year old Charting a Future for the National Heritage Areas, and the recent Call to Action call out the program as the future of the park service. Over and over evaluations  of the heritage area program have documented effective management, and the cost efficient resource conservation and recreational development.

This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the National Heritage Area (NHA) program, but don’t celebrate too soon. NHAs across the nation are facing a perilous time. The now 49 National Heritage Areas stretching from Atlantic coast to the state of Alaska are struggling to survive. They have been hammered by shrinking federal budgets, questions about the role of government, and even their right to exist.

The Living Landscape Observer (LLO) follows the large landscape movement and in our opinion NHAs are some of the most innovative regional initiatives out there. Yet with the future of the program at risk, it is time to try and tackle some of the difficult political and programmatic questions. For example,  with so many National Heritage Areas across the country and Congress proposing to designate more, why is the sustainability of this program at risk? With such intense interest in landscape scale work and collaborative approaches to conservation and community engagement, what can be learned from NHAs? Who are the partners that have similar mission and can help support the program? How can the heritage areas be repositioned to further the National Park Service’s stewardship role in the 21st century?

With all these glowing reports and the NPS Centennial of the National Park Service right around the corner in 2016, this is the right time to have a critical dialogue on the past, present, and future of the NHA idea. So as our contribution to the thirtieth anniversary, NHA@30, we plan to:

  • Post articles in the LLO newsletter every month starting this January through December 2014 on the foundations of the program and the issues facing heritage areas today
  • Produce a short history of the NHA program – available on the LLO web site in June 2014.
  • Provide a current conditions assessment on the program – available on the LLO web site July 2014.
  • Conduct surveys, hold meetings, and have discussions on the future of NHAs with diverse partners and interested parties.
  • Publish our insights and recommendations on NHAs in December 2014.
  • Seek to engage young scholars in the field of landscape scale resource conservation by asking for their essays and contributions.

Help us tell the Whole Story: We are seeking opinion pieces, comments, and stories on NHAs…so join us in the discussion about the program’s future. Contact us with your ideas! or


Anne of Green Gables – A Novel inspires Landscape Conservation

By Brenda Barrett November 4, 2014
credit: (BB no attribution needed)

Anne of Green Gables Heritage Center

“It was November–the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables (1908) the old fashion, but beloved children’s novel attracts a worldwide audience to the book’s setting Canadian Maritime Province of Prince Edward Island (PEI). The book has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into 47 languages. It is extremely popular in Japan attracting thousands of tourists to PEI from that country alone. Parks Canada owns and manages the Green Gables Heritage Place, the nineteenth century farmstead that was the inspiration for many of the settings in the original book. Charlottetown, the capitol of PEI, also has wide offerings of Anne experiences – tours, gift shops, teahouses and a long running musical.

The reason people flock to PEI to find Anne of Green Gables is not hard to fathom. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the book and many other young adult stories, not only tells heartwarming tales of her character’s everyday experiences, but was also a gifted nature writer. Her young heroines animate the rural landscape and nearby seashore with imagination and imagery. Readers make a pilgrimage to the Green Gables site, to walk in the places depicted in her novels as Lover’s Lane, the Haunted Woods and the Balsam Hollow. True confessions: I am one of those Ann of Green Gable fans along with many other woman of my generation. It was charming to venture through these modest, but evocative landscapes.

credit: (BB no attribution needed)

Northern Coast Prince Edward Island

While much of PEI still retains its agricultural and small town character, the Cavendish Landscape, as the area around the Green Gable site is known, is the most threatened by over development. The historic site is surrounded by a Stanley Thompson designed golf course golf course, which were often a feature in the creation of early Canadian National Parks. Later development includes a small-scale amusement park with water slide, restaurants, tourist cabins and more.

Fortunately in 1994 the L.M. Montgomery Land Trust  was established with the mission of preserving 400 acres of the scenic agricultural and coastal region on the north shore of the Cavendish Landscape. To date over half of the land identified as significant has been conserved and will continue in its original agricultural use. Local community members have been instrumental in leading this effort to retain this culturally significant resource. The preserved land links together the Prince Edward Island National Park and the Green Gables Heritage Center the coast and the agricultural interior on the north shore of PEI. Anne fans of today and tomorrow should thank them for their hard work!

credit: (BB no attribution needed)

Lovers Lane Anne of Green Gables Heritage Center

“The woods call to us with a hundred voices, but the sea has one only — a mighty voice that drowns our souls in its majestic music. The woods are human, but the sea is of the company of the archangels.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams


National Conference Celebrates Innovative Large Landscapes Programs

By Brenda Barrett November 4, 2014
(BB no need to credit)

Happy 30th Anniversary National Heritage Areas at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation.

The National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation October 23-24 was a sold out success. Almost 600 leaders and practitioners gathered to develop strategies for addressing the nation’s significant land and water challenges on a landscape scale. The conference also took the opportunity to celebrate the anniversaries of two of the more ground-breaking large landscape projects – National Heritage Areas and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

These landmark efforts blazed the trail – demonstrating that large landscape conservation is possible with collaboration, hard work and big dreams.

