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Exploring the Landscapes of the Caribbean

By Guest Observer August 28, 2020
Hidden memories and invisible landscapes on the island of Grenada. Photo: Neil Silberman

Gently swaying coconut palms. Crystal-clear turquoise waters. White sand beaches. We all know the idyllic landscape images of the Caribbean endlessly promoted in TV commercials for cruises and resorts. And there’s another, wilder Caribbean landscape familiar to eco-tourists: the nature reserves and National Parks that have been established throughout the region to protect against development and preserve distinctive local biomes. 

Yet the landscape perceptions of many of the region’s residents do not mesh easily with the others. When asked about the significance of the protected landscapes and national parks of his own country, a respondent from Antigua and Barbuda told us that local residents do not see them as a part of their own cultural and natural heritage. They see them mainly as tourist attractions, serving cruise ship tourists and yachties. So if the protected landscapes were not theirs, why and for whom were they being protected? And how could the landscape perceptions of local residents be understood?

For the past eight years, my colleagues, Gustavo Araoz and Angela Labrador, and I coordinated a regional heritage project for the Organization of American States in thirteen English-speaking nations in the Caribbean. The main goal of the project was to promote community identification with heritage of all kinds—including the sites and landscapes that lay beyond the officially-recognized tourist routes. But a question that challenged us early in the project related to community values. How could we identify the elements that distinguished the day-to-day sense of place of local communities from that of international visitors—and from the images of the Caribbean reflected in vacation ads on TV? How could we elicit the sense of place privately held by local residents? 

I have to admit that I’m far from an expert in cultural landscapes or landscape values. My professional experience has always been in site interpretation, usually along the carefully demarcated paths of individual sites. Over the years I’ve done hundreds of interviews and collected just as many oral histories as part of interpretive planning and as material to be used in site presentation. So adding the landscape dimension was new to me; I had to use my experience to go beyond memories of individual sites, buildings, and historical events to begin to understand the much wider place perceptions of the communities with whom we worked.

Map of mobile oral history routes on the village of Willis, St. George’s Parish, Grenada Photo Neil Silberman

That’s how we developed the idea of mobile oral histories as a way to capture perceptions of the landscape that were widely shared by community members but rarely written down. Of course, the methodology of “walking interviews” has been used by urban planners for decades, as a means of understanding the perceptions of place held local residents as a tool in the formulation of development plans. But we were not looking to build roads or situate housing projects. Our goal was to encourage local communities to cherish and protect their own memories and values about the landscapes they lived in, even if their particularly town or village was not on the “official” heritage list. So along with other participatory ethnographic methods—like focus groups and photovoice programs—that we used to elicit heritage values and identify all kinds of local heritage resources, we began to recruit two-person mobile oral history teams to interview people of all ages, walking with them through the landscapes of our first project locale, on the island of Grenada and its smaller federal partner to the north, Carriacou.

Former principal Henry Stiel evokes the landscape of schooldays on Carriacou, interviewed by Alison Caton.  Photo: Neil Silberman

The results were quite amazing in the unexpected insights that they revealed. With one of the mobile oral history team conducting the interview with a small hand-held recorder (later we simply used smartphones) and the other taking notes and sketching out a map of the walking route, we found that a mix of personalities and generations yielded some colorful and insightful conversations about the landscapes they traversed. One of the interviewing teams was a retired church deacon and a hip hop producer. Among the subjects were a retired school principal who reconstructed the landscape of colonial schooldays, a fisherman who walked along an isolated beach where the huge seine nets were once thrown, but no longer are; a worried mother who described the geography of gang warfare in her village; and an ambitious small-scale organic farmer who envisioned how she wanted the landscape of Carriacou to become.

Mr. Sonnell Allert, at the place where the fishermen’s huge seine nets were once flung, now just a beach for tourists and vacationers.   Photo: Neil Silberman

The beauty of the mobile oral histories, in contrast to the other standard oral histories I had done, was that the interviewee was not restricted to answering prepared questions, but was also encouraged to bring up subjects, memories, and associations as they walked along. The later replacement of handheld recorders by the interviewers’ own smartphones loaded with free apps that allow georeferencing, photos, videos, and sound recording provided an affordable suite of tools for every team.

Ms. Veronica Adams tends her organic garden and dreams the surrounding brambles and brush away. Photo: Neil Silberman

After Grenada, we repeated the mobile oral history studies of the landscape in Guyana, Jamaica, and St. Lucia with equally rich results. They proved to be a kind of collective self-ethnography that not only documented local landscape perceptions, but also encouraged lively discussions about the landscape elements that each community cherished and did not want to lose. This local sense of place is obviously just as important as the tourist and protected landscape perspectives, for it can document the vision and values that the local residents deeply identify as their own.

For more information on this project, see

The author of this post Neil Silberman is the founding president of the ICOMOS International Committee on the Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Sites. He is now a partner in Coherit Associates, an international heritage consultancy that specializes in community engagement.


