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Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

By Brenda Barrett June 29, 2016
Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project Courtesy Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

What happens when a highway project long planned to improve the functionality of the overall transportation system runs up against newer approaches of planning on a landscape scale? I recently spoke to this issue at the Pennsylvania Statewide Conference on Heritage   (June  6-8, 2016 Lewisburg PA). The project in question, the  Central Susquehanna Valley Transportation Project (CSVT) ,  was under construction nearby and involved a bypass and a major new bridge crossing over the Susquehanna River. It  was planned to remedy traffic congestion on the one of the state’s major north south corridors and reroute through traffic, particularly truck traffic, out of small towns in the region.  But the project’s history was anything, but straightforward.

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Planning for the project began long ago with the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the selected alignment approved in 2003. After project design was underway, it was put on hold due to lack of funding. With the passage of a new funding package in 2013, the project was reactivated. However, during that ten-year hiatus ideas about the cultural and natural values in the region had undergone a substantial shift. The project now crossed through the Susquehanna Greenway , a 500 miles state greenway. This section of the river was now designated as a National Recreational Trail by the Secretary of the Interior. And most significantly, the river corridor was incorporated into the CaptainJohn Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  Originally authorized by Congress in 2006, its goals was to help the visitors to the Chesapeake Bay understand the significance of John Smith’s explorations and his impact upon the rich American Indian cultures and to appreciate and care for the life and landscape of this national treasure. The trail now extends up the many of the tributaries of the Chesapeake in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

When long delayed construction of the CSVT  was announced, all of these new designations brought new partners to the table  seeking to conserve landscape scale cultural and natural resources in the project area – resources that had not even been envisioned in 2003. The traditional transportation planning approach had been to identify individual historic or archeological sites and the specific location of a threatened flora or faunal species and then avoid or mitigate site specific impacts. Now this whole approach was being called into question. In the case of the CSVT compromises were negotiated and in particular minimization strategies were developed to reduce impact on the Susquehanna River crossing, provide additional public access, and offer more consultation on riverfront development in the future.

btn15_mapBut what about the next time?  To begin with we need to recast our perspective to embrace a larger landscape approach. If the one of purposes of planning for infrastructure development such as transportation projects is to do so in a way that minimizes the impact on cultural and natural resources and maximizes the benefit to the public, then we need to stay abreast of the new frameworks by which these disciplines define themselves.

Let’s start with Natural Resources. The field has long used an ecosystem approach, which understands the importance of the interaction of organisms with their wider physical environment. A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences on large landscapes  tackled the central question of the best way to conserve the natural world noting that conservation challenges exceed the capacity of any single entity or protected habitat. Increased urbanization, extreme weather events, and fragmentation of habitat threaten both flora and fauna require that resource conservation take a broad landscape scale approach and build in connectivity for species to migrate and have room to range. So, it is not enough to avoid the spot where an endangered species was last spotted. What is needed is to predict where it is going, where can it thrive in the future.

Things are also shifting in the world of Cultural Resources. Historic preservation practioners know that that the discipline has moved from identifying individual landmarks to considering historic districts and now whole landscapes. The National Park Service has been a leader in calling for this re-examination of cultural landscape approach. Our commonwealth has also been in the forefront  develop ing a comprehensive multiple property documentation for the   Agricultural Resources of Pennsylvania, a good example of evaluating a complex living landscape. It is true that cultural resources are not going to migrate or fly away, but we need to accept that they are more dynamic and larger than our past concepts of what is significant. Cultural resources are best understood in a larger context that tells the whole story.

Finally, Recreational Resources are also being viewed through a wide angled lens.In the middle Atlantic many rivers and stream system are being developed into a statewide network of water trails. Former rail lines and canals are now the backbone of  trail systems running for hundreds of miles across the state. And of course the National Park Service manages National Scenic and Historic Trails system that crisscross the whole country. The most iconic being the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and a chunk of PA in between. The connectivity of these resources is critical.  Once a trail crossing is severed, it may be impossible or at best expensive to reconnect.

 This new larger perspective presents management challenges, but there are also new regional partnerships to help coordinate these regional geographies. For example, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is fortunate in having a whole host of such organizations. The list includes multiple National Heritage Areas and a robust state heritage areas with 12 designated areas dedicated to melding natural, cultural and  recreational objectives along with community revitalization goals. The states’ Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has launched 7 conservation landscapes to drive strategic investment and actions around sustainability, conservation, community revitalization, and recreational projects. And the agency has taken a leadership role in statewide recreational resource planning.

In addition, land trusts and other regionally focused land conservation groups have been expanding rapidly – a survey a number of years ago counted over 130 of such initiatives in New England alone as well as the newly launched “Practioner’s Network for Large Landscapes”. The National Academy of Science ‘s 2015 report identified over 20 federal programs that are utilizing a landscape approach in the Department of Interior, of course, but also in agriculture and defense.