Steve Guertin, Deputy Director for Policy at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, recognized the two anniversary milestones – 30 years the for National Heritage Area program and 20 for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. He offered both his “congratulations and sincere thanks to those leaders who have shown us that it is possible to make the visions that inspire our work a reality on the ground.”

The national workshop also featured keynotes from high-powered conservation leaders such as Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Presenters shared research and insights that show how large landscape efforts are an integral part of our response to challenges such as wildlife habitat degradation, threats to water quality and quantity, losses of working farms and forests, and limited public access to urban, rural, and wild open spaces.

“Large landscape conservation initiatives are actually working to provide solutions for some of our nation’s most complex environmental challenges, while at the same time enhancing economic prosperity and energy security,” said James Levitt, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy fellow and NWLLC co-chair.


NHA@30 Week: National Park Service Celebrates Thirty Years of Partnership

By Brenda Barrett November 4, 2014
Credit: Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor

Aqueduct on the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. Credit: Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor

In partnership with the National Park Service, National Heritage Areas across the country launched a one week media campaign blitz from August 24-30, 2014 using the hashtag #HeritageArea30. A mixture of creative posts, tweets, blogs, and articles celebrated the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor and 30 years of National Heritage Areas.

National Heritage Areas, National Park Units, National Park Service Regional Offices, local partners, and national partners – National Park Foundation, National Park Conservation Association, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all participated in the media campaign. The results were impressive!

• #HeritageArea30 tweets reached 106,680 people

• The Facebook site @HHPreservItNPS reached 27,639 people on up from 4,807 the previous week.

• HeritageArea30 press releases were distributed by National Heritage Areas and news sources throughout the country from California to Colorado, Kansas to Pennsylvania.

• Heritage areas, including Kenai Mountain and National Coal, hosted events in honor of 30 years of National Heritage Areas

The National Park Service looks forward to building upon this communications effort in 2016 when the agency celebrates its Centennial.


Long Landscapes: How Big is Big Enough?

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2014
Credit: 5W Infographics for Smithsonian Magazine

Long Landscapes in North America. Credit: 5W Infographics for Smithsonian Magazine

The conservation movement has embraced the idea of preserving large landscapes as the only way to provide the necessary resilience and protection for the world’s ecosystems challenged by climate change and the impacts of global development. But how large a landscape is large enough? One of the most world’s most eminent scientists, the evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, has an opinion on this. In a recent interview with Tony Hiss writing for Smithsonian Magazine, he said “It’s been in my mind for years,” … “that people haven’t been thinking big enough—even conservationists. Half Earth is the goal, but it’s how we get there, and whether we can come up with a system of wild landscapes we can hang on to.”

Read the entire piece here.

This is not a completely new idea. The organization Nature Needs Half is committed to protecting and connecting half of the earth’s land and water based on the best science and commonsense, and is a vision for a new relationship between people and nature. One of the featured large landscapes on the Nature Needs Half’s web site is the Yellowstone to Yukon  or as it sometimes known Y to Y. Marking its twentieth anniversary this year, the Y to Y initiative envisions an interconnected system of wild lands and waters stretching from Yellowstone to Yukon, harmonizing the needs of people with those of nature. The Y2Y region traverses two countries, five American states, two Canadian provinces, two Canadian territories, the reservation or traditional lands of over 30 Native governments, and a number of government land agencies. To carryout its work the Y to Y works with five sub regional landscape collaborative including the Crown of the Continent.

Tony Hiss describes his vision of what is big enough in to conserve natural resources in North America. Bigger than the Y to Y corridor, but scaled down from half the earth. He calls these places long landscapes, a permanent network of protected and interconnected wild landscapes that would offer resiliency in the face of changing climates. For example, such huge corridors would allow southern species to move north in the face of global warming and western species to move east to escape drought conditions.

So how do we make this happen? As the work on the Y to Y corridor and its five sub regional landscapes show us, many of the pieces of the puzzle are out there just waiting to be assembled. A good place to start is with the many organizations and agencies that are already working hard to conserve their little piece of the continent. The upcoming National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in Washington D.C. is a great opportunity to inspire these practioners to work local and think global (or at least think about 50% of the globe).


Blackstone River Valley: Sounding a Retreat from Landscape Scale Work?

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2014

Fair warning: Insider discussion coming up…

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

An image of Slater Mill in the Blackstone River Valley NHC on the cover of the 2006 report “Charting A Future for National Heritage Areas.”

Not so long ago the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was the pride of the National Park Service (NPS) – the poster child of the new approach to managing a living landscape. It was lauded in publication after publication and was a regular stop for visiting dignitaries looking for models of intergovernmental partnerships in action. The corridor was a prime example of the NPS extending its reach to the landscape scale using a Federal Commission that included government at every level and private citizens to care for a 550 square miles corridor spanning Massachusetts and Rhode Island and 24 communities. Non-profit and private sector partners also played a key role in corridor planning and management, whether as the stewards of key sites like museums or as co-promoters of tourism and preservation initiatives.

The story of the Blackstone Valley illustrated an arc of the nation’s industrial history stretching from sites of early industrial innovation to environmental exploitation, and then abandonment. Through its the expansive mission, the Blackstone River Valley Commission, was able to interpret the whole landscape – the connection between cities and rural areas, industrial innovation, and the regeneration of the region’s natural and cultural values.