Naturecultures Dialogues: The theory of naturecultures integration

By Guest Observer June 28, 2020

Session 7 with Je-Hun Ryu and Fran Han

In our new series of naturecultures sessions that runs from May to September 2020, we followed a different format than before. Presentations are pre-circulated, leaving most of the dialogue session open for active discussion. In this particular session we had two separate presentations circulated under the theme Theory of Naturecultures Integration. The abstract, and link for each of these presentations are included below. 

As opening to the discussion Maya summarised the two presentations as follows: In both presentations, Je-Hun and Fran point at the problem of using the concept behind World Heritage “cultural landscape” in Korea and China respectively, because it follows a modern Western-European idea of nature, as separate from culture. They both explained the historical background in their own contexts of an undivided nature-culture paradigm, and where humans are understood as part of the natural world. Je-Hun points at a regional particularity of understanding landscapes in Asia, while Fran focuses on the environmental ethics as applied in a Chinese context. She recalls the Confucionist and Taoist philosophies which are complementary and underpin Chinese peoples’ relationship and interactions with the non-human. As opening question, Maya asked Je-Hun and Fran to share how they confront this Western naturecultures divide in their own work. When approaching it from a different cultural and philosophical background, how they reconcile these two worlds in their discourse and practice.

Abstract by Je-Hun Ryu: 

Bridging nature-culture dualisms in the conservation circles: A Perspective from cultural landscape 

Since 1992, those landscapes, which were thought to have outstanding universal values in terms of interaction between people and their natural environment, have been protected as World Heritage Cultural Landscapes. However, even if the term cultural landscape is now widely circulated internationally, its use in Asia still presents problems. There is a need to look closely at regional values and their inextricable connection to the continuing process of landscape creation in Asia. I will review “the rise of cultural landscape” as a means of bridging the nature-culture dualism in the conservation circle, while drawing an example from my research experience in an area called Wando Archipelago in Korea. Then, to conclude, I will propose several theoretical issues to be considered in recognizing and protecting the values of cultural landscapes within the Asian context. Theoretical issues to be proposed for our discussion are like the following: cultural ecology, environmental aesthetics, landscape as a way of seeing, and landscape phenomenology. 

Link to Presentation HERE

Abstract by Fran Han:

Cross-cultural confusion

The presentation aims to explore the root of the debates in the field culture-nature related conservation from environmental philosophical perspective. Five value-based central questions of environmental philosophy are interpreted and the philosophical and religious root of the dichotomy of culture and nature in the West are explored.  The Chinese traditional philosophy of Oneness with Nature provides an eastern perspective of culture-nature relationship and to understand the human-nature intertwined Chinese landscapes. The presentation calls for the awareness and understanding of the intrinsic and instrumental value of nature, and learning from each other through multi-cultural dialogue in naturecultures journey. 

Link to Presentation HERE


1Alicia Cahn (AC)13Ken Taylor (KT)
2Ana Bajcura (AB)14Leticia Leitao (LL)
3Brenda Barrett (BB)15Marike Franklin (MF) Dialogues Convenor
4Carlo Ossola (CO)16Mary Laheen (ML)
5Cira Szklowin (CS)17Maya Ishizawa (MI) Moderator
6Fran Han (FH) Co-chair and Presenter18Nora Mitchell (NM) 
7Gabriel Caballero (GC)19Nupur Prothi (NP) Co-Chair
8Greg de Vries (GdV)20Patricia ODonnell (POD)
9Jane Lennon (JL) 21Steve Brown (SB) Co-chair
10Jessica Brown (JB)22Tim Badman (TB)
11Je-Hun Ryu (JR) Presenter23Tomeu Deya (TD)
12Jon Weller (JW)  


