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Protecting America’s Long Trails

By Guest Observer November 1, 2018

Aerial view showing the Werowocomoco archeological site along the York River in Virginia along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT. Photo courtesy PNTS

October, 2018, marks the 50thanniversary of two remarkable federal laws: the National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers Acts.  Both laws set up ways that the federal government can assist in protecting and operating “long, skinny corridors” for recreation and heritage resource preservation

My background is with the trails, and their challenges are tough because some of them are very long – thousands of miles.  The two flagships of the National Trails System are the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails, both well over 2,000 miles in length, both spanning numerous states, both highlighting mountain chains.  Both take advantage of hundreds of miles of corridor on federal or state public lands.  To fully protect both as continuous corridors of “superlative recreation,” the federal government had to acquire lands from private landowners to fill in the gaps. For long stretches, both trails are “tunnels in the woods,” where a corridor of 1,000 or 2,000 feet wide may be sufficient.  But in other places where there are magnificent views, it is hard to know how wide the protected corridor should be.

In 1978, 40 years ago, a new category of trail was added to the National Trails System – national historic trails.  In fact, between 1983 and 2009, that was the only category of trail added to the System. Today there are 11 national scenic trails and 19 national historic trails together totaling more than 50,000 miles in length and crossing 49 of the 50 states.  National historic trails do not need to be continuous – rather, they commemorate important routes of travel from the past by featuring the remnant ruts, grave sites, structures, etc., that are left, linked together when possible by signed auto tour routes.  Many of them – and especially in the West – feature large landscapes that are difficult to preserve.

For the trails, it is useful to distinguish between “management” and “administration.” Management relates to the ownership and jurisdiction of the land (or water) where the trail route occurs. Administration relates to the agency carrying out the coordinative authorities of the Trails Act.  Sometimes they are the same agency – this occurs, for example, where the Appalachian Trail crosses national park units, since the National Park Service administers that trail and manages those units.  Most often, though, one agency administers a trail while another manages specific segments – and they need to work together for any success to occur.  This can be difficult when these agencies have different missions, distinct traditions and operating laws, varying staffing and budget priorities, and conflicting attitudes about trails, recreation, and heritage conservation.

President Lyndon Johnson signing the National Trails System Act. Image: LBJ Presidential Library

When the Trails Act was first passed, thanks to special pleading by then Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, the first two trails had access to eminent domain as a last resort, and it has been used effectively and sparingly.  Then in amendments passed in 1978 and 1983, Congress severely limited the use of eminent domain for all subsequent trails established under the Act. This has led to some very creative alternative ways for protecting trail-related land resources: state protection programs, land trusts, cooperative agreements, site certification, etc.

The National Trails System Act was one in a long suite of environmental and recreational laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s.  It was piloted to passage by Secretary Udall and Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI). President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law just before the end of his term as president.  Over five decades, times change, political dynamics change, budgets come and go.  Amazingly, the National Trails System has endured and grown.  And the key is citizen involvement and advocacy.  From the start, it set in motion conservation through partnership, inspired by the decades-long chain of agreements between the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trail organizations and federal agencies through whose lands those trails were routed.  Amendments to the Trails Act in 1983 expanded and defined the many roles volunteers could play in planning, building, maintaining, promoting, and operating the trails.  Since then, a variety of national advocacy organizations have been founded (American Hiking Society, American Trails, and the Partnership for the National Trails System).  And, modeled on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, citizen-based volunteer organizations have been founded to help support almost every one of the trails created under the Trails Act.  In addition, nationwide land trusts – such as the Conservation Fund, Trust for Public Lands, etc. – have all stepped in to help where needed.

The key to successful national scenic and historic trails is partnerships.  These occur at many scales and for many purposes.  One authority that fostered landscape protection was the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), first established in 1965. Thanks to these funds – derived from the sale of public lands and federal off-shore oil and gas leases — $200 million has been used to protect the threatened gaps along the Appalachian Trail.  Other LWCF funds have filled in gaps in national parks and forests as well as aided states and local jurisdictions with park and recreational facilities.

During the Obama Administration, a special LWCF program called “Collaborative Landscape Planning,” made $50 million available for dozens of corridor and viewshed protection projects along many of the national scenic and historic trails.  However, the basic LWCF authority expired on September 30, so if it is not re-authorized soon, the future of the national trails will be in jeopardy.

America’s national scenic and historic trails offer unparalleled opportunities to experience our Nation’s natural and cultural dimensions.  Many sites along these trails deserve special attention as irreplaceable cultural landscapes.  Some are places sacred to indigenous peoples.  Some offer spectacular and fragile scenery.  And others may look plain and unremarkable, but from them spring stories of heroism, social change, and transformation.  I invite you this anniversary year – in fact every year – to explore America’s national scenic and history trails and see what a remarkable legacy they offer.

Steve Elkinton was trained as a landscape architect (University of Pennsylvania, 1976) and worked with the National Park Service for 36 years, 25 as program leader for the National Trails System.  In his retirement he has written an illustrated history called A Grand Experiment – the National Trails System at 50.

 

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Some Lessons from Appalachian Traditional Cultural Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas F. (Tom) King is the author, co-author, or editor of ten books on aspects of cultural heritage, and the co-author of National Register Bulletin 38 on the identification and documentation of traditional cultural places. He is a consultant based in Silver Spring, Maryland, and can be contacted at tomking106@gmail.com. 

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

 

 

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Politicians, Conservationists, And National Parks

By Guest Observer February 21, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Landscape of Loss: Defending the Appalachian Trail

By Brenda Barrett August 23, 2012

For many of us folks on the eastern seaboard the Appalachian Trail (AT)  is our National Park.  The trail links communities from Maine to Georgia along its 2184 mile length. It is an unparalleled example of a large landscape conservation effort. It is also the National Park Service’s most successful long-term partnership effort. Since 1925 the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy has managed  this resource for the park service raising millions of dollars, harnessing the energy of thousands of volunteers  (206,000 volunteers hours in 2011), and partnering with hundreds of landowners.  Today the NPS claims that over 99% of the trail is preserved for the benefit of the over 2 million people who use the trail every year and  for the generations who will be hitting the trail in years to come.

But is it really protected?  Every once awhile the social contract that connects this landscape breaks down. Trails are an inherently fragile resource; they are only as strong as the weakest link. So it is important that we react to what is happening along the AT on the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania.  Recently the Appalachian Trail Conservancy found out that Berks County officials were proposing to build a cell tower next to Pulpit Rock an iconic site on the AT.  The conservancy contacted the local government owner, Hamburg Borough. Since the property had been deeded to the borough with provisions to protect the AT, the conservancy hoped the issue could be quickly resolved. This did not happen.

Berks County insisted on moving forward with the tower and the matter ended up in county court. Not wanting to wait even for even a judicial resolution, the county recently filed an eminent domain action to take the property owned by Hamburg Borough for the purpose of extinguishing the deed restriction that protects the trail. This act places the whole structure of the AT at risk.  The great thing about the conservancy is its partnership approach to land conservation. The organization saves us all money by caring for the trail with volunteers from 30 trail organizations and by preserving the trail on public land through easements and deed restrictions.  Because of their work, the federal government has  not had to purchase of every foot of the trail.

Everyone including the National Park Service had thought the trail in Berks County was protected. While most of the AT is owned in fee, easements or similar deed restrictions have been considered adequate protection. However,  if local government partners can erase the deed restrictions on this property, it will send shock waves through the length of the trail. It calls into question a cooperative strategy that has worked for decades.

Hopefully, the Berks County Commissioners will rethink condemning one of our national treasures and seek alternative locations for their tower.

 

 

 

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