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US National Parks on the Southern Border

By Brenda Barrett February 27, 2017
Border Fence  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Border Fence
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Standing in the shade cast by a twenty high border fence, our ranger discussed the challenges facing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a park on the border between the United States and Mexico. The tour we signed up for was described as an opportunity to visit the Gachado Line Camp, a historic cowboy camp, and so we did. But as our ranger said, what people really want to see when they come down here is the border and that was true for our little group.

Border Vehicle Barrier Courtesy National park Service

Border Vehicle Barrier
Courtesy National park Service

The southern border of the United States is an evolving concept. This particular boundary was imposed on the landscape by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853 and for decades it was only marked by intermittent concrete monuments. The first border fence, in what is now the national monument,  was a strand or two of barbed wire to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease. It was only as illegal immigration and drug trafficking increased at the turn of the 21st century that the National ParkService installed a low metal vehicle barrier along the monument’s 31-mile boundary. This prevented vehicles from crossing the border and impacting the fragile desert environment, but was permeable to wildlife.

In 2007 a twenty-foot border fence was erected for a five mile stretch on the park’s boundary by the Department of Homeland Security in part as a response to the tragic shooting of NPS Ranger Kris Eggle. He was shot in 2002 by a Mexican national who had fled into the park after committing a crime on the other side of the border. This spotlighted the security issues in the monument, border patrol presence increased dramatically and for years afterwards whole sections of the park were closed to visitors. Today with increased park staff and reduced incidents on the border, the park is once again open for business.

Biosphere Reserve Plaque Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

Biosphere Reserve Plaque
Organ Pipe Cactus National Park

President Roosevelt created the monument by proclamation in 1937 for its exceptional Sonoran Desert habitat and as the northern most range of the Organ Pipe Cactus. In 1976 the park was also declared a biosphere reserve under the international Man and Biosphere program, which seeks to conserve examples of ecosystems around the world. Sustaining these values in particularly the Mountain Lions and the newly revitalized herd of Sonoran Antelope, is challenged by the boundary defenses. At this time wildlife population seem to be able to navigate around the high wall that only seals off a quarter of the park, but questions remain.

Crossing the Rio Grande  Big Bend National Park

Crossing the Rio Grande
Big Bend National Park

The National Park with the biggest footprint on the border sits on the big bend of the Rio Grande River in Texas.  Because of its remote location and the ecological values of its riverine boundary, there are no barriers on the border in Big Bend National Park. On a visit a of couple years ago, we watched local residents ride back and forth across the river as they have done for centuries. Just as at Organ Pipe, visitors to the park are provide with cautionary advice  and sent on their way to enjoy this special Chihuahuan Desert environment.  Authorized by Congress in 1937, the park was recently added to the US World Heritage Tentative list for its outstanding universal natural values.

Chamizal National Memorial  El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial
El Paso TX

Chamizal National Memorial is not only right on the border between the US and Mexico, the mission of this small, 55-acre site, in El Paso Texas is to memorialize that border. It was created in part by the 1966 Treaty of Chamizal that resolved a long running border dispute between the two countries.  The recently prepared Foundation Document for the park defines the site’s significance as commemorating these successful diplomatic negotiations,  the complex  geography of the border,  and the  cultural connection between the people of the two nations. Very different than the other parks, Chamizal is in an intensely urban environment with the channelized Rio Grande as one boundary and car traffic from the nearby border crossing causing both noise and air pollution on another. Among many challenges at the site, the document noted that NPS staff were unable to officially travel to the sister park Parque Publico Federal et Chamizal on the Mexican side, which constrains the cross border programming and partnership part of the memorial’s charge.

Mexican border  Chamizal National Memorial

Mexican border
Chamizal National Memorial

So here we have three vignettes of the current conditions facing US National Parks in carrying out their mission on the nation’s southern border.  Recent proposals to harden the infrastructure of the border, for example to build a wall, and to increase militarization and enforcement will not make this any easier for our protected area managers.  But I take hope from our Organ Pipe ranger’s concluding words. He said these are not National Park Service lands, not even the federal government’s land, they are your public lands, you own them. Let’s protect this priceless legacy.

 

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Listening to Zinke: The Landscape Ahead?

By Brenda Barrett January 28, 2017
Gold Butte Nevada Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

Gold Butte Nevada
Photo courtesy of the Department of the Interior

At his confirmation hearing on January 17, 2017, Representative Ryan Zinke (R MT) spoke up before the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and shared his vision for the position of Secretary of Interior. The leadership of the Department of Interior is central to the future of protecting the nation’s landscapes. Those who care about conservation at scale, protected areas, and our cultural heritage were listening carefully to what he had to say.

What did we hear? Zinke kicked off his opening remarks by declaring his unabashed admiration of Theodore Roosevelt as his conservation hero and he made historical references to Pinchot and Muir in framing his answers to other questions from members of the committee. So far so good,  he then laid out his top priorities for the department as:

The first is to restore trust by working with rather than against local communities and states. I fully recognize that there is distrust, anger, and even hatred against some federal management policies. Being a listening advocate rather than a deaf adversary is a good start.

 Second, is to prioritize the estimated $12.5 billion in backlog of maintenance and repair in our national parks. The president-elect is committed to a jobs and infrastructure bill, and I am going to need your help in making sure that bill includes shoring up our Nations treasures.

 And third, to ensure the professionals on the front line, our rangers and field managers, have the right tools, right resources, and flexibility to make the right decisions that give a voice to the people they serve.

For National Park advocates, his words held out real hope that promises on the campaign trail about infrastructure investments might be turned into real benefits for our aging park system. Although Zinke added a dose of reality, stating that while it is his job to convince the new president that parks should be high on the administration’s agenda, congress needs to step as well. And he asked for the committee’s help in getting the necessary funds to tackle the backlog. Drawing on his military background (he served for 26 years as a Navy Seal) he noted, “we can fly the helicopter, but you must supply the gas”.