But somewhere along the way, the NPS changed its direction in the Blackstone Valley. Perhaps it was the lingering effects of the great recession or the inborn desire to care more for resources that one owns in fee. An NPS special resource study that was originally planned to create the next level of innovation for the region’s future inexplicably rejected the continuation of the heritage commission. The study devolved into a preferred alternative that would create a traditional national park. The sweeping ideas of the original heritage corridor – partnership management of the valley – were reduced to the NPS preserving a small collection of industrial heritage sites. It certainly was not about the money as the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the new park as $26 million dollars (between FY 2014-2018).  The 2014 annual appropriation for the corridor program is only around $500,000. However, some argued that this was the best deal that could be crafted to keep a NPS presence in the valley. After all it was thought that a new park unit could partner with the heritage corridor and provide a stable base of operation.

Two years ago in reporting on the Blackstone situation, I noted the irony in this proposal…”Just as the NPS’s most recent strategic plan, calls for scaling up its work and promoting large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources, one of the best examples of collaborative lived-in landscape management may be headed for a down sizing.” (see full post here)

Recent congressional action on the proposed park bill for the Blackstone Valley is even more alarming than a mere down sizing. In September of 2014 the House Natural Resources Committee amended HR 706, “to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park” to strip out every reference of a partnership with the heritage corridor (along with other language that makes even establishing a traditional park problematic). This would end the innovative approach that has been in place for almost three decades.

So what is next? The Senate companion bill S. 371 still has the right stuff. But as is sometimes the case at the end of a two-year congressional session, the bills could be included in a last minute omnibus bill. If this bill rumbles down the halls of power, there will be little time to make the case for landscape scale thinking and try salvage what was once an exemplary partnership.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Roger Williams National Memorial. Credit: Brenda Barrett

Another possibility is that nothing will happen. Then legislative process would have to start all over in 2015, the same year that the funding authorization for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor ends. If that happens what will be the NPS’s role in the Blackstone Valley? Well the agency will still fly the flag over the Roger Williams National memorial a 5-acre park in downtown Providence – a long way from the landscape scale vision that once animated their work.



PA Wilds: The Creative Economy and the Forest

By Brenda Barrett August 26, 2014

There is a lot of talk about how the creative economy – sometimes synonymous with the young, hip and artisanal – is helping to revitalize urban centers. Brooklyn is of course ground zero, but it is happening in large and small cities across the nation. The historic preservation community has certainly made the link. An upcoming symposium in New York City The Accidental Preservationist: Artists, Artisans, Outliers & the Future of Historic Preservation – sponsored by the James Marston Fitch Charitable Foundation on the occasion of its 25th anniversary – will be exploring the influence of non-traditional practitioners of historic preservation on architectural revitalization of cities.

But what about our rural landscapes? Can these ideas catch fire and help revitalize struggling communities far away from big city hipness and density?

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Joe, Andrea and Oliver in the print shop of Laughing Owl Press. Credit: Brenda Barrett

Joe and Andrea Lanich, who just opened their letterpress shop, may be on the leading edge of this trend for rural America. An engineer and architect, by training, they began their business, Laughing Owl Press, as a hobby in their garage. Needing more space for expanding production and the large Chandler & Price presses that Joe has adopted and reconditioned, they relocated to the main street of Kane, Pennsylvania. This small borough in the Northwest corner of the state is surrounded on three sides by the Allegheny National Forest. It was once known as the Black Cherry Capital of the World (as in trees not soda). The town’s economy had been based on timbering and manufacturing, but for decades Kane and the surrounding region have struggled. External forces like globalization have caused a decrease in jobs followed by high unemployment rates and population loss with the sharpest decline in the numbers of younger, working-age residents.

To counteract some of the regions economic problems, Pennsylvania’s state governments launched the PA Wilds  in 2003. The initiative was centered on a rural 12 county region that includes Kane and is known for its heritage of public lands and small historic communities. The region had 2 million acres of protected land including 29 state parks, 8 state forests, and the Allegheny National Forest. The PA Wilds strategy included a new brand name, promotional campaigns, a major investment in public recreational facilities, and a stated commitment to do so in a way that valued the stewardship of natural resources. It is considered one of the most ambitious of the emerging conservation landscape initiatives in the United States.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Main Street in Kane, Pennsylvania. Credit: Brenda Barrett

Initially the PA Wilds focused on outdoor tourism. After all the region’s parks and forests add up to one of the largest block of public land on the east coast equivalent in size to Yellowstone National Park. The concept was to expand the recreational amenities on these lands, which will increase visitation and lead to economic revitalization. However, community redevelopment especially on a landscape scale is more complex than just heads in beds. And that is why the work of Ta Brant is so important. As the executive director of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, her job is to diversify the regional economy by building on local products and industries. For example, the PA Wild Artisan Trail helps marry the PA Wilds brand with the locally made movement. The program markets juried handcrafted items made in the PA Wilds, provides an online presence, and links artisans with sales outlets in the region. The program has expanded from artists and craftsmen to include craft winemakers and distillers. Brant sees local food products as an exciting future branding opportunity.