There are some difficulties as the older paradigms about place and partnerships have expanded.  Our project management skills and our regulatory tools have yet to catch up to this new way of thinking. While there are no overnight fixes and project planners will always have to play catch up,  I do want to conclude with a couple of specific suggestions:

1) Harness the power of big data – Big data is defined as large (or extremely large) data sets that may be analyzed to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions. The good news is that this is an area where transportation planners have been early adopters using GIS mapping in particular. But more can be done, for example,  adding the layers for rivers and trails, and other resources identified by partnership organizations. This will provide a leg up in project scoping. To get a taste of what these data bases can offer, take a look at the work of Landscope Chesapeake.  A data base that shows all the public lands and privately protected areas, trails and access points and also links in the conservation partners and state program. What a great place to begin high level 30,000-foot infrastructure planning.

2) Harness the Power of Partnerships – While much talked about, this is not easy to accomplish. And It also can seem like a burdensome add-on to what is an already crowded project planning schedule. But let’s look at the practical side,  effective public input or even better public engagement is both required as part of project planning and can make the project go more smoothly. Many of the heritage areas, land trusts, recreation organizations and conservation landscapes have identified significant resources and developed resource management plans with extensive public input.  They know what is important to the impacted region. This is great way for infrastructure planners to identify potential challenges and opportunities as well as reaching many of people who live on the ground where a project is happening.

3) Harness the power of other programs – Everyone should take a lesson from productive partnership organizations and look for the sweet spots where multiple objectives intersect. And note – this does not mean that one partner pays all – success is when projects integrate public and private dollars along with volunteer energy to deliver better communities. So think outside the box who else might have a stake in the ground? A good way to start is with an interagency approach. Who else is planning something in the region how can their work be coordinated with infrastructure development? What is in their budget and how can dollars be leveraged? High level planning that is open to new ideas is one way of accomplish these ends.

In conclusion, If I have one concern, it is that much of our planning in the past has zeroed in way too soon on way too small geography and then come up with the three least bad alternatives. Perhaps it would behoove us to spend a little more time in the stratosphere  identifying partner and programs that can help everyone be successful and accomplish their respective missions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The National Park Service Brand: Do I have a Franchising Opportunity for You!

By Brenda Barrett September 28, 2015

 

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Over the last year the George Wright Journal has been running a series of Centennial Essays reflecting varying perspectives on the future of the National Park Service. The most recent piece by Holly Fretwell, a research fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) in Bozeman, Montana, offers a different viewpoint on how to address the agency’s difficult financial situation and the public’s desire for more national parks (George Wright Forum Vol. 32 No. 2 2015). Her proposal in a nutshell – what if the NPS were to franchise the NPS brand and offer it to entrepreneurs to run new park sites that were deemed to be of national significance? Then these new units could remain under local governance, but would be given “national park” stature.

As the centennial approaches all things should be on the table. The NPS has proposed a package of anniversary legislative initiatives with a focus on creating a range of new funding streams. The call to action by conservative conservationists, who represent the views of many members of Congress, is quite different. It is their position that the NPS needs to take care what it has and concentrate the nation’s limited dollars on the ‘crown jewels’.

Yet how to deal with both the public’s and politician’s desire for new parks? Her suggestion is to re-imagine the NPS brand as a franchising opportunity. This is not new idea. The Smithsonian has been doing this for years with their Affiliates programAnd going all the way, the once nonprofit National Geographic Society just sold their magazine, books, maps and other media to a consortium headed by 21st Century Fox the Rupert Murdoch controlled company that owns the Fox television network and the Fox news, for $725 million.

Needless to say it is unlikely that the many voices who are committed to ‘America’s Best Idea’ will embrace this approach. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and National Parks Traveler have both come out with a spirited defense for an expansionist approach. See for example the editorial The National Park System: Why it should continue to Grow.

Fretwell argues that given the current fiscal climate, Congress is understandably reluctant to allocate the dollars needed to manage existing new park units, let alone funding new additions. And at the same time it is politically popular to keep naming new areas and cut those celebratory ribbons. So to bridge the gap she endorses expanding such existing programs like the Fee Demonstration Project and raising user fees all around. However, her big idea is that the American public needs a new model to manage new national parks in the future – let those constituents who seek national park status create and maintain them. This new model would operate more like a charter school or a franchise. The NPS as franchisor would license the use of the brand and provide general support. The agency would set the parameters for management and approve a business plan. This approach would ensure that new parks would have strong grassroots support. The new areas would be locally governed, enjoy the benefit of a partnership with park professionals and enjoy the  leverage of the NPS brand. Voilà a NPS experience at substantially reduced cost to the taxpayer!