It is also interesting that Representative Zinke’s other two priorities dealt with the human dimension of delivering the department’s mission – building trust with people on the ground is clearly influenced by his western perspective issue and authorizing the “ground troops” to implement national policy is good tactical leadership. He talked a fair bit about collaboration as a strategy and his strong support for local partners coming together to tackle conservation issues. He specifically said that to make this approach work collaborative planning needs to be incentivized. It also needs to be based on science and set targets to measure success.. On partnership programs, he emphasized his backing for permanent and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and also spoke to the importance of trails both on and off public land. Overall he emphasized the theme of consultation, collaboration and communication

At the hearing Representative Zinke stated his unequivocal support for keeping public land public.  When specifically asked, he stated, “I am absolutely against the transfer or sale of public land”. It should be noted that he has put his money where his mouth is on this issue.  Last year he left his post on the GOP platform writing committee, after the group included language in support of transferring federal lands to the states.

These are positive indicators, but one of the big questions both in the hearing room and on everyone’s mind is his position on the Antiquities Act and more specifically the recent Obama administration’s designations in Nevada and Utah. When queried, he said that the better way to designate national monuments is with the support of the adjacent communities, the states and congressional delegation. On the question of whether recently designated monuments could be de-designated, he said that was for the lawyers to decide. And under questioning, he agreed that no such process explicitly described in the act. However, he has already committed to visit the 1.35 million acres of federal land that make up Bears Ears Butte in southeastern Utah and about 300,000 acres of Gold Butte in Nevada, northeast of Las Vegas. These recently designated monuments are exemplars of the scale need to conserve our natural  and cultural heritage. How the department position on  these iconic western landscapes will be an important signpost for the future.

On hot button issues Zinke tried to strike a measured tone. When asked about renewable energy and traditional energy development on public land, he said “all of the above’ and expressed his support for a strong economy and energy independence. On climate change he agreed that the climate is changing, but did not attribute any definitive causation.

All things considered, conservationists should take heart from Zinke’s opening words at the hearing: Upfront, I am an unapologetic admirer of Teddy Roosevelt and believe he had it right when he placed under federal protection millions of acres of federal lands and set aside much of it as National Forests. Today, much of those lands provide American’s the opportunity to hike, fish, camp, recreate and enjoy the great outdoors.

But here are some concluding thoughts. In the next days and months, the Department of Interior will be flooded with political operatives and representatives of energy development schemes all seeking to catch the ear of the new Secretary of Interior.  They will not be interested in the words of Teddy Roosevelt or the values that public lands offer the American people. Representative Zinke needs to hear loud and clear that his vision is strongly supported by land conservationists, sportsmen, heritage areas managers, and everyday citizens or his department will be swamped by competing agendas.

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And Now for the Next Four Years

By Brenda Barrett December 12, 2016
Mount Rushmore National Memorial  Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Courtesey of: Wikipedia Commons

For years I have told my family and friends that I am one issue voter and my issue is the United States National Park Service.  Which political candidate is most committed to America’s best idea? Who embraces the vision that our parks and protected areas are part of the nation’s common wealth and should reflect the complex stories that make up our country? What party recognizes that government service has value and that protecting public lands is a collective enterprise? How will a particular candidate or party fund and invest in the now 413 park units and the many national park programs that touch almost every American community? Because these questions are not just about one government agency, they go to the heart of the conservation of our natural and cultural heritage.  As the old saying goes – How you do one thing is how you do everything.

 It is way too early to speculate and predict exactly how landscape scale conservation will fare in the next four years under newly elected president. An earlier article (Landscape Scale Conservation: The Next Four Years) August 30, 2016 examined both the Democratic and Republican platforms with the caveat that these documents are always imperfect reflections of what direction a presidential candidate will take.  Now while it is still early days, we have somewhat more concrete directions from the newly elected President Donald Trump’s 110 Day Plan.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Energy and environmental protection take up a lot of space in this plan with calls to rescind restrictions on drilling and mining, lift roadblocks to pipelines and energy infrastructure, and cancel our international support for climate change programs. This part of the agenda puts a big bulls eye on all public lands including national parks.  Also of concern is a proposed hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health). Most heart breaking is that this was proposed not for financial expediency, but is listed as number two of six measures designed to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC.  What does this say to the next generation who want to grow up to be foresters, wildlife biologist or national park rangers? What are we to do with all those Junior Ranger badges?

Print Shop Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

Print Shop
Benjamin Franklin Memorial Philadelphia PA

So what now? This is still early days and there will be a new Secretary of Interior and a new Director of the National Park Service who will bring their ideas on how to implement this agenda. However, the beauty of large landscape work is that it draws strength from a mix of public and private partnerships. This model of dispersed leadership and support makes it a resilient approach. One that can navigate the political headwinds that may lie ahead. For those of you engaged with cultural and natural conservation work in you landscape large, keep up the good work and double down. And consider joining up with a larger community to advocate for conservation in the spirit of Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson just to name some of my presidential conservation  heroes!

Let me suggest some of my favorite places to find like-minded people with powerful ideas:

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks    – Membership is open to anyone who ever worked for the NPS and there is a supporter category as those who align with the mission of protecting parks. This small but, high profile organization has an effective record of advocating for National Parks issues from snowmobiling in Yellowstone to defending the agency’s management policies.  Membership is free although donations are encouraged and comes with a monthly on-line newsletter. Contributions of time, experience as well as dollars are always welcome.

Practioner’s Network for Large Landscape Conservation  A broad based coalition established to advance the practice of large landscape conservation across all sectors and geographies. The Network’s strength is in the diversity of individuals and organizations that are actively engaged and who are creating a collective body of knowledge, experience, and commitment to advancing conservation at the landscape scale. Membership donations are voluntary and your expertise and advocacy are always welcome.

Preservation Action  A small organization, but a big advocate for historic preservation issues. The source for the latest information on legislation and policy matters in the field.  A basic membership is $40 and the weekly online newsletter covers breaking news and what is going on in the world of US heritage. In partnership with other national organizations, Preservation Action organizes an annual lobby day in Washington DC in mid-March.

US ICOMOS  Maintaining our connections to global heritage is more important than ever. A membership in US/ICOMOS opens the door to international best practices through knowledge exchanges, scientific committees, symposiums, and the organization’s well respected international exchange program for students and young professionals. Join at the international level and your ICOMOS card will open doors, at no or low cost, to museums and historic sites around the world.

Make it your New Year’s resolution to join at least one of these organizations and give yourself and others the gift of fellowship and advocacy.

 

 

 

 

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Lamar Buffalo Ranch and the Landscape of Wildlife Conservation

By Brenda Barrett November 1, 2016
Lamar Buffalo Ranch Yellowstone National Park

Lamar Buffalo Ranch
Yellowstone National Park

Oh Give me a home where the buffalo roam” goes the old cowboy song, but the fact that 21st century citizens can still enjoy the star of this song was a very close call.  According to the U S Fish and Wildlife Service   estimates of the North American bison population at the time of European contact range from 30-75 million animals. However, by 1900 intensive hunting and a purposeful program of eradication to deprive American Indians of their livelihood had reduced the population to near extinction.  At that time Yellowstone National Park counted only 25 bison in residence. Thanks to a citizen’s campaign, Congress allocated funds to purchase 21 additional animals from private sources and begin a breeding program at what is now known as the Lamar Ranch in the park’s Lamar Valley.

American Bison  Yellowstone National Park

American Bison
Yellowstone National Park

This is a success story. Today over 4,000 bison roam the range in Yellowstone National Park and they are a character defining part of the landscape. The evocative Lamar Buffalo Ranch, with its quintessential weathered western buildings (1905- 1930),  is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors who stop by the ranch can get a short history from an interpretive sign. But less well known, is the role the ranch played in the reintroduction of wolves to the park.

The last wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park was eliminated in 1926. Again after a long campaign and much controversy, Congress appropriated the funds for a reintroduction  program. In 1995,  thirty-one Canadian  Grey Wolves were brought to pens at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to acclimatize to the park before being released. Today there are approximately 100 wolves in the park with many of the packs concentrated in the rich hunting ground of the Lamar Valley.  The ripple effect on the elk herd specifically and the park’s ecosystem overall of the introduction of a top predator is fodder for another story at another time.

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife Watching Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

I would like to make a different point. Millions of tourists come to Yellowstone every year. Thousands of them line the roads through the Lamar Valley – getting up at dawn and watching for hours to marvel at herds of buffalo and to catch a glimpse of a wolf. The Lamar Buffalo  Ranch now serves as an education center for the Yellowstone Association and the buildings have been restored as models of off the grid environmental stewardship. But I wonder how many understand the full story of human intervention into this place. Preventing the American Bison from disappearing from this landscape took intense effort.  As for the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, the park web site describes the work that took place there in the following terms, “ A program to raise bison like domestic cattle in Yellowstone may seem incongruous and unnecessary in retrospect..”  I am not sure that is how I would tell the story. Yes, yes the vista of grazing herds in the Lamar Valley may seem so natural us today that we may think it always looked that way. And yes, we may want to repress the role that humans played in wrangling bison back into the landscape, let alone the tale of how we slaughtered the millions.  But that would be a mistake.

Morning in the Lamar Valley Yellowstone National Park

Morning in the Lamar Valley
Yellowstone National Park

And as for the wolves, the reintroduction is still so controversial that the park’s web site looks like the docket of a small claims court of environmental justice where wolves are listed and delisted as endangered species with head snapping frequency. The role of the Lamar Buffalo Ranch in the wolf story has not yet even made into the official history. But when you go to Yellowstone (and I hope you will) head to the Lamar Valley, stand in front of the ranch, and contemplate the role we as humans have played in creating and almost destroying  the wildlife that we enjoy today. And know that nothing is static, and only continued advocacy and at times active intervention will conserve these  landscapes for future generations. .

 

 

 

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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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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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Parks Without Borders: Valuing NPS Programs

By Guest Observer April 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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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San Antonio Missions: Learning from the World Heritage Experience

By Brenda Barrett February 21, 2016
Mission San Jose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Credit: Dan Stern

Mission San Jose
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Credit: Dan Stern

On October 17, 2015 dignitaries from around the country gathered to celebrate the inscription of the San Antonio Missions as the 23rd World Heritage Site in the Untied States (US) and the first in Texas. The San Antonio Missions are a group of five frontier mission complexes situated along an over seven mile stretch of the San Antonio River. Inscribed under Work Heritage Criterion ii the missions are described as “ an example of the interweaving of the cultures of the Spanish and the Coahuiltecan and other indigenous peoples, illustrated in a variety of elements, including the integration of the indigenous settlements towards the central plaza, the decorative elements of the churches which combine Catholic symbols with indigenous natural designs, and the post-secularization evidence which remains in several of the missions and illustrates the loyalty to the shared values beyond missionary rule. The substantial remains of the water distribution systems are yet another expression of this interchange between indigenous peoples, missionaries, and colonizers that contributed to a fundamental and permanent change in the cultures and values of those involved.”