Creating this more complex local economy is critical to the future of small towns like Kane. The customer base for Joe and Andrea Lanich’s print shop come from around the world. But it is the people and potential of the community that attracted the couple to the town’s Main Street – a welcoming chamber of commerce, the Kane Historic Preservation Society, who sponsor an art galley and events in the historic train depot and other new creative economy businesses in Kane, for example the just launched distillery C& J Spirits.

The PA Wilds is hoping to build a network using culture and nature to create sustainable communities in the forest.


NHA@30: Why do we need program legislation for National Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett July 30, 2014

The first National Heritage Area (NHA) was designated thirty years ago and today there are 49 congressionally designated areas. As of July 2014, there are 9 more such areas waiting for congressional action and in the last two weeks both the Senate and the House held hearings to consider – S.2576, to establish the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, and S. 2602 and HR 1785 to establish the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area both in the State of Washington. The National Park Service’s (NPS) position on adding new areas is not going to be a surprise. For more than a decade the NPS has met all proposals for new NHAs with a variation on the following statement:

While a feasibility study has found the [fill in the blank] National Heritage Area appropriate for designation, we recommend that the Committee defer action on this legislation until program legislation is enacted that establishes guidelines and a process for designation of national heritage areas.

The NPS has advocated program legislation as the gold standard for NHAs since the 1990s. In 2006, the recommendation for crafting such legislation was the centerpiece of the National Park System Advisory report Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas and numerous other NPS white papers and calls to action have said the same thing. However, moving such legislation in the current congressional climate has not been an easy task. In fact, it has been so hard that for the last several congresses, the NPS has not even put forward its version of the NHA program bill.

For this reason, it is bit of a milestone that on July 29, 2014 the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation held a hearing on H.R. 445 the National Heritage Area Act of 2013. The bill is the result of the bipartisan hard work of Rep. Dent (PA-R) and Rep. Tonko (NY-D). Witnesses at the hearing included Rep. Dent, Stephanie Toothman Associate Director for the NPS, and Allen Sachse President of the Alliance on National Heritage Areas. Co-sponsor Rep. Tonko (NY-D), Rep. Clyburn (GA-D), and Rep. Grijalva (AZ-D) also spoke in support of the bill.

Of course there is still no NHA program bill in the Senate. At the recent hearing 0n S. 2602 and S. 1785, Senator Udall, the subcommittee chair, asked – when we already have 49 NHAs and there seems to be a standard process, why do we even need this legislation? So why do we need program legislation?

Well one reason is that the NPS says it is important. This is not an insignificant consideration. Other NPS programs, the national park system, the national trail system, national scenic rivers system, and external program like the National Register of Historic Places and the Land and Water Conservation program, all have legislation that provides authorization and sets clear program standards. While the NPS worked closely to help establish the earliest NHAs, in more recent years the areas have suffered from lack of funding and reduced support. If program legislation is what it takes to tighten these bonds with the NPS, then it is important.

The NPS’s July 29, 2014 testimony on H.R. 445 was very positive and strongly stated support for this lived-in landscape program and the role it plays in tell nationally important stories that celebrate our nation’s diverse heritage. The agency even proposed an amendment to the bill to establish the NHAs program as an ongoing responsibility of the National Park Service.

The Alliance of National Heritage Areas’ testimony at the hearing outlined NHA successes, highlighting a series of positive evaluations
of the program’s effectiveness and the economic benefits.  The Alliance also looked to H.R. 445 to change the process for designating new areas by requiring management planning before designation as a partial fix for some of the challenges in launching new areas.

There are still many hurdles to advancing NHA authorizing legislation. The NPS is proposing a number of amendments to H.R. 445. One of them would  limit funding to NHAs to $10 million over a fifteen-year period, which depending on how it is drafted,  could defund many of the older areas. This is probably a nonstarter. And of course there is still no companion bill introduced on the Senate side. However, based on the hearing on H.R. 445 in the house and the spark of interest in the legislation shown at the recent senate hearing, there seems to be reason to hope. The best news is that the NPS, the Alliance of NHAs, and a bipartisan coalition of 36 members in Congress are all united on the compelling value of the program. Just go to Section 2. Findings and Purposes  of H.R. 445 and repeat together….!


World Heritage Committee Match Up in Doha Qatar

By Brenda Barrett July 1, 2014
Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

Map of the Earthworks at Poverty Point. Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

While not as closely watched as the World Cup in Brazil, for those who care about international heritage the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar (June 15-25, 2014)  was an important event. Among the highlights were the inscriptions of the 1,000th World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Myanmar’s first property on the World Heritage List. During its ten-day meet up, the Committee added a total of 26 new sites the List to bring the number of World Heritage Sites to 1007, in 161 countries.

Representatives from the United States (US) were there to follow the voting on the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. This was country’s first  World Heritage nomination since the US   withdrew the its support for UNESCO. See US World Heritage Program at Risk  Score one for team US.  On June 22, 2014, the nomination for Poverty Point was inscribed as the 1,001st property on the World Heritage List.

(However, see the comment below – it turns out it was a very close game!)

Listed under Criteria iii, the site was determined to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared. The monumental prehistoric earthwork complex is located in Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi Valley. It was part of a trading network 3,000 years ago that stretched hundreds of miles across the North American continent. Poverty Point is a remarkable system of monumental mounds and ridges that were built into the landscape for residential and ceremonial use by a sophisticated society of hunter-fisher-gatherers. It is a masterpiece of engineering from its time as the major political, trading, and ceremonial center of North America.