As I read the elements of Fretwell’s franchise model, I was assailed by a sense of creeping familiarity – An approach that offers a way to get under the NPS umbrella, but is not managed by the NPS, one that is launched by strong local support and commitment, and that must follow NPS standards and requires a business plan, but recognizes that one size does not fit all. Wait a minute; don’t we already have something similar in the NPS portfolio? We do, there are 49 of them, and they are called National Heritage Areas.

The irony is that institutionalizing the National Heritage Area idea is stalled in a stand off between the administration (actually multiple administrations going back to 2001) and the very congressional committees who are calling for a more market based approach. Although NHAs incorporate most of the efficiencies touted in Fretwell’s article and have a thirty-year track record, the  NHA program legislation has been held up with claims of a federal overreach and as a federal land grab when nothing could be farther from the truth!

So I ask those like PERC who are proposing that the NPS rethink how they leverage the national park brand to follow their own dictums. Let’s not create something new and shiny. Instead why not polish up the National Heritage Areas model and make it work even better for the next one hundred years.

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New York State Parks: Funding Heritage Innovation

By Guest Observer May 25, 2015

By Paul M. Bray

"Letchworth State Park Upper Falls 2002" by Andreas F. Borchert. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Letchworth_State_Park_Upper_Falls_2002.jpeg#/media/File:Letchworth_State_Park_Upper_Falls_2002.jpeg

Letchworth State Park Upper Falls 2002 by Andreas F. Borchert. Licensed under Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons

New York State has the oldest State Park System in the USA. The System dates back to 1924 and now has 179 state parks. Many of the State Parks are first class like Niagara Falls State Park, Letchworth State Park (known as the Grand Canyon of the East), Thatcher Park near Albany and Saratoga Spa State Park and Jones Beach on Long Island, to name a few. Many are world-class natural sites while some are more known for their golf courses, campsites, swimming pools and beaches.

The State also has vast ecologically rich parks like the 6 million acre Adirondack Park with the only constitutionally protected wild forest land in the nation. The environmental parks like the Adirondack and Catskill Parks are managed by the State’s environmental agency while the more conventional state parks (some of which do have ecologically sensitive resources) are managed by the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (ORRHP). OPRHP also has 37 historic sites and its Commissioner is the State Historic Preservation Officer.

Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York Heritage Areas. Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

In 1977 the State Legislature enacted a law directing OPRHP to do a plan for a statewide system of urban cultural parks (UCP) and another law designating the whole area of the 6 historic neighboring communities at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers as the Hudson Mohawk Urban Cultural Park. The UCP name was dropped in the 1990s when regional areas were added to the program and replaced by calling the parks “heritage areas.”

The then OPRHP Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation told a group of state legislators that the proposed UCPs represented the ideal for historic preservation. But concluded that “there is no way” the agency could implement a UCP law. The state legislature, however, saw it as a beneficial partnership that integrated program for conservation, education, recreation and sustainable development and by enacting a law directed the program to move forward. Commissioner of OPRHP, Orin Lehman hired the planning firm of Lane and Frenchman who had at worked on the plan for the Lowell National Historical Park to prepare a statewide plan to implement the UCPs.

Communities that wanted to be UCPs had to prepare feasibility studies to be considered for designation. By 1982 thirteen communities from New York City to Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario were selected for designation as part of the legislation establishing the UCP system.

In 1981, Commissioner Lehman sent the legislature a letter saying, “I am pleased to submit to the Legislature this Plan for the New York Urban Cultural Park System. The plan recommends the creation of an innovative state program, which will help communities to make better use of resources they already have. These resources often lie within declining historic buildings and districts in the heart of our cities. Through the framework of the Urban Cultural Park System, these areas can serve to interpret the heritage of New York State, while becoming regional centers for economic and cultural development through a well-defined and realistic revitalization process.” He also noted that the plan for the development of New York State’s Urban Cultural Park Program received the American Planning Association’s 1981 national “Outstanding Planning Program Award.”
The State Heritage program grew to have 20 state heritage areas and the first 13 state heritage areas benefited from an environmental bond act with $20 million for visitor centers. A mix of state agency programs also helped the state heritage areas support planning and projects.

In September 1991 the National Park Service, the New York Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission and the National Parks and Conservation Association held a Partnerships in Parks & Preservation Conference in Albany. New York’s urban cultural park/heritage areas were recognized as “partnership parks.”

Mario Cuomo, New York’s Governor and father of Andrew Cuomo who is New York’s current Governor said in his introductory speech that, “The New York Urban Cultural Parks Program has used the partnership of State and local governments and the private sector to preserve some of New York’s most important and impressive downtowns. The State provides technical assistance, grant money, and marketing. The local community provides interpretive staff, capital improvements, and sponsors special events and street festivals. And the private-sector puts the buildings to work as shops, offices, museums and cultural centers.” He went on to say, “We fulfill our own needs for the growth and development of the community, and at the same time fulfill our responsibility to preserve a crucial link between past, present and future generations.”

Cutbacks in Federal program support and state recessions over resent decades ultimately led to a billion dollar backlog in maintenance needs for the traditional state parks. Budgetary issues set the stage for the undoing of the New York heritage areas. Under the administration of Governor Paterson, the small heritage area program was zeroed out although the state provided $100,000 million a year to address the maintenance issues for the traditional state parks.
To this day the State Heritage Area Law remains on the books and OPRHP has reviewed and approved a couple of additional State Heritage Area management plans as it is required to do under State Law. However, no state parks staff or funding has gone directly to State Heritage Areas.

Two years ago when current Governor Andrew Cuomo sponsored a conference on heritage tourism, representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation led the program and said New York State is fortunate to have a State Heritage Program. At the OPRHP table outside the meeting room, when asked for information on the State Heritage Areas, a representative said “we don’t do that program any more”. Technically by law that was not true, but in effect that is how the State Parks Agency has acted and the new era of parks in NYS, state heritage areas, has been abandoned by the very agency that created the award winning plan for state heritage areas.

What is happening in NYS is contrary to an enduring heritage of parks like Olmsted’s Central Park and Prospect Park in New York City, great traditional state parks and urban parks that the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has protected through the public trust doctrine. It is very regrettable that the highest stewards of NYS parks, the Governor (the son of the former Governor who oversaw the creation of heritage areas) and the State Parks Commissioner, may have found a way to stifle State Heritage Areas that embody the great heritage of their State.

Paul Bray’s email is secsunday at aol.com

Addendum: The financial woes of the New York State Heritage Area program are not unique. The Pennsylvania Heritage Parks (renamed heritage areas) program that drew its inspiration from the New York Urban Cultural Parks also faces hard budgetary times. A direct appropriation for the program was zeroed out in the Governor’s 2009 budget and it has survived on a mixture of legislative largesse and state agency accommodation ever since. Recently elected Governor Wolf has again proposed to eliminate funding for the program. And the campaign to restore funding is in full swing. See an editorial in the commonwealth’s Lackawanna Valley paper calling to Fully Fund Heritage Areas.

Finally, there is the ongoing saga of funding for the National Heritage Area program with its 49 National Heritage Areas, which has been a tug of war between the Department of Interior’s budget recommendation to cut funding for the program in half and Congress’s druthers, which is to put the money back. So far Congress has had the last word, but it takes up a lot of time and effort that could be spent conserving our nation’s heritage.

Brenda Barrett
Editor, Living Landscape Observer

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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

and…..

1 Centennial Coin!

Read more details on these gifts here…

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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.

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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.

 

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Apply Now for Advocacy Scholars – Deadline Oct. 31

By Guest Observer August 27, 2014
Members of the the North Carolina Delegation from University of North Carolina Greensboro during Advocacy Week 2013, pictured here with Representative Richard Hudson. Photo: Preservation Action

Members of the the North Carolina Delegation from University of North Carolina Greensboro during Advocacy Week 2013, pictured here with Representative Richard Hudson. Photo: Preservation Action

Deadline October 31!

Historic Preservation Advocacy Week is an annual event bringing over 250 preservationists to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to advocate for stronger federal preservation policies. This year, the Preservation Action Foundation will be offering a limited number of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students to attend the important event. The award includes complimentary registration to Advocacy Week in March 2015 and a $500 stipend.

The Advocacy Scholars Program is open to undergraduate and graduate students in Public Policy, Historic Preservation, History, Law, Planning, Architecture or related programs. Submissions must be emailed education@preservationaction.org by October 31st. Note Advocacy Scholar in subject line.

Selected Advocacy Scholars will be notified by January 5, 2015.

Submissions must include:

1. A cover letter stating your interest, any previous legislative or advocacy experience and how participating in the program will contribute to your academic and professional goals.

2. A 1,500 word essay on either of the following topics:

National Heritage Areas@30: In 2014 Congress considered multiple requests to designate new National Heritage Areas, even though the program faces continued financial and legislative challenges. Why is this large landscape program so compelling and what is its future? Give us your thoughts.

The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 established policy to protect our nation’s cultural resources. Preservation Action was founded by advocates to make historic preservation policies a national legislative priority. How do people who value preservation continue to take a stand? How to engage the next generation of historic preservationists and advocates?

3. Proof of academic enrollment.

For more information, www. preservationaction.org/scholars or contact Trisha Logan, Vice Chair of Development for Preservation Action at education@preservationaction.org.

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#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!

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