Behind the well-deserved World Heritage hoopla and the carefully crafted statement of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, there is more than a decade of hard work. As interested in World Heritage recognition grows in the country and around the globe, what can we learn from the hard won experience of the San Antonio Missions? A few lesson for existing and aspiring World Heritage properties are:

Think long term – While the first official step is gaining a spot on the state parties tentative list; this is preceded by many prerequisites. For example n the US cultural properties must first be designated as a National Historic Landmark. All this takes a good deal of time. The San Antonio Missions were officially proposed for the World Heritage Tentative list in a 2006 Federal Register listing.

Seek Out champions –The International Office of the National Park Service (NPS) manages the development of the tentative list and in partnership the State Department determines, which sites will be proffered to the world body ICOMOS for consideration. There is no question that determined champions are critical. In the case of the missions the number of advocates was along one starting with the nationally respected San Antonio Conservation Societ . Also important were the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park’s  friends groups Los Compadres. Finally, unified political support at the city, county, state and national support was invaluable.

 Gain expert support – Only properties that meet the World Heritage criteria for Outstanding Universal Value can be considered for inscription. The NPS and the park leadership contributed their expertise behind the effort to nominate the missions. They helped convene an experts meeting 2012 to help frame the argument for World Heritage designation. They also hired an professional in preparing the dossier for presentation to the World Heritage Committee.

Anticipate the Management Plan – Just as challenging in many ways as making the case for Outstanding Universal Value is developing a credible management plan for the resource. Particular difficult is to develop a buffer to zone to protect the property. While this might be easier in a discrete historic sites, the missions located in a complex urban and rural with multiple property owners. What made the management plan for the resource credible was all the historic preservation land use controls that had been implemented for the region over the last several decades.

Be prepared to spend money – A World Heritage nomination is a pricey document. While the San Antonio supporter raised several hundred thousand dollars, they estimate that over half a million in in kind services were contributed to the effort. These included a NPS expert staff position In addition, much of lead writer and historian’s time was donated as well a, student interns and untold volunteer hours from the friends group and the Conservation Society helped reduce the costs.

After designation the real work begins! – After a site is listed what is next? In San Antonio a community where tourism is economic development; the promotional opportunities of the designation are very important. However, the community is also using the designation to deepen their connection to the past and the heritage of its diverse citizens. To learn more about ongoing programing on the World Heritage at the missions, visit the excellent San Antonio Missions Word Heritage *Our Heritage web site. 

Many thanks to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park staff Susan Snow who serves as the site’s World Heritage Coordinator and  to Tom Costanos, Volunteer and Partnership Coordinator, both of whom gave generously of their time. All the wise words were from them, any errors are mine!

 

 

 

 

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The 2016 Federal Budget: How did Large Landscapes Fare?

By Brenda Barrett January 11, 2016

small-logo-lighthouseAfter months of uncertainty, weeks of negotiations and two short-term extensions to keep the government open, Congress passed and the President signed the 2009 page omnibus spending Bill, titled the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. How did federal initiatives that support landscape scale work and fund our natural and cultural conservation program fare?

 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund

Ding, Ding, Ding! Only three dings as Congress limited reauthorization of the now 50-year old fund to just three years. However, the good news is that it is still around and with $450 million allocated for the coming fiscal year much good work can be accomplished at the state and national level. Landscape work was specifically recognized in an appropriations for a number of large scale projects including an appropriation for the Rivers of the Chesapeake. This Collaborative Landscape proposal received $11 million for land conservation in the Chesapeake region and $2 million for supporting a range of public access and conservation efforts along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. It is estimated that this targeted funding will protect 2,100 acres of land in this threatened watershed.

The Historic Preservation Fund

small-logo-bridgeNot quite such good news to kick off the celebration of the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. The appropriations bill did not include the reauthorization of the Historic Preservation Fund, which expired on September 30th. 2015. This means that action on a bill (HR 2817) to reauthorize the fund will have to wait till the New Year. However, there was some good news. Overall the bill funds the HPF at $65.41 million, an increase of $9 million over FY15 enacted levels.

The funding breakdown for State and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices is as follows: $46.925 million for SHPOs (equal to FY15 enacted levels),
$9.985 million for THPOs ($1 million above FY15 enacted levels),
$8 million in grants to preserve the sites and stories of the Civil Rights Movement and $500,000 in grants for underrepresented communities.

The National Heritage Areas

Generally good news as funding remained level at $19,821 million. Since the program has been without strong administration support, just holding on to a level appropriation has been an annual struggle. In addition the 2016 act extended the funding authorization for three areas and increased the funding authorization caps for four other areas. Overall Congress showed an interest in sustaining the program.

One twist to watch is the transfer of $625,000 funding that in the past went to the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor https://blackstoneheritagecorridor.org   from the national heritage areas program account to the new Blackstone Valley Historic Park. As for now the heritage corridor and the new park are working closely together. The heritage corridor’s level of staffing and on the ground facilities like visitor centers are a boon to a park that is just finding its feet. How will blurring of the lines between what has been traditionally been an external program and a new unit of the national park system work out in the long run? Since this is a year-to-year arrangement, we have to wait and see.

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

small-logo-archaeologistFive years ago the Department of the Interior launched the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC) to better integrate science and management to address climate change and other landscape scale issues through collaborative networks that are grounded in science. As one might imagine congressional funding for this program has been a point of contention. Despite threats to severely reduce or even eliminate the program, the final appropriation for the 2016 budget the LCC was only reduced by $1 million in the Cooperative Landscapes account — from $13,988,000 in FY15 to $12,988,0.  The LCC budget in the Adaptive Science account remains at the FY15 level — $10,517,000. So the final outcome should be seen as a win for the landscape approach to resource management. To learn more about the LCCs read the just released National Academy report A Review of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  

Overall this is good news considering the current congressional environment. Can we see any patterns in these encouraging outcomes? Well a few:

  • The public sees such programs, particularly the long established ones, as beneficial and conserving the things they care about.
  • Advocacy is an essential part of program survival. High marks go to the coalition to reauthorize the Land and Water program. They have had an impressive ground game and media presence.
  • While not conclusive, positive evaluations of the program such as the recent study on the LCCs and the reports on the National Heritage Areas might have turned the tide on the funding issue.