Not scoring so well was Australia; although the committee deferred for 12 months a decision on whether to place Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Committee expressed concerns over planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities. It asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by 1 February 2015. In addition the World Heritage Committee rejected the Australian Government ‘s proposal to delist 74,000 of hectares from the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness. It was reported that the current government of Australia lobbied the delegates in Doha unsuccessfully to get more flexibility in the management of these iconic resources.

Scoring points for good deeds was the host state of Qatar. The Prime Minister of Qatar opened the meeting by announcing a donation to the World Heritage Center of $10 million to establish a new fund to assist World Heritage sites affected by conflict or natural disaster. He called on “all of the states in the big World Heritage family” to contribute to this fund. To see some the challenges view Culture under Attack: A Photo Exhibition on Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict.


Watching Over Our National Historic Landmarks

By Brenda Barrett June 1, 2014
Credit: William D. Reilly

Shack Mountain National Historic Landmark. Credit: William D. Reilly

The real estate brochure was almost breathless. The property it noted “is a rare jewel joining Monticello, the Rotunda and University of Virginia’s Academical Village as the only National Historic Landmarks in Charlottesville and Albemarle. Of the over 80,000 properties on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States, less than 2,500 qualify for Landmark status.”

The property in question, Shack Mountain in Charlottesville VA, is indeed a special place. Fiske Kimball, a scholar of Thomas Jefferson’s work who served as the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for over thirty years, designed the house. Like Jefferson’s Monticello, it has commanding views of nearby Charlottesville and Albemarle County. It is a strong statement of the Classical style, executed with exquisite detailing and proportion. Kimball designed the house to serve as his mountain top retreat and retirement home. At his death he willed the property to the Philadelphia Museum of Art who then sold the property subject to restrictions to protect both the building and the viewshed. Today the property is protected by a conservation easement held by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources.

The protection offered by the easement on Shack Mountain is a very good thing for the future of the resource. Recognition as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) is just that – recognition. At the time of designation, an owner of a NHL – or stewards as they are known – will receive a certificate from the National Park Service and be invited to accept a plaque attesting to the significance of the property (36 CFR 65.6). Under the National Historic Sites Act of 1935, the authorizing legislation for the NHL program, the NPS also has the responsibility to maintain contact with the owner and to monitor the condition of the property. Further, the agency is to prepare regular reports to Congress identifying both known or anticipated damage or threats to the integrity of the NHL. By regulation, this report is to be prepared by the park service’s regional offices (65.7). But let’s be clear, while these reports allow the park service to offer advice, the NHL owners give up none of the rights and privileges of ownership or use of the property.

So does just monitoring the condition of a landmark without the ability to take action add any value? I think it might. In Pennsylvania, the NPS placed the landmark listed Delaware Canal on the 2000-2001 watch list after it suffered from devastating flooding. This attention was one of the contributing factors in allocating scarce state capitol dollars and FEMA funds to repair the washed out locks and spillways.

In 2013 the National Park Service staff had planned to conduct an overdue survey of NHLs, but ran into a glitch. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Federal agencies must receive approval from the Office of Management and Budget prior to collecting information from ten or more members of the public. Receiving approval for the agency to do the survey directly proved challenging. So the Southeast Regional Office came up with another idea. They sent out a letter addressed to “Fellow Preservationist” to help identify NHLs that might be at risk or threatened in their region. They also asked for success stories, noting that the agency wanted to recognize good stewardship.

For this I want to applaud the resourcefulness of the park service staff. To conserve our NHLs the first step is to know that they are out there and to feel personally engaged in their future preservation. Having many eyes on these important places can only be a positive development.

So what about Shack Mountain? In 2006 the National Park Service reported that the landmark was in good condition. The threat level was Satisfactory and there are no changes since the last reporting period. However, while the property is still in good condition in 2014, it has been on the market since 2011. If I was in Virginia, I might want to keep Fiske Kimball’s jewel box on my watch list or even better start looking for a preservation minded buyer.

Want to help? Check out the National Historic Landmark, in your state and see how they are faring. Go to:


#NHA30: National Heritage Areas Front and Center in Recent Presidential Proclamation

By Brenda Barrett April 29, 2014

This year April 19 to 27 is National Park Week. In his proclamation marking the event, President Obama called out the National Heritage Areas for their thirty year contribution highlighting the living history of our nation, stating:

This year marks a significant milestone in America’s drive to preserve precious historic sites — the 30th anniversary of the first National Heritage Area. For decades, the National Heritage Areas Program has enabled our Nation to set aside places that define our shared history and that will help future generations understand what it means to be American.”

View of Rankin hot bridge connecting Homestead Steel Works to the Carrie Furnaces. Image FLICKR creative commons, user Jay M. Ressler

View of Rankin hot bridge connecting Homestead Steel Works to the Carrie Furnaces, Rivers of Steel NHA. Image Flickr creative commons, user Jay M. Ressler


This is pretty terrific coverage — to be above the fold in a one-page presidential proclamation.  However, it is well deserved. The National Heritage Areas (NHA) have tackled the preservation and interpretation of resources that are often too gritty, too expensive and too fraught with potential local issues for the traditional National Park Service approach.  For example, let’s take the history of American industry. If we just looked at our national park units, we might think that the height of industrialization was using charcoal blast furnaces and running water powered spinning wheels. Fortunately, the Rivers of Steel NHA tells the story of our steel making prowess in the Pittsburgh region and the Motor Cities NHA tells the story of the rise of the automobile from Henry Ford’s assembly lines to the integrated systems of the River Rouge Plant.  And NHAs also pay attention to the people who lived and worked in the landscape both labor as well as capital.  Interpreting the 1892 Homestead Strike and Lockoutwhere in happened at the Pump House and the Bost Building and outside of Detroit telling the story of the original Rosie the Riveter at the Willow Run Bomber Plant.

NHA add needed cultural diversity to the National Park Service. The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor recognizes the important contributions made to American culture and history by African Americans known as Gullah Geechee who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The Northern Rio Grand NHA encompasses a mosaic of cultures including the Jicarilla Apache, 8 Pueblos, and the descendants of Spanish colonists who settled in the area as early as 1598 a generation before the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth MA. The residents speak many languages Spanish, Tewa, Tiwa, Apache, and English and carry on many of the traditions and practices of their ancestors.  And these are only two examples of NHA where the people who live in the region interpret and steward their living landscapes.

Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, credit: Living Landscape Obsever

Adobe ruin, Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, Credit: Living Landscape Observer

The approach is also highly cost effective. NHAs leverage the limited federal dollars appropriated for the program.  A recent evaluation documented that one dollar of National Park Service funding was matched by four at the local level. Volunteers and other partners provide much of the energy for the work. A post on the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Charting a Future: National Heritage Area to become our Next National Park makes a compelling financial case for the benefits of collaborative management. It notes that the cost of managing a heritage corridor in this case the  Blackstone River Valley was a third less than the estimated cost of managing a much smaller park unit in the same landscape. Recent testimony submitted  to the House Appropriations Committee by Allen Sachse, the President of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas, backs up the cost effectiveness of the NHA’s partnership management. His testimony also speaks to the economic contribution NHAs make to the local communities in both jobs and increased tax revenues.

While some gaps still exist in the system, particularly on the west coast, the 49 National Heritage Areas cover a wide range of the American geography. Today there are one or more NHAs in 32 states stretching from Alabama to Alaska —from Nevada to Vermont.  Over 55 million people live within the boundary of a NHA and this translates into 157 members of Congress and 67 United States Senators. Each area adds to the richness of our shared heritage.

Hmmm….if Congress would just add three more NHAs (and note that legislation has been introduced proposing up to eight) then we could all celebrate a different heritage area every week of the year.  In the meantime happy anniversary National Heritage Areas and let us all join the President in proclaiming the idea a success!


Ohio Earthwork Saved by Social Media Campaign

By Brenda Barrett April 29, 2014


Credit: The Arc of Appalachia

Junction Earthworks in Ohio
Photograph Courtesy of the Arc of Appalachia

Not every story to save a nationally significant cultural landscape from imminent sale and development has a happy ending. Often the auction sign goes up, there is a brief period of bewailing the tragedy, then the inevitable happens, and the dozers move in. But this was not what happened in the campaign to save the Junction Earth Works in Chillicothe Ohio. The outcome is a lesson in how strong partnership and new media can be combined to save a landscape.

When the for sale notice went up on this property in Ohio, the Arc of Appalachia, a grassroots Ohio based conservancy with the mission to preserve, restore, and reunite the greater Appalachian Forest, spearheaded an all out conservation effort. They were joined by a strong coalition of archeological and historic preservation organizations with interest in the resource. The group mounted an online campaign only eight days before the site was slated for the auction block. The web site was loaded with great content about the significance of the archeological resources on the land and also its natural values. It even included a short video.


An online fundraising thermometer tracked the project’s progress towards the goal. The result, $375,000 was raised from over 900 individual donors. When leveraged with a state grant from Clean Ohio, this was enough money to purchase the 102 acres, which included the earthwork, creek frontage, and the forested acreage on the site.  A 170-acre farm field was sold to a local farmer for continued agricultural use. Pretty amazing work for a little over a week of intense effort.

The Junction site was one of the last privately owned Hopewellian period earthworks that dating to the 330-700 AD.  The Hopewell culture appears to have arisen in the Ohio River Valley and established trading connections with other mound building groups of the period from Canada south to the Gulf Coast and the Middle Atlantic west to beyond the Mississippi River.  Obsidian found in burial mounds in the Ohio River Valley has been source traced to the National Historic Landmark Obsidian Cliffs site in Yellowstone National Park.  The Ephraim George Squire and Edwin Hamilton Davis expedition, the first scientific foray of the then newly founded Smithsonian Institution, described and published a plan view of the site in the first Contributions to Knowledge Series in 1848. However, over time the site’s significance was overlooked, but not anymore.

The long-term goal is to add this site to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park for long-term management, and include it in the proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination. For more on Hopewellian sites in Ohio see the Ancient Ohio Trail.  

In the meantime, the Junction Earthwork will be developed into a public park and nature preserve offering simple mowed trails through the ancient earthworks site and providing hiking trails. The plan is to have these trails open within two years. The former cornfields will be reseeded with a native prairie mix designed to sustain Ohio’s diminishing grassland birds. While work is underway with the National Park Service for long-term management of the site, for now the managers will be a coalition of partners. The Arc of Appalachia will be the owner of the three woodland tracts, and the Archaeological Conservancy will be the owner of the earthworks tract with the Arc of Appalachia holding a conservation easement.  Great Work!

Some lessons learned:

  • Savvy use of social media can be a catalyst to engage wide public support.
  • The value of highlighting both the natural and cultural resources on the property.
  • A deadline matters, but the group’s committed to a long term vision for the site was important.
  • As always partnerships are the key ingredient!

Many thanks to Mark Barnes, Ph.D. and former Senior Archaeologist of the National Park Service for bringing this story to our attention and contributing background information


NHA@30: Program Legislation for National Heritage Areas

By Brenda Barrett March 30, 2014

Today there are 49 National Heritage Areas (NHA) stretching from Florida to Alaska and each area has its own individual legislative authorization.  But authorizing legislation for the overall program has been an unattainable goal.  Beginning in 1993* comprehensive program bills have been drafted and re-drafted, then introduced, only to fall flat on their face in one Congressional session after another. The current NHA program bill, the National Heritage Areas Act of 2013 (H.R.445), was introduced in the house with bipartisan support; there is no Senate companion bill.

Over the last thirty years the lack of NHA program legislation has n been a barrier to the growth of the program. However, it has been raised as a hurdle to its legitimacy. It has been used to justify cutting the NHA budget and opposing any and all recent NHA proposals.  One could argue that program legislation is not needed. After all the NPS has the organic act and Congress has designated each National Heritage Area just as they have designated each unit of the National Park Service. In addition the language in the recent NHA designation bills is almost identical so the issue of setting a standard of practice is of less concern.

What is of concern is the connection between the National Park Service and the National Heritage Areas.  There are so many good reasons for the NPS to embrace the NHAs: to tell diverse stories from the perspective of the people who own the narrative, to build a stewardship ethic in large landscapes, and to provide a living context for national park units. Director Jarvis enumerated these reason and more in a 2012 Policy Memorandum. And yet despite these mutual benefits this connection is at risk. If a legislative foundation for the program will help bridge this gap, then this legislation should be a high priority.

So what are the odds that NHA program legislation will move this Congress? Not very likely according to sources on both the Senate and House committees.  The house bill is not scheduled for a hearing and there is no bill in the Senate. The NPS has repeatedly stated the agency’s support for the concept, but has not taken a position on HR 445.  And in fairness to all, this is a very hard time to get any NPS bills beyond a no cost park name change moving in Congress.

So what would it take to make a difference? Here are a few ideas:

  • Advocate for a hearing in the Committee on HR 445.  Yes this is a tough environment, but the bill has articulate and committed cosponsors in Congressman Dent (R-PA) and Congressman Tonko (D-NY). Overall NHAs have bipartisan support in the house with 35 sponsors signed on to HR 445.
  •  Find a powerful champion. The last time a NHA program bill made real progress was in in 2006 when with the leadership of Senator Thomas (R-WY), then chair of the subcommittee on National Parks, legislation was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  The new chair of the committee is familiar with the issue with two NHA in her home state.
  • Harness the political power of all NHAs. With the  delegations from the existing  49 areas and the supporters of the eight ** proposed NHA bills introduced in this congressional session that is a lot of horsepower.
  • The Centennial is coming! Take advantage of the upcoming NPS commemoration. How about program legislation as a NPS priority to celebrate this major milestone?

A recent article in the National Park and Conservation Association’s magazine (Spring 2014) called national heritage areas “the next generation of national parks”.  Perhaps now is the time to officially welcome them into the family.


*  The first NHA program bills were introduced in 1993 in the 103rd Congress. (1993-1994) The American Heritage Areas Partnership Program Act of 1993 (Introduced in House the then chair of chair of the Natural resources Committee– Rep Bruce Vento and another version the National Partnership System of Heritage Areas Act (Introduced in House by Rep Hinchey of New York.  No surprise, given the sponsor’s home state, the Hinchey bill grandfathered in all existing NHAs as well as the whole New York State Urban Cultural Park System.  Neither bill gained much traction or passed the house or senate.

** NHA legislative proposals  awaiting action  are the  Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Study Act, Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area Act, Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act, St. Croix National Heritage Area, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act, and Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area Act.


NHA@30: Funding for NHAs – Past and Present and What About the Future?

By Brenda Barrett March 2, 2014

Charting a Future for National Heritage AreasOn the Thirtieth Anniversary of the National Heritage Areas (NHA), one thing we can celebrate is that the program is still alive and still funded. In the 2014 federal budget, the 49 NHAs felt fortunate to receive an appropriation of  $18.2 million as the administration’s FY 2014 request to Congress was for only $9 million. This demonstrates the resilience and political heft of the NHA idea.  How many National Park Service programs can go to Congress and double their money?

Once upon a time there was much more alignment of interest in the budget process. The National Park Service’s  (NPS) budget request for the NHAs and Congress’s give was (give or take a few across the board trims and special bonus dollars) approximately the same number. For example in the early 2000s  the  requested and enacted amounts were only 10% apart and a number of NHAs achieved the almost impossible –  authorized funding of close to $1 million.  Of course there were many fewer of them and the NHAs place in the budget was still being sorted out between the many arcane pots of money in the National Park Service (ONPS, Stat. Aid and NR&P).  But for more than a decade this has not been the case. At one particularly low moment the NPS FY 2007 budget request zeroed out the whole program.  The result – NHA leaders became even more skilled in advocating for their cause and Congress went ahead and put the money back. After that experience NPS reductions for the NHA budget have been hovering at a more modest 50%. And every year a great deal of energy is expended to refund the program.

Why has this happened? Over the years the NPS and its advisory bodies have consistently written glowing reports on the value of the program.   Just take a look at the Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas and a Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement. A recent evaluation of 12 longstanding NHAs concludes that they are focused on their mission, well managed, and cost effective, but, without continued NPS funding, may not survive.  There are many rationales for this budgetary disconnect.  The argument has been made that federal funding for NHAs was just start up money, that in hard financial times sacrifices must be made, that program legislation needs to be in place before the NHAs can be fully funded etc.… And yet still the NHA’s come. Today there are 49 areas and more are waiting in the wings.

So here is a 30th Anniversary idea. What if those planning the Centennial of the National Park Service made common cause with leaders of the NHA movement and harnessed their considerable advocacy skills and deep knowledge of the political process to help float everyone’s boat.  What if everybody got on the same page?  Emerging NHAs, National Scenic and Historic Trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other partnership parks could all benefit from this approach.  Then we could start building the kind heritage partnerships that will sustain the places we care about not just for one congressional cycle, but for the next generation.

Read More:

March 2013 – Another Close Call for National Heritage Areas 

September 2012 – National Heritage Areas on the Brink


NHA@30 New National Parks in the 1990s: Thinning of the Blood or a Much Needed Transfusion?

By Brenda Barrett January 30, 2014

In 1991, I wrote a paper by this title as a contribution to a National Park Services (NPS) gathering on the occasion of the service’s 75 Anniversary. Known as the Vail Agenda (for the conference’s location at an off-season ski resort) the meeting was at a time of review and self-examination for the agency. Trying to be memorable or at least catchy, the title played off then National Park Service Director James Ridenour’s discomfort at many of the new national park proposals being pushed on the park service by Congress and local communities. Ridenour had spoken out strongly against such “thinning of the blood” and the agency’s leadership knew exactly what he meant – more than a few nodded in agreement. These new threatening ideas were rivers and canal corridors, cultural areas, and partnership parks. A number of these new fangled designations became known as National Heritage Areas.

The “new park proposals” were challenging for an agency that had attempted to maintain a high degree of credibility and control over the national park system. These designation were also a real concern for an agency that had suffered years of no growth or budget reductions and where resources were stretched to the limit. It was difficult to welcome these unfamiliar and possibly expensive newcomers. At that time I stated that:

… the issue before us is whether the National Park Service can make some sense or something of continuing value out of this phenomenon. While it may be too early to look for patterns and make predictions, we need to try. All time can do is prove us wrong.

In trying to identify the opportunities in this new approach, I wrote about the pressing need to think big. The NPS had long recognized that parks were only a small patch of any given ecosystem and were constantly buffeted by changes to the larger whole. Cultural parks commemorating a specific event in time and place had often become an island in a radically changed landscape. Perhaps I suggested these new ideas for large landscapes could help conserve land adjacent to national parks or tackle projects where fee ownership is not feasible or desirable. In addition the new parks reflected new ideas about history by addressing industrial themes, tales of laboring men and woman, and other of the country’s diverse stories. These new parks were a long way from the traditional great men, great events type of historic sites and the agency needed to embrace this new direction.

Finally, the paper identified some of the innovations that these new park proposals might bring to enrich the practice of all NPS parks and programs, such as:

1) Partnerships – True partnerships are developed between the federal government, state partners, local governments, local citizens and other related historic attractions. These partnerships are broad based, even regional in nature, and must be true partnerships, not just opportunities to come to a few informational meetings.

2) Economic value – Unlike traditional parks, the tourism and economic development role of a park in a community are directly addressed. Related natural and cultural preservation opportunities in the region are recognized and assisted.

3) Education and interpretation – The message is more complex than the one story line that can be told at one park or one site. The landscape and the natural environment in a broad area are used to tell the story.

4) Local priorities and capacities – Unlike a traditional park where the NPS has total control, economic, social and cultural concerns of the community must be incorporated into park planning and management.

As we look backward, it turns out these ideas of partnership management, economic value of parks, regional interpretation and public engagement have become more  and more central to the agency. Today managing park units at a landscape scale is seen as a more mainstream approach and the number of National Heritage Areas have grown from a trickle to a flood of designations. However, despite all these changes, NPS still struggles to make something of value from these new park ideas in the face of persistent foundation myth that continues to reinforce the more traditional narrative of the park as an island of protection in a sea change. Read the full paper here: New National Parks in the 1990s: Thinning of the Blood or a Much Needed Transfusion?