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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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How is Restoration Relevant to Stewardship?

By Guest Observer August 27, 2015

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

Groundle Glen Australia Credit: Peter Bridgewater

Groundle Glen Australia
Credit: Peter Bridgewater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Adirondack Park: Landscape No Longer Contested

By Guest Observer September 2, 2013
Guideboater on Long Lake Adirondack. Credit: Adirondack Council

Guideboater on Long Lake Adirondack. Credit: Adirondack Council

When I was a bill-drafter for then-state Assembly Environmental Committee Chairman Maurice Hinchey in the 1980s, I accompanied him to meet with a group of local government officials in the Adirondack Park. The town supervisors complained nonstop about Adirondack Park Agency, the state agency implementing the state’s Adirondack Private Land Use Plan.

They didn’t like the plan’s strict density restrictions for private development and that a majority of the APA members came from outside the Adirondack Park. Almost half of the Park land is public “forever wild” forest land and therefore outside the bounds for development.

Hinchey listened respectfully as the local officials complained about land use control by outsiders. In the case of the Park, the courts ruled that an overarching state interest justified state control rather than local control. When the local officials finished with their complaints, one supervisor conceded that if the State had not intervened in the park, there would be no local land use planning.

A couple of years later, then-Manhattan Assemblyman Pete Grannis proposed to Sen. Ron Stafford, the leading Adirondack Park legislator, legislation for a study on how to promote tourism for the whole Park. Stafford agreed, and I drafted the bill.

The Adriondack Park includes a number of county tourism promotion agencies that received state funds for tourism promotion. Language was included in the bill that nothing in the recommendations would limit the roles of the existing tourism agencies. The director of one such agency complained to Stafford about the bill, and he withdrew it.

Credit: Adirondack Council

On Pitchoff Mountain in Adirondack Park. Credit: Adirondack Council

These two anecdotes exemplify why Eleanor F. Brown wrote on the occasion of the Park’s 1992 Centennial that “the Adirondack Park is still undergoing the painful process of creation” and Adirondack writer Phil Terrie titled one of his books on the Park “Contested Landscape.”

Before the Adirondack Park was created by the State Legislature in 1891, the Forest Commission that would be responsible for its management correctly forecast that it could not “call the Adirondack Park into existence by the touch of a wand.”

It’s long past time for the creation of an Adirondack Park that is truly an inspirational, educational, recreational, ecological and economically sustainable. That potential was very visible at the seventh annual Adirondack Common Ground Alliance Forum that occurred in July in the town of Newcomb. The forum’s theme was collaboration, with less “us versus them” and less “infighting and fragmentation.”

Many individuals and entities have played a role in creating the Adirondack Park’s recent progress. Common ground started an open discourse to find what the people in the Adirondack Park agreed upon. The state provided $1 million for smart growth planning that wasn’t just for Main Street projects but included, for example, funding to bring broadband to the entire region.

Outreach engaged neighboring regional economic development entities like the Center for Economic Growth in the Capital Region and the North Country Chamber of Commerce. This helped join three of the governor’s regional economic development councils with portions of the park to work together to finance the Adirondack Park Recreation Web Portal Project to promote recreation in the whole park.

Unlike the ill-fated Grannis-Stafford bill, this time support came from all sectors of the park, including the tourism agencies. Local officials like Bill Farber, the Morehead town supervisor as well as the Hamilton County legislative chairman, are successfully advocating for holistic regional planning.

It helped when Gov. Andrew Cuomo created the Adirondack Challenge that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a whitewater raft race in Indian Lake.

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Baxter Mountain in the Adirondacks. Credit: Adirondacks Council

From what I saw at the Newcomb Forum, the Park’s former contested landscape is becoming a more collaborative landscape.

 

This article originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on August 12, 2013

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What’s in a Name? Is Landscape Important?

By Eleanor Mahoney May 1, 2013
Photo: Wikipedia Commons User Dk4hb

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

In 2000, during the waning days of the Clinton presidency, then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt signed an administrative order establishing the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). Housed within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the NLCS represented a significant shift in the agency’s mission and public persona. An organization once largely defined by its emphasis on “multiple uses,” now was home to a solidly conservation-oriented initiative, which currently includes more than 27 million acres. Even more noteworthy, the NLCS also encompassed a large number of newly designated National Monuments, many of which were distinguished by historic and cultural values, as well as their outstanding natural resources. Indeed, it was only in 1996 with the designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that the BLM joined the National Park Service and the Forest Service in administering such sites.

Over the years, the NLCS has not been without its share of controversy and critiques. Conservatives in Congress have repeatedly attempted to de-fund the program, seeing it as an additional layer of federal bureaucracy and oversight on lands that might otherwise be leased for grazing or resource extraction. Preservationists, meanwhile, have not always appreciated the BLM’s management approach, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation going so far as to place the entire NLCS system on its “Most Endangered Places List” in 2005.  In explaining the selection, the Trust commented,

“…BLM’s ability to provide this protection is seriously hampered by chronic understaffing and underfunding…Unless BLM gets the funding and staffing it needs for the National Landscape Conservation System, irreplaceable treasures will continue to be lost or destroyed, and important chapters in America’s story will be erased.”

Environmental organizations focused much of their critique on the politicization of the program during the Bush Administration, when funding, executive interference and even complete elimination became constant concerns.

Yet, despite these challenges, in 2009, Congress passed authorizing legislation for the NLCS as part of a larger omnibus public lands bill bus, achieving something that other large landscape conservation initiatives, including National Heritage Areas, have so far failed to achieve. “In order to conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations, there is established in the Bureau of Land Management the National Landscape Conservation System,” the bill reads, setting a new national precedent for the recognition and subsequent designation of large, complex, layered landscapes.

Yet, now, in an interesting twist, the BLM has decided to change the program’s name somewhat unofficially, referring to it simply as “National Conservation Lands.” What does such an alteration mean? Is it just semantics? I would argue no, it is not. For both practitioners and the public the term “conservation,” has specific and historic connotations, meanings not often associated with culture or with living landscapes. Instead, (rightly or wrongly) conservation is usually shorthand for natural resource centered activities and experiences. Including the word landscape, by contrast, offers an entirely different sensibility. It connotes a combination of the natural and human-made, of interaction, evolution and change, challenging the artificial boundaries between nature and culture. It also recognizes that even our “wildest” places were and perhaps still are sites shaped by people on an ongoing basis. Perhaps the word landscape is not so important, after all “National Landscape Conservation System,” is undeniably a mouthful, but I do not think so. Words are more than letters on a page, they contain myriad meanings and possibilities and landscape is not one I am quite yet ready to abandon.

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Conserving a Peopled Landscape: How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012
New York City in a Landscape of Water

New York City in a Landscape of Water

A recent conference (June 19, 2012) Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion brought together over 125 practitioners and state and federal officials to share insights on successful practices and build a network between comparable efforts. Hosted by the Regional Plan Association and America 2050, the event built on the organizations’ research on large landscape efforts in the Northeast and the principles in their February publication Landscapes reported in earlier Observer post.

The meeting was held in New York City and attendees who came early were treated to a tour of Governor’s Island and a different perspective on the city as a place rising from a landscape of water.  Maybe it was the location. Among many large landscape topics touched on through the daylong conference, the importance of people, community, and telling the story on a landscape scale came up over and over.  A poll taken at the end of the conference showed that 94% of the participants voted that to improve landscape practice and policy in the Northeast it was important to  “[c]reate a narrative of the region that motivates the people who live there.”

Why all this talk about the importance of people and populated areas? Mark Anderson, Director of Conservation Science at the Nature Conservancy, presented the conferees a compelling reason. His work has shown that species diversity is highly correlated with a diversity of landscapes – rivers, forests, coastlines and a variety of soil and underlying geology.  It seems that conservationists are delivering solid results preserving upland forests, but not the rich soils and riverine landscapes where people have flocked to settle for thousands of years. In other words, we have done okay on the easy stuff. Now to achieve real gains, particularly in the Northeast United States, we have to take conservation to where people live.

For more conference updates and information on some upcoming pilot projects, see Ron Pirani’s article Going Regional with Landscape Conservation on the Regional Plan web site.

 

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Presquile National Wildlife Refuge: An Indigenous Cultural Landscape

By Deanna Beacham April 1, 2012

Presquile National Wildlife RefugePresquile National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is located on a 1329-acre island in the James River south of Richmond, Virginia. Part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, it was established in 1953 to protect habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, and at the present time is open to the public only on a very limited basis. What is now Presquile (formerly “Presque Isle”, or almost an island) was once a peninsula inside one of the James River oxbows. It became an island when a channel was cut through the peninsula in 1933 to make navigation easier for large boats. The island includes open meadow that was formerly farmed, extensive wetlands, brushy areas, and mixed forest

However, this place is more than just a wildlife refuge: it is also serves as an example of a new concept of place known as an Indigenous Cultural Landscape. Developed as part of the planning for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the concept is intended to represent large landscapes from the perspective of American Indian nations at the time of their first contact with Europeans. These landscapes comprise the cultural and natural resources that would have supported the historic lifestyles and settlement patterns of an Indian group in their totality. The concept attempts to demonstrate that American Indian places were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that the American Indian view of one’s homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically used in our language today such as “hunting grounds”, “villages”, or “sacred sites”.

The island of Presquile, now protected as a wildlife refuge, was at the time of English Contact a peninsula within the aboriginal territory of the Appamattuck Indians. John Smith mapped an unnamed town near the base of the peninsula. Cultural resource surveys of the refuge have identified a large area considered likely to contain evidence of Late Woodland American Indian occupation and prehistoric archeological sites ranging from the Late Archaic through Late Woodland. The concept of the Indigenous Cultural Landscape looks at the natural resources still present on the land: the good agricultural soil, sources of fresh water, 
transportation routes on the river, accessible landing places, 
and the resources still present in the marshes, brushy areas and primary or mixed deciduous forest

These resources along with the documented American Indian presence provide outstanding interpretive opportunities to look at place in a new way. Presquile NWR is currently in the process of updating their comprehensive conservation plan, with the possibility of more public access in the future. An environmental education center for youth, managed by the James River Association, is also being developed on the island. The refuge is one of those increasingly rare places where the landscape of the past merges with the present. The hope is that telling this story will expand our sense of stewardship of place and our understanding of the diverse people that share this space.

Deanna Beacham (Weapemeoc) is the American Indian Specialist in the Virginia governor’s office and serves as an advisor, consultant, and speaker on mid-Atlantic American Indian history and contemporary concerns. She is an Occasional Observer for this web site.

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