Readers do you have any other observation? All good ideas welcomed as next year will not be any easier!

PS If you like the posters celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, you can order them at the Preservation 50 web site!  

 

 

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National Heritage Areas Deliver Place-Based Education

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

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

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

This innovative program presents students with the challenge of

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

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

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

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

A Coast for Every Classroom Essex National Heritage Area

A Coast for Every Classroom
Essex National Heritage Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Can Parks Organizations Continue to Ignore Social Values in Landscape Stewardship?

By Guest Observer May 25, 2015

By Paulette Wallace

Credit: Paulette Wallace

Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. Credit: Paulette Wallace

‘Social value’ is not a term that national park organizations in the United States, Canada and New Zealand have tended to use. In fact, when park organizations have ventured into the challenging territory of recognizing the values of people―it has generally been to consider the values of ‘traditional peoples and practices’ of a distant bygone era, or to subsume the social into the consideration of historic significance.

I use social value here, to denote social connections, networks, place attachments—not necessarily related to historic significance, which can include various stakeholders, interest and ethnic groups, and can involve individuals and/or collectives. It is at this point where some might argue that national park organizations have the primary purpose of preserving nature and national identity—therefore, any consideration of social values which might destabilize this mission, or confuse its fixed and constant agenda, has no place within the remit of a national park organization.

My response to this—is that an impression of this kind is exceedingly outdated, and it has been proven to be outmoded by the parks organizations themselves. For example, the US National Park Service is currently establishing an ‘urban agenda’ in time for its 2016 centenary, to address how the organization might better engage with its communities; and Parks Canada have been developing the ‘national urban park’ to embrace a less ‘pristine’ park environment in a populous Toronto area. These recent initiatives underline how park organizations recognize the need to evolve, and they demonstrate a growing interest in establishing closer relationships with the people who engage with their parks. Yet the initiative adopted by park organizations that I wish to discuss in more detail here, is the use of cultural landscapes as a tool for heritage management.

Cultural landscapes are commonly described as being a bridge between nature and culture—they are places where natural and cultural heritage values collide, and for the last 20-30 years, the US National Park Service and Parks Canada have been leading the way in identifying and managing cultural landscapes as part of their cultural resource management programs. While in New Zealand, the Department of Conservation (DOC) holds the prestige of being the manager of the first cultural landscape inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1993.

Credit: Paulette Wallace

Elders of the Ngāti Tūwharetoa tribe with the Author. Credit: Paulette Wallace

Nevertheless, while the embrace of cultural landscapes demonstrates the park organizations’ commitment to keeping up with changing perceptions of natural and cultural heritage, the way that cultural landscapes have been applied are heavily informed by static, entrenched policies of the past. These policies essentially negate the potential of cultural landscapes to promote new approaches to park management that recognize the way that people actively engage with their surroundings.

For instance, the cultural landscapes management policies developed by the US National Park Service focus on how to manage the physical form of an assembly of cultural resources, and they organize cultural landscapes into ‘landscape characteristics’ that recognize mainly visible tangible aspects. Parks Canada follows a similar approach, where its cultural landscapes are made up of ‘character-defining elements’, and while it does also promote the notion of ‘aboriginal cultural landscapes’ as not so determined by the tangible, Parks Canada applies this independently from the ‘character-defining elements’ used in its non-indigenous cultural landscapes program.

Credit: Creative Commons

Tongariro National Park New Zealand

Then in New Zealand, DOC might be described as paying lip service to the social values of Tongariro National Park in its identification of it as a cultural landscape, while failing to recognize these values in the day-to-day management of the park. DOC supported the inscription of Tongariro National Park on the World Heritage list recognizing the associative values of the iwi (tribe) of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and their relationship to Mount Tongariro―which added to the park’s existing inscription for its natural values. Yet a recent Treaty of Waitangi report has found among other things, that the New Zealand government has disregarded the cultural and social values of Māori in carrying out the management of the park, and it recommends that the park be taken out of DOC control and managed in the future by a statutory authority made up of representatives from the government and Māori.

Therefore, as we settle into the twenty-first century and prepare to welcome 100 years of the US National Park Service, there is a need for park organizations to include the public who represent their various park communities, in decision making so that there might be a new generation of joint ambassadors recognizing the social values of people in the landscape stewardship of the future.

For further discussion on how American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand park organizations have been employing cultural landscapes as a tool for heritage management, see:
Wallace, P 2015, ‘Approaching cultural landscapes in post-settler societies: ideas, policies, practices’, submitted in fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia.

Paulette Wallace is the recently named Executive Officer for the Australian Convict Sites, a serial World Heritage property made up of 11 sites around Australia.

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Letter from Woodstock: Urban Parks Agenda for Everyone

By Guest Observer April 27, 2015

by Rolf Diamant

This article originally appeared in The George Wright Forum, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 107–111 (2014). It is part of a wide-ranging series of pieces, “Letters from Woodstock,” by the author.

I begin my eighth Letter from Woodstock by expanding upon a previous one (“Stewards of Our Heritage,” March 2013) that referenced preparations for the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service (NPS). In that Letter I suggested “broadening the emphasis beyond the parks themselves—to also highlight the many ways national parks and programs ‘preserve and support’ the well-being and aspirations of communities and people who use them.” I intentionally used the word broadening because an essential challenge facing NPS and almost all park and protected area systems is how to deliver high-quality public services and consistent stewardship but also be adaptable enough to remain relevant and responsive to the urgent needs and concerns of contemporary life. There is also a subtle shift in perspective: broadening a conversation that is often centered on what is best for the future of parks to a conversation that is expanded to include what is best for a larger set of social and environmental objectives and ways that parks, in collaboration with other institutions, can help achieve those objectives.

Former NPS Director Roger Kennedy spoke of the “usefulness” of national parks in the context, for example, of how they played an outsized role in emergency conservation, employment, and recreation projects during the Great Depression. The national park system also represented a popular national institution in a time of profound social demoralization. I would suggest that NPS continues to play a unifying role today in a country that seems pulled so in many different directions. The 2009 National Parks Second Century Commission Report described the national parks “as community builders, creating an enlightened society committed to a sustainable world.” The current National Park System Advisory Board, building on the National Parks Second Century Commission, articulates this higher purpose for NPS: “actively working to advance national goals for education, the economy, and public health, as well as conservation.”

I don’t take for granted (though I certainly won’t be around to see) that there will be a national park system to celebrate a third century in 2116. Though I am not inclined to either pessimistic or dystopian thinking, I have come to believe that nothing can be taken for granted; good work that has been done can also be undone. (As I write this, the Australian government, only a few months before the World Parks Congress convenes in Sydney, is repealing landmark legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.). NPS, like many other public institutions, will continue to be subject to a variety of stress tests, evaluating things like resiliency and adaptability, purpose and meaningfulness, ecosystem and cultural services, collaborative relationships, and their overall relevancy to what people care deeply about. That is why the work being undertaken by the advisory board and by a number of national parks and partner organizations to broaden the usefulness and relevancy of the national park system is so vitally important. Here are a few examples.

NPS, New York City, and a consortium of research institutions are using the Jamaica Bay unit of Gateway National Recreation Area as a living laboratory for testing new approaches for building climate change resiliency in urban coastal ecosystems. This is not the only place in the national park system where there is new thinking and research about climate resiliency, but given the devastation that Hurricane Sandy inflicted on the densely populated barrier islands of the metropolitan New York/New Jersey area, there is a particular sense of urgency to the Jamaica Bay project.

I have described in a previous Letter how the partnership between the Presidio Trust, NPS, and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is breaking new ground on integrating sustainable city living, historic preservation, and park design at the Presidio of San Francis- co, including the first national historic landmark property to be certified by the US Green Building Council as “LEED for Neighborhood Development” for “smart growth, urbanism and green building.” This ambitious re-purposing of vast military holdings for public benefit and use is only part of the story. Concurrent with this great transformation, an extraordinary bond is being forged between these national parks and people and communities of the San Francisco Bay Area, drawing the attention of park and protected area managers from all over the world.

On a very different scale, there is the interesting example of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park’s Youth Ambassador Program (YAP!), a partnership project between NPS and Third Eye Youth Empowerment, a nonprofit dedicated to “building community and national pride through a series of learning experiences, skill development and real proj- ects … to improve the community, centered on the principles of economic and social equality.” The mission of the Youth Ambassadors is to “unite young people, utilizing Hip Hop, a common cultural art form and voice for the people, to engage and empower youth to positively change themselves and their community.” Working with New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the Youth Ambassadors are producing a series of music videos, including their powerful hip-hop video “54,” about the 54th Massachusetts, the African-American regiment recruited by Frederick Douglass during the Civil War. The young performers infuse the narrative with their own distinct voice and message using an evocative, if unorthodox, interpretive format, making this compelling “Civil War to Civil Rights” story accessible to their friends and peers.

NPS is embarking on a landmark systemwide effort to develop what is being called an “urban agenda.” This urban agenda, is in part, an outgrowth of the 2012 conference titled “Greater & Greener: Re-Imagining Parks for 21st Century Cities,” organized by the City Parks Alliance in partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. An “affinity caucus” of NPS conference attendees, mostly from urban national parks, joined NPS Director Jon Jarvis to initiate an ongoing participatory process for identifying policy changes that will enable NPS urban parks and programs to “step into their power” with the intent of becoming a larger, more relevant part of urban life in America.

The scale of current NPS urban activities may come as a surprise to many people. Beginning in the early 1930s, Congress has gradually expanded the urban footprint of the National Park Service, establishing new units of the national park system in 40 of the country’s 50 most-populated metropolitan areas. Today, these national parks make up nearly one-third of the entire park system and draw approximately 40% of all national park users. The NPS National Capital Region and its 34 national parks in and around Washington, DC, for example, serve an urban population of more than five million people. Congress has also authorized more than two dozen different NPS programs providing urban communities with a wide range of services, including historic preservation tax credits, recreation grants, and conservation technical assistance.

Throughout this process of developing the urban agenda, the NPS Stewardship Institute (formerly the Conservation Study Institute) has been coordinating and documenting a series of webinar conversations with “communities of practice”—self-selecting groups of urban park practitioners—focusing on specific subjects such as urban innovation, economic revitalization, connecting youth to nature, and urban parks as portals for diversity. Attention tended to focus on what I might call “nuts and bolts” problems: how to streamline the use of legal authorities for leasing and cooperative agreements and how to align NPS funding and program priorities to concentrate available resources for greater impact. Lessons learned are shared for a variety of relatively new NPS-sponsored, community-based programs dealing with public transportation, safe routes to school, urban gardening, and partnerships with health providers. There is also an imperative to build a stronger “culture of collaboration” in which NPS operates as one partner among many. Underpinning all these discussions is the implicit vision of NPS as a “catalyst for civic renewal” consistent with the overall direction of Second Century Commission, the NPS director’s Call to Action, and the work of the National Park System Advisory Board.

The urban agenda is still very much a work in progress that will have to surmount competing interests and priorities, political jockeying, and bureaucratic inertia. There is also a danger that 2016 NPS centennial activities and a looming national election may, in effect, swamp it. There may also be internal resistance. Some may choose to interpret relevancy primarily in terms of making a fixed set of traditional park experiences more widely accessible rather than exploring ways to expand those experiences in order to engage a broader cross-section of the public (think “54”). Nearly 40 years ago, while I was working on the startup of the Golden Gate national parks, I clipped a Sierra Club Bulletin commentary by Jonathan Ela hammering NPS and other administraton officials for reversing previous support for urban national parks and testifying against making Cuyahoga Valley, located between the cities of Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, part of the national park system.

Drawing by Steven M. Johnson.

Drawing by Steven M. Johnson.

Contending that NPS personnel appeared at that time more comfortable with park users that looked and acted just like they did, Ela illustrated his article with this drawing by Steven M. Johnson (reproduced with permission of the artist).

Decades later, Bill Gwaltney (formerly with NPS—now with the Smithsonian), while working on diversifying the NPS workforce, would remind his colleagues that “people feel better [using parks] when they think their reality, their experiences, their culture, their expectations are on some levels mirrored in their national parks.”

National parks may also come to over-rely on their social media and marketing as substitutes for personal engagement and the patient hard work and risk-taking that builds trust and meaningful long-term relationships between parks and communities. Protecting parklands within clearly defined boundaries has always been a core function of the agency and it will no doubt be a challenge getting people to see an investment in “civic renewal,” particularly as budgets contract, as a central strategy for the long-term survival of national parks.

Even under the most favorable circumstances, moving an urban agenda forward will be difficult. There is a recurring concern that any reform, however desirable, might set a precedent that unintentionally provides an opening for parties with interests inimical to na- tional parks to do harm. Such concerns deserve careful consideration, and risk-taking must be judicious, yet the alternative of always playing it safe and resisting change has significant downstream dangers.

Let us hope that the newly established Urban Committee of the National Park System Advisory Board may be able to advance an NPS urban agenda, and, in the face of these obstacles, help sustain its momentum. Those working on the urban agenda understand that a system of national parks and programs that is perceived as being accessible, engaged, and resourceful will be a system that is ultimately valued, supported, and strengthened over time. This is what an earlier Advisory Board report, Rethinking National Parks in the 21st Century, envisioned when it advocated that parks reach “broader segments of society in ways that make them more meaningful in the life of the nation” and help build “a citizenry that is committed to conserving its heritage and its home on earth.”
A 21st-century agenda for urban national parks is, in many fundamental ways, an agenda for all national parks.

Rolf Diamant retired from the National Park Service in 2011, following a 37-year career with the agency. During that time, he developed new partnership models for national parks and conservation strategies for wild and scenic rivers and national heritage areas. He was the founding superintendent of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, in Woodstock, Vermont, as well as superintendent of Fairsted, the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is currently an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Vermont 

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Blackstone River Valley: Policy Without Money is just Talk

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: NPS

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

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

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

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

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

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The Future of Administrative Histories

By Guest Observer April 27, 2015

By Angela Sirna

The National Council on Public History held its annual meeting last week in Nashville, Tennessee, bringing together over 800 members dedicated to encouraging collaboration among historians and their public. I participated in one particular working group that focused on National Park Service administrative histories. The NPS uses these documents to understand the agency’s involvement in a particular park, office, region, or program, and help with future management decisions.

In the months leading to the conference, members of the working group contributed thoughts to a Google Doc about how the NPS might revisit its guidelines, last written in 2004, and think “beyond the administrative history.” In other words, how can we make these documents more usable? I was happy with the group’s diversity and impressed by the participants’ credentials. Everyone present had extensive experience with writing, reviewing, or using these documents. There were consultants, park historians, regional historians, and scholars. Okay, I guess I still count as a graduate student, but I’m trying to move beyond that label. We discussed three questions and I’ll share some of our thoughts that stick out in my memory (I didn’t take notes).

  • What makes an administrative history useful?

Administrative histories tell the park’s story; every manager should know hers/his park’s story. An administrative history should show where the “land mines” are buried, where the past and potential controversies lie. These histories should help with compliance, but also tie to larger historical narratives. I also argued that an administrative history, when done right, can be a road map for civic engagement, especially when it shows how the NPS marginalized or excluded certain groups.

  • What do we do with administrative histories when they are done?

A common and legitimate complaint is that once completed, many administrative histories are doomed to languish on a shelf or in a box. We discussed (as many have over the years) of having a searchable database for this literature group with special tags. We also considered several different “add ons” that might be included in contracts or funded later through ONPS CR funds marked for “Transfer of Knowledge.” These additions can include workshops and training for personnel about the document, a place for admin history authors at the table for concurrent or future park planning initiatives, videos for the web, or other interpretive content. We didn’t get into who owns the research, but I think it is important to talk up front about the possibility of publishing in academic journals or with university or trade presses. These all require a good deal of foresight. I also encouraged the group to think beyond the traditional monograph as the final product for these studies. Can we possibly do digital projects (such as this one on the Blue Ridge Parkway), videos, or something else instead?

  • What are the future directions with administrative histories?

Looking at the agenda, my memory of this part of the conversation is less clear. However, my major point from reading the discussions on the Google Doc is that park managers need to recognize that administrative histories are a process, not a one-and-done product. There are things parks can do while they wait for an administrative history project to be funded. I think this is where graduate students can be a big help. They can examine bits and pieces of a park’s history through research papers, theses, and dissertations. However, for this to be successful for both the agency and the student, the NPS needs to provide some measure of support and treat these studies as legitimate agency literature and scholarship. I’ve noticed an attitude within the agency that if they did not spend a bunch of money on a project, it somehow doesn’t “count.” That is a disservice to the student, the park resources, and the public the agency serves. A good partnership can mean that a contractor will have less ground to cover if they can build upon accumulating literature.

Moving forward from our meeting in Nashville, the NPS will hopefully incorporate our ideas into its guidelines for administrative histories, which it is currently reviewing and revising. Group facilitators will also summarize our discussions in a History at Work post. Finally, an upcoming edition of The Public Historian will focus on NPS biographies.

Are administrative histories important to your work? How do you use them? How might the NPS make them better?

Ed note: Interested in reviewing some NPS administrative histories? npshistory.com has a good list here.

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

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Labor History Makes Headway in NPS

By Eleanor Mahoney February 26, 2015
Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Roughly a week ago, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman, a former company town in Illinois, as a National Monument. The effort was a long time in the making, with many organizations and partners involved in the designation campaign.

Pullman first came to prominence in the 1880’s when George M. Pullman decided to build a model town to house workers employed at his rail car factories. While the accommodations and landscaping of the new community were fairly comfortable, the strict controls exercised by Pullman over the lives and political activities of his employees proved far less agreeable. Residents chafed at his strict behavioral standards and inflexible rents, which became especially onerous during the Panic of 1893, an economic depression like none the nation had ever seen (or would again until the stock market crash of 1929).

As a result of the crisis, Pullman workers saw their incomes drop, but not their rents, precipitating a strike in 1894 that would ultimately last for 2 months. The American Railway Union (only a year or so old at the time), then headed by Eugene V. Debs, sought arbitration, and when that failed, authorized union members to cease work on any trains that carried Pullman Palace cars. The strike – now national in scope and affecting some 250,000 workers – ground much of the country’s rail transport to a halt, with little traffic moving in and out of Chicago, the system’s largest hub. Ultimately, it took intervention on the part of the federal government, including both an injunction and the use of soldiers (both unprecedented at the time), to bring the action to a violent halt. Though the workers lost the strike, they did succeed in gaining widespread sympathy among the public. This support, however, did not translate into improved pay or working conditions. The 1894 events in Pullman demonstrated not only what solidarity among workers could achieve, but also the lengths to which some within the government and business establishment would go to prevent collective action among labor.

In later decades, the Pullman Company would continue to play an important role in labor and African American history. In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an African American union founded by civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, won a contract for Pullman porters – an exclusively African American workforce. Coming amidst the Great Depression, the agreement was truly groundbreaking, marking the first major contract between a union led by Black workers and a large corporation. Indeed, at the time, Pullman was the largest single employer of African Americans in the United States, though the town of Pullman itself remained racially segregated and largely off-limits to Black residents. Significantly, Randolph also played a key role in pressuring President Roosevelt – via his (Randolph’s) calls for a 1941 March on Washington – to issue Executive Order 8802 (1941), which prohibited discrimination in defense industries and created the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

Reading such stories, it is hard to believe that it took until 2015 for Pullman to become a part of the National Park system. Even more troubling, Pullman remains one of only a handful of sites that focus on telling stories of industrial work, especially in the context of union organizing, collective bargaining and civil rights movements.* It is important to note that unions, while advocating and organizing for economic change, often practiced racial, ethnic and gender-based discrimination, an important part of the labor story and one that adds much needed complexity to the potential interpretation at a site like Pullman.

Given the undeniable and ongoing impact of industrialization and later de-industrialization on the American landscape, it is well past time for places connected to key industries such as coal, steel, automobiles, aerospace, retail or petroleum to gain the attention (and yes, the debate and national dialogue) that comes with NPS designation. At a moment when income and wealth inequality is growing, reflecting on the role of unions in shaping late 19th and 20th century life seems all the more pressing.

To learn more about some of the labor history sites considered for both National Historic Landmark designation and unit designation, see the 2003 National Labor Theme Study (draft).

* Other sites (please let me know if I have missed any) that interpret these stories include: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (RI), Lowell National Historical Park (MA), Keweenaw National Historical Park ( MI), Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (NJ), César E. Chávez National Monument (CA) and Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park (CA). The Kate Mullany National Historic Site, an affiliated area, also has a strong labor focus.

A large number of National Heritage Areas also interpret and protect sites associated with late 19th and 20th century labor and industrial history including: Augusta Canal National Heritage Area; Baltimore National Heritage Area, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor; Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Essex National Heritage Area; Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area; Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor; John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor; Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area; MotorCities National Heritage Area; National Coal Heritage Area; Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canal Way; Oil Region National Heritage Area; Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area; Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area; and Wheeling National Heritage Area.

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World Heritage Sites in the United States

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

Papahanaumokuakea World Heritage Site. Credit: NPS

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

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

Credit: Susan Guice

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

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

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

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

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2014

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

Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

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

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

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

Photograph Brenda Barrett

Prince Edward Island National Park Canada. Photo Brenda Barrett.

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

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

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

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National Heritage Areas at Thirty: Help tell the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbarrett@livinglandscapeobserver.net or emahoney@livinglandcapeobserver.net

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National Conference Celebrates Innovative Large Landscapes Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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World Heritage Committee Match Up in Doha Qatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not scoring so well was Australia; although the committee deferred for 12 months a decision on whether to place Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Committee expressed concerns over planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities. It asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by 1 February 2015. In addition the World Heritage Committee rejected the Australian Government ‘s proposal to delist 74,000 of hectares from the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness. It was reported that the current government of Australia lobbied the delegates in Doha unsuccessfully to get more flexibility in the management of these iconic resources.http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/opinion/confused-grief-over-great-barrier-reef/story-e6frgd0x-1226961709198

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

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