Naturecultures integration/separation?  SB: Fascinating point that ‘interaction between nature and culture’ is predicated on the belief or philosophy that these things are separate in the first place. SB: I was fascinated in the discussion by the challenges to come to grips in all parts of the world with the need to understand what is meant by ‘interaction’ between people and the environment – as the basis for understanding the idea of cultural landscape. As I said in a ‘Chat’ comment, ‘interaction’ necessary presupposes that there are pre-existing separate entities (in this case of cultural landscapes, these entities are nature and culture). So, no wonder it is problematic in China and Korea to apply the notion of ‘interaction between nature and culture’ if, in these countries, these constructs are not viewed as separate. In my writing and thinking on naturecultures, I have promoted the idea of ‘intra-action’. Thus, while INTERACTION assumes that nature and culture are separate domains or ‘silos’ and agencies that precede their interaction; by contrast, INTRA-ACTION (or entanglement) recognises that distinct agencies do not proceed, but rather emerge through, their intra-action (i.e., naturecultures) (cf. Barad 2007, p.33)[1]. In other words, nature and culture are not separate or even linked domains, but rather they are mutually constituted; and nature culture have always evolved one with the other in ways that are so intertwined as to be impossible to meaningfully disassociate. I think the idea of intra-action may make more sense in conceptualising cultural landscapes in different cultural contexts.     A second point I would make is that the nature / culture separation is often framed as a Western construct, which it is. However, within the Western world this thinking or practice is not universal; and particularly in local contexts. Fabrizio Frascaroli and Thora Fjeldsted (2019) have a great chapter in this regard – looking at traditions of agriculture, animal husbandry, and craftsmanship in mountainous areas in Italy, where Christianity and spirituality are mingled with local folk beliefs and pre-Christian heritage. That is, the ‘spiritual values of nature’ are expressed in material practices and rituals by ‘local and rural communities – even those living in apparently modernised, Western settings’. I am sure many of us can think of and have observed other such examples. LL: What If we don’t always think of cultural landscapes as a symbiotic or harmonious relationship between humans and nature but as destructive? We have recognised many cultural landscapes in the World Heritage list, such as mining landscapes, that are actually the result of the destruction of the nature over the years.SB, LL
Different categories for the inscription of properties on the World Heritage list? PoD: For Korea – How is JeJu inscribed? As a Mixed Property? We might say that it is an inscribed cultural landscape. FH: Do you see the Chinese Scenic and Historic Scene Interest Areas as always equivalent to the WH construct of cultural landscapes? FH: Now in China many cultural landscapes are from ordinary landscape (rural landscapes…) GC: From my understanding, the classifications are sometimes also a practical question of challenges on inscription in world heritage. For some countries it is depending on what is easier to submit. The focus of a cultural landscape (mainly following the cultural criteria, with natural values) vs natural heritage (with some cultural values) are evaluated and written differently by the stakeholders who craft the message. JB: These examples you are citing (JR) might be categorized as IUCN Category V? Or consistent with this. Note that the definition of IUCN Category V- Protected Landscapes and Seascapes- includes specifically this element of interaction. An area of land, with coast and sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produce dan area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, ecological and/or cultural value, and often with high biological diversity.Safeguarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection and evolution of such area.  JL: Australia was a major player in getting the 1992 change to criteria which introduced the cultural landscape categories. We had recognised by then, despite our colonial eyes, that as for Indigenous people there is no separation of nature and culture and the land is a living entity – it is them. So, our landscapes are deeply entangled and the Aboriginal English word is ‘country’ which signifies all this. This concept has been appropriated by government programs such as Caring for Country[2] and it helps us all here to do away with artificial boundaries, except for the legal titles of land as in private or public reserves.
    The spiritual value of nature through European immigrants agricultural and horticultural practice in colonial lands is another avenue of research in intangible heritage in South Australia, as is the Aboriginal-European interaction and adoption of each other’s practice in colonial Tasmania in the first two decades of 19th century with a kangaroo economy[3].     With the current lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic many urban people are longing to connect with nature -at least in wide open spaces and parks.
‘Western’ naturecultures Dualism SB: Important point about ‘high culture’. This is the situation in the Western naturecultures dualism. Things can be very different at local community levels.  BB: Agree with SB, so the struggles we have in wrapping our arms around the concept and management of rural landscape is so important.  ML: I feel that the question of dualism and non-dualism in our approach to cultural landscape is so much at the core of our work and our thinking, that it is a discussion which will permeate our discussions as we go forward into the summer with these on-line sessions. I appreciated hearing about the philosophical underpinnings of non-dualism in the approach of China and Korea to Nature-Culture. The concept of ‘cultural landscape’ may be a Western concept, but it is also true to say that ‘the West’ in this regard wears a multi-coloured coat, and there is diversity in the culture of the West with regard to Nature, which Steve and others have already touched on. Perhaps it would be true to say that Genesis and Descartes are at one end of the spectrum, and there are many calibrations in-between. I think of Shakespeare’s – Mid-Summer Night’s Dream – in which the spirits and the humans, the flowers, and the Moon herself seem to speak in a multiplicity of voices that are at the same time one voice, in a circular swirling motion that transports us from nightfall to morning. Or, St, Francis of Assisi who sang to the birds and wrote the Canticle of the Sun.      While 13th century Italy and Elizabethan England were at the heart of the European cultural world of their times, here in Ireland in those centuries we were at the edge of the world. The Celtic hegemony, which had once held throughout most of Europe, had continued in Ireland for more than a thousand years after it had been overcome elsewhere by the invading Romans. Consequently, and especially, when we look at our landscape, we see traces of the Druidic and Celtic culture that responded to Nature in a somewhat different way to the Classical World. It is a landscape that even today is ‘replete with field monuments’ from the Celtic past, and manifests a land division system devised, probably in the early Medieval period and perhaps before. Of course, the landscape also shows traces of the years of colonisation and more recently, modernisation, and therefore changing attitudes to the Nature-Culture amalgam. I suppose that as we work with landscape, we begin to realise that as Steve says nature and culture “are mutually constituted; and nature / culture have always evolved one with the other in ways that are so intertwined as to be impossible to meaningfully disassociate”     Here, in my study of Irish rural landscapes I have found the work of the Australians, learning from indigenous peoples and their relationship to ‘country’ which JL references, very helpful. That is not to say that Irish farmers and rural dwellers have the same relationship to the landscape as the Aboriginal people of Australia, but, neither are they Descartes! They live to a large extent with and from the land, and their relationship to it is different from city-dwellers like myself who come to write and think about it! I’m working with this now as I look at a rural landscape of upland hill farmers, which I hope to share with you later in the summer. POD: Thanks for your well stated and interesting commentary from an Ireland viewpoint with a complex Celtic, Druidic history. I find it interesting as well because my viewpoint is both urban and rural- city born, rural dwelling and land based. KT: I was hoping to offer some comments on country and culture and landscape and culture and that landscape is about people and ideologies, not things. SB, BB, ML, PoD, KT
Language and perspective CO: It would be interesting to know better the linguistic and translations of the term cultural landscapes. Even in European languages we have very different terms, that leads to incomprehension.  NP: On the point about language – There are different understandings for the word ‘cultural’ and ‘landscape’ in Eastern (Asia-pacific) and Western cultures. In Asia there is confusion about what Cultural Landscape really means (Han 2018, p70). Not being able to express a lot of the thinking, terminology and values that goes into our cultures, in many cultures it is complicated on a colonial layer as well. Here we have another layer to contend with, where we have to start thinking about nature about beauty. NP: What we see in practice because of our education is not what someone else sees stakeholder/community/dweller. A lot of times we see chaos, dirt and filth and they see something else. That has always been difficult- how do we learn from them.  MF: I was reminded of Tension 2 Observation/Habitation in the introductory section of John Wylie’s (2007) book: Landscape on page 4-6.  What also came to mind was a project we engaged with as students in an informal settlement in South Africa. We launched a ‘I Love Alaska’ photography competition, as an alternative analysis strategy (inspired by Nabeel Hamdi) to understand our site, and to eventually respond with an infrastructural development framework. We asked some of the youth that we met on the streets to take pictures (portable cameras) of what they saw as positive; ‘loved’ about Alaska. Alaska is the name of the informal settlement because it was so far removed from the main centre of Pretoria. What came back was a set of pictures that pointed to all the issues of the site. Dangerous, exposed overhead electrical cables, poor sanitation, litter etc etc. The one picture we thought reflected at least the one positive feature of the site (apart from those that had friends/people in them) was the beautiful view… When we engaged with this picture, we got a resounding ‘no’ it reminds us how far removed we are from any opportunity. This situation taught us about our own pre-conceived ideas (often involuntary) that we enter a site with and how important it is to always find a way to test/deconstruct our own perceptionsCO, NP, MF
Charters and diverse lenses FH: Chinese traditional perspective is only one cultural perspective in the world. All nations have their own perspectives. That’s cultural diversity.  AB: I think that it’s important to “meeting diversity”. Maybe it’s interesting to think that each one finds his one identity, his differences, looking inside his one naturecultures and based on this …. being able to explain the differences between European, Asian, African, pacific and American that make this an enormously rich world. If we can understand our differences, we can understand our coincidences, equalities, too. We can learn to walk between diversity. Latin-American people hasn’t the same occidental naturalcultural/ landscape concept that Europeans has. Because their indigenous/ European/ Spanish people, geography, climate, language, religion, etc. I am proud of Landscape Charter of The Americas, because it really identifies me. (and it isn’t the same of the European one).FH, AB
What should we take forward from these presentations? NP: What can this group do on their second life, building onto the presentation. What would the presenters like this group to take forward? NM: You both mentioned the importance of talking about value as- can you imagine a way forward that we can find ways to encourage mor of this dialogue? JL: My take-home points from our two presenters were:
Fran Han
Environmental lessons to be learnt from Indigenous people -live in harmony, return to the land to alleviate estrangement from nature
Je-Hun Ryu
Gap between international framework for universal CL values and the establishment of a set of regional values firmly embedded in rich SEA and EA cultural processes -rich heritage of CLs of Asia Experiment with set of theories to connect OUVs with regional values embedded in Asian CLs -cultural ecology, environmental aesthetics, landscape as a way of seeing, landscape phenomenology 

Circulated pre-reading:

Reading by Je-Hun Ryu: 

Je-Hun Ryu, 1998, “Regional Human Ecosystem and Cultural Adaptation in Rural Korea,” Journal of the Korean Geographical Society, Vol. 33, Special Issue, pp. 697-707. (Attached)

John Wylie, 2007, Landscape, London and New York: Routledge. (downloaded from, and the PDF attached)

Peter Howard et. al. (eds.), 2013, The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies,London: Routledge. (an extract of Peter Howard attached)

Reading by Fran Han: 

Light, A. and Rolston, H. I. ed.  (2003). Environmental Ethics: An Anthology. Malden, MA, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Han, F. (2008) Cross-cultural Confusions: Application of World Heritage Concepts in Scenic and Historic Areas in China. In The Wilderness Debate Ranges On: Continuing the Great New Wilderness Debate, Ed. Michael P. Nelson, J. Baird Callicott, P252-263.University of Georgia Press. Georgia: USA. (Attached.

Han,F.(2018).World Heritage Cultural Landscapes: An Old or a New Concept for China? Built Heritage.No.3 Volume 2.pp68-84 (Attached). 

[1] Karen Barad, 2007. _Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Fabrizio Frascaroli and Thora Fjeldsted, 2019. Exporing spiritual and religious values in landscapes of production: lessons and examples from Italy. In: Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown (eds), _Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas: Governance, Management and Policy_, pp. 264-277. London and New York: Routledge.

[2] ‘Caring for Country’ in Graham Fairclough, Ingrid Sarlöv Herlin, Carys Swanwick [eds], Routledge Handbook of Landscape Character Assessment: Current approaches to characterisation and assessment, 2018, Routledge, London, pp. 203-16

[3] See Van Diemen’s Land, James Boyce, 2008, Black Inc publisher. 


Rural Renaissance and Endurance: Painting a picture of hope in the Heartland

By Guest Observer September 24, 2019

This article highlights rural renewal and continuity in center of the country. It is based on a talk given by a young farmer who with her husband manage an organic farm in Decorah Iowa, which they describe “as growing organic crops, grazing sheep and cattle on pasture, powering their farm and home with the sun, and growing deep roots in our community.” They also run a diversified operation offering Friday night pizza parties that attract neighbors from near and far and offer a unique Glamping experience. Appropriately, these remarks were made at a recent dinner to benefit the Decorah Community Food Pantry. 

Good evening. I’m Maren Beard. My husband Tom and I own and operate Luna Valley Farm , which is located deep in a valley, about 8 miles north of Decorah Iowa. Maybe some of you have found your way out there for an Iowa Margherita or Peachy Pig pizza?

Last week we received a call from our neighbor, Paul Johnson. Paul is a former State Legislator, former Director of the National Resources and Conservation Service, former Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and a retired farmer. He wanted to gift us his 1948 John Deere B tractor, the first tractor that he and his wife Pat purchased when they

 moved from Chicago to Iowa in 1974 to start farming. I have to say, it was the first time that anyone ever called to offer us a tractor!

We made plans to visit Paul and Pat on Thursday morning, which happened to be our wedding anniversary. As we sat with them sipping coffee and sharing stories, Paul reminded us of his favorite Aldo Leopold quote.  — “A farm is a portrait of the farmer.” Think about that for a minute – “A farm is a portrait of the farmer.” He shared with us that he’s proud of the portrait that he and Pat are continuing to paint on their farm and gave us the best anniversary gift we could imagine when he told us that he’s proud of the portrait that we’re painting on our farm. 

Paul and Pat milked 15 Jerseys and had a flock of sheep. They shared machinery and labor with neighbors. (Side note: the very tractor that Paul and Pat gave us, was used to spread manure on our farm decades ago!). When everyone else was getting bigger and increasing dairy herds to 60-70 cows, they stayed small and diverse. As neighbors and friends went bankrupt during the farm crisis, Pat and Paul kept on planting trees, milking cows, growing a garden and investing in the soil. When the farm experts and extension agents wanted them to terrace their hillside to plant corn and soybeans, they instead planted trees and healed 22 gullies. 

Bottom Field Luna Valley Farm

Tom and I began painting our portrait six years ago when we bought our farm from a neighbor who was born and raised there. We’ve taken down miles of rusty barbed wire fence, hauled away more than 200 tires and loads of mattresses, computer monitors and other junk that we inherited in our woods and pastures. The 100-year continuous corn cycle in our bottom field has been interrupted with plantings of hay, oats and peas. Rotationally grazing our sheep and cattle through our pastures has improved the grasslands, brought back the bobolinks and helped manage the buckthorn, parsnip and multiflora rose in our Burr Oak Savannah landscape.

Pizza Barn Luna Valley Farm

When we purchased our farm, the barn had a big hole in the roof. The barn that now houses our pizza kitchen, pizza seating and has been featured in countless Instagram posts by pizza guests, would be on the ground had we not prioritized a new roof. At that time we had no thoughts of pizza nights on our farm but we love and respect old buildings and the history they hold so we made an investment. We’re working hard to continue painting a portrait on our farm that reflects who we are and what we value.

A farm might be the portrait of the farmer but the agricultural landscape in this place is very much a portrait of the community. After all, you are the eaters who support what we, as farmers do. What kind of a portrait do you want to paint? What kind of a portrait do you want your children and grandchildren to see as they walk, bike, canoe and drive around this beautiful place? All of you who are seated here tonight can help create habitat for butterflies and pollinators, heal gullies and contribute to vibrant agricultural economies and landscapes through buying groceries. In fact, you have at least three opportunities to paint this portrait each and every day. 

Glamping at Luna Valley Farm

Tonight, as you eat tomatoes and greens from River Root Farm, apples from Peake Orchard, grass fed beef from Luna Valley Farm and root vegetables from Patchwork Green, you are both painting a portrait of a more beautiful and diverse agricultural landscape, and ensuring that everyone in our community can be part of that portrait by increasing food access. 

Thank you.

Maren Beard

After a youth spent in rural Wisconsin Maren attended Luther College in Decorah where she studied Environmental Studies and Spanish. She fell in love with the area and went on to earn a Masters of Science in Sustainable Food Systems and joined the team at Luther College as the Assistant Director for the Center for Sustainable Communities. Maren enjoys hanging out with the sheep, hosting dinner parties, growing vegetables and traveling the world.

Decorah Heritage Dinner Talk

September 8, 2019


Vatika Bay Maritime Landscape

By Guest Observer August 1, 2019
Pavlopetri site in Vatika Bay, Laconia Greece, Bing Images

 Vatika Bay is a maritime landscape located at the extreme southern end of the Peloponnese peninsula in Laconia Greece. Its marine ecosystem supports numerous endangered and exotic plant and animal species including Posidonia sea grass, Caretta Caretta (loggerhead) sea turtles, Sperm whales and Risso’s dolphins.

 Located at an ancient crossroads of Mediterranean navigation, Vatika has long been a hub of seafaring tradition. This heritage lives on in the modern shipping industry, in traditional fishing villages and through art such as the “Sailor of Vatika”, which overlooks the eastern shore at Neapolis (Visit Vatika, 2017).

 Vatika is perhaps best known as the site of Pavlopetri, the submerged ruin believed to be among the oldest known underwater sites in the world. Studies conducted during the years 2009-2013 by Dr. Chrysanthi Gallou of the University of Nottingham suggested it dated from the 5thmillennium B.C. The importance of its role in history of Mediterranean seafaring cannot be overstated (Gallou, 2008). 

 Given this complex environment, it is not unexpected that the interdependence between natural, cultural and historic layers has resulted in conflict due to competing objectives. The issue at hand is that anchor damage from commercial shipping activities is threatening both cultural and natural resources. Locals report that the anchors of large ships scar the bay bottom and destroy the meadows of Posidonia sea-grass there. Posidonia is the basis of Vatika’s ecosystem, providing erosion control, shelter for juvenile marine animals and a food source for multiple species. Because the port is unregulated, a corollary concern is that indiscriminate anchoring will destroy the submerged archaeological site of Pavlopetri.

Commercial shipping, Bing Images

The issues at Vatika Bay provide valuable insight into strategies in landscape conservation and protection. Furthermore, the escalating response to threats to the cultural and natural resources has been an informative case study in collaboration among local stakeholders and demonstrates the effective application of civil engagement in landscape conservation and protection.

The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation defines civic engagement as an “ongoing process of public conversation that allows people to collect information, share common values, and wrestle together with tough issues where values may be in conflict” (NPS, 2009, p.3). In the case of Vatika Bay public conversations took the form of town hall meetings between and among the surrounding municipalities and resulted in the passage of multiple resolutions calling for resource protections Vatika Bay (Euser 2019). Local attention catapulted the issue to the national and international stages, where representatives of the Greek ministries of both shipping and culture went on record in publicly opposing  use of the bay as a commercial anchorage, and even the Assistant Director-General of Culture for UNESCO at the time, Francesco Bandarin, appealed to the Greek authorities for regulatory protection of the site (Euser, 2019; Chhotray 2017).

Unexpectedly, this public outcry resulted in a divergence of strategies in protecting Vatika’s resources.  Cultural resource advocates relied upon pragmatic local grass-roots initiatives, whereas environmental strategists pursued a more legal and politically oriented approach.

 In 2016 local and international chapters of the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (ARCH) entered the fray and succeeded in nominating the Pavlopetri archaeological site to the World Monuments Fund “watch list” – a list of endangered international cultural heritage sites – and facilitated a “watch day” for stakeholders to come together in solidarity for the cause (World Monuments Fund, 2016). ARCH also kept the issue relevant on social media and began a letter writing program in which shipping companies were engaged directly with respect to their anchoring practices. The correspondence was non-confrontational and aimed at recruiting the industry as a partner in conservation rather than an opponent to it (Bernard, 2018).   

Locally, in an agreement between the community and the Greek Euphorate of Underwater Antiquities, marker buoyswere purchased by private contributors and placed around the site to protect it from anchoring. They also succeeded in having the coordinates of Pavlopetri published on the hydrographic charts used by mariners, and discussions with port authorities resulted in the anchorage area recommended by the Coast Guard being located no less than two and one-half nautical miles from the site (Schultz, 2019)

Posidonia sea-grass, Bing Images

A legal analysis suggested the presence of ships in the bay to be in violation of international laws including MARPOL 73/78 and EU laws including 92/43/EEC (Bernard, 2018). A petition was submitted to the European Parliament protesting the environmental damage inflicted on Vatika Bay and citing evidence from a 2015 Environmental Report published by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research. (European Parliament, 2017). In response, the EU pledged to “draw the attention of the Greek authorities to the need to take adequate measures in order to prevent damage to Posidonia beds from anchoring activities in Vatika Bay” (European Parliament, 2017).  

 Unfortunately, as of this writing the Vatika Bay landscape is still in jeopardy from an environmental perspective. Despite the legal challenges, Greek authorities recently announced the preparation of a special port regulation which, if passed, will provide a legal means for ships to continue using Vatika Bay as an anchorage. The proposed Natura 2000 designation is yet to be approved, and ships continue to use the bay as an unregulated anchorage and dumping ground.

 In conclusion, the collaborative grass-roots efforts of individuals and organizations at Vatika Bay have resulted in enhanced protections for the Pavlopetri submerged archaeological site. These successes exemplify the effective application of civic engagement and highlight the expediency of direct action and locally focused initiatives toward landscape conservation and protection. Conversely the environmental campaigns for Vatika Bay have largely stalled in the purgatory of legislative procedure. Although political will and legislation are necessary for permanent change, this case illustrates the challenges inherent to initiatives based on environmental law and political pressure as they are lost in the muddled maze of national and international bureaucracy.


Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (2019)Pavlopetri  accessed online 3/30/2019 from

Bergin, T. (2015) The Great Greek Shipping MythHow Greek Shipowners Talk Up Their Role, and Why that Costs Athens Millions, The Greek Crisis, Reuters, accessed online from                                                                                                   

Benard, C (2018). Letter from The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage to Mattheou Dimitrios, CEO, Arcadia Ship Management dated 11/06/2018

Bing, n.d.Freight, Photographic Image, Pixabay. from,2,6

Bing, n.d. Gres-Pavlopetri, photgraphic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from

Bing, n.d., Posidonia Oceanica Portofino 01, photographic image, Wikimedia, accessed online from

Chhotry S. (2017) Vatika Bay Hope Spot: Ancient Grecian City Abuts Marine Abundance , National Geographic, accessed online 03/31/2019 at

European Parliament (2017), Petition No. 11078/2016, Committee on Petitions, accessed online at

Euser, B. (2019) Our Story, Ships Wreck Vatika Bay. Facebook. Accessed online 03/25/2019 at

Gallou, C. (2008) ‘Between Scylla And Charybdis’:  The Archaeology of Mycenean Vatika on the Malea Peninsula,British Archaeological Reports Series 1889, Archaeopress,Oxford UK, accessed online 3/31/2019 from                     

National Park Service (2009) Stronger Together: A Manual on the Principles and Practices of Civic Engagement. US DOI, NPS Conservation Study Institute, Woodstock

National Park Service (2017) National Heritage Areas Website. Feasability Studies. Accessed online 4/2/2019 from

Schultz, S. (2019). Underwater Update, Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, accessed online 3/29/2019 from

Visit Vatika (2017) Settlements: Profitis Elias, accessed online 3/30/2019 from                                         

World MonumentsFund (2016), Pavlopetri Project, Accessed online from

Guest Observer: James Wright is a graduate student in Cultural Heritage Management at Johns Hopkins University. He has a background in maritime heritage and submerged cultural resources, and has worked on projects with the, the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program in St Augustine Florida, the Florida Public Archaeology Network and the Maritime Archaeological Historical Society in Washington D.C. James currently works with the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage on the Pavlopetri project, maintaining a database documenting commercial shipping in Vatika Bay, Lakonia Greece.


World Rural Landscapes: A Worldwide Initiative for Global Conservation and Management

By Guest Observer July 5, 2019

What are the best ways to identify and conserve rural landscapes? Since 2012, participants at a series of international meetings have sought to answer this complex question, in part through the development of a new set of shared general principles.

The initiative is being lead by the International Scientific Committee on Cultural Landscapes (ISCCL). The ISCCL was established in 1971 by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in partnership with the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) as a joint expert committee. The committee promotes world-wide cooperation in the identification, study, and management of cultural landscapes. It also offers training and education programs.

The text for the Principles for World Rural Landscapes was finally endorsed and adopted, as a doctrinal text, by ICOMOS at its 19th ICOMOS General Assembly & Symposium, Delhi, India, 11th-15th December 2017. The IFLA World Council adopted the Document on 20th October 2017 in Montreal (Canada).

Since the ratification of the Principles, the World Rural Landscape group has been active disseminating the Principles Text and developing related activities such as an atlas of world rural landscapes, a glossary, and bibliography. In particular the group has developed:

  • A Chinese translation of the Principles’ Text
  • A Spanish translation prepared for ISCCL Mendoza meeting in December 2018
  • A web site dedicated to the World Rural Landscape Initiative
  • Introduction of the World RuralLandscapes Initiative and rural landscape issues in other symposiums, for examples at the “Nature–Culture Journey” (Hawaii 2017, San Francisco 2018)
  • Support for ICOMOS in the organization of the Symposium on Rural Landscapes for the Morocco – Marrakech ICOMOS Assembly, October 2019 and ISCCL Annual Meeting in Dublin, June 2019.

Over the next several months, the Living Landscape Observer, will present a series of short articles illustrating each of the Principles on World Rural Landscapes with real world examples and case studies. Many thanks to Jane Lennon of Australia ICOMOS for leading this effort. Please read more about Dr. Lennon at the end of this article.

We would value your feedback and welcome examples and case studies to improve the Principles. Key elements of which include: a definition of terms, identification of challenges, exploration of threats, and discussion of benefits related to rural landscape conservation. The Principles also outline a plan of action for not only protection, but also dissemination of knowledge surrounding best practices.

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes


The Green River Drift: Transhumance in the America West

By Guest Observer June 30, 2019

By Bethany Kelly

Green River Drift Association

Transhumance – the practice of seasonally moving livestock from winter pastures in the lowlands to summer grazing in the mountains – is an ancient intangible and cultural tradition practiced all over the world.  Also known as pastoralism, the term usually invokes quaint and idyllic images of sheepherders in the European Alps or Pyrenees Mountains and not Wyoming cowboys, but the term is applicable to both.   Cowboys from the Upper Green River Cattle Association have moved their herds by horseback along the Green River Driftfor over one hundred and twenty years. Although the practice is not as oldin Wyoming as many European countries, transhumance in Wyoming is equally invaluable to the landscapes, the livelihoods, and the cultural traditions of the American West.   Traditional transhumance is also an inherently environmentally sustainable practice and necessary for the continued health of mountain forests and marginal use lands. 

Beginning at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allotments on the Little Colorado Desert or the Mesa in Sublette County, Wyoming and ending at U.S. Forest Service allotments in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF), the Green River Drift– established in 1896 – is the oldest continual use cattle corridor in the United States. The Drift is the first ranching related listing on the National Historic Register as a Traditional Cultural Property; it was listed in 2013. 

Every May, cattle are moved from their spring grazing on the high desert BLM land of the Upper Green River Valley along smaller trails – known as spur lines – to the main trail at Middle Mesa Wall.  From here, cowboys push livestock nearly sixty miles north along the Green River and the New Fork River.  After passing over private properties and land managed by the BLM, U.S. Forrest Service, and the State of Wyoming, the herds reach their summer grazing on the Upper Green River Cattle Allotment – a 127,000-acre U.S. Forest Service allotment in BTNF.  The trip takes three to four weeks to complete.  Cattle will graze on the BTNF until the middle of October. When the weather begins getting markedly colder, the cattle will “drift” – or naturally migrate – back down south along the route they traversed in the early summer. Cowboys round up the strays and return the herds to the ranches for winter.

The Drift consists of both natural and man-made elements.  In some places the topography of the land funnels livestock along the route; creeks and man-made reservoirs provide water; roads, underpasses, and bridges ensure safe passage over rivers and roadways.  The corridor follows a large ungulate seasonal migration route as well and crosses through “Trapper’s Point”– a section of a 7000-year-old migratory route used by pronghorn and mule deer and containing several archeological sites.   

Transhumance and Sustainability on the Drift

Like its European counterparts, transhumance on the Green River Drift is under threat. Encroachment from oil and gas production and rural sprawl gradually squeeze the corridor tighter.  Agricultural homogenization makes smaller scale, traditional beef production more expensive.  Federal changes in land use prioritization are a constant threat.  And climate changealters the rangeland.  Finally, ranching families depend upon one another, but as more ranches are sold and subdivided, the number of families pushing cattle up the Drift decreases and endangers the sustainability of transhumance in the Green River Basin (more on the challenges of Western transhumance here).  

The disappearance of transhumance has a wide range of potential ramifications.  While beef production – even organic, grass-fed beefproduction – has rightfully become increasingly scrutinized for its deleterious environmental impacts, cattle raised on mountain pastures and marginal use lands are different than traditional grass-fed livestock; they are environmentally beneficial.  Among other things, mountain cattle herds increase forest biodiversity and help prevent forest fires and soil erosion.  Studies done on European transhumancehave found that the overall health of forests drop when livestock are removed. Finally, cattle corridors often run along the same trails as other migratory animals; when we preserve the corridor for seasonal livestock use, by extension, we are also preserving it for migratory wildlife. 

As climate change accelerates and the world faces greater and greater environmental consequences as a result, traditional intangible and cultural practices – such as transhumance – might provide a roadmap towards an environmentally sustainable future.  But only if we can keep them.  So, next time you are driving through the Rockies and you see a herd of cattle remember that those lovely beasts and the cowboys that drove them there are producing environmentally sustainable beef products, maintaining the health of the forest, protecting migratory routes for large ungulates, and – if they are cattle from the Upper Green River Cattle Association – preserving over a hundred years of western intangible and cultural heritage. 


Battaglini, L, S. Bovolenta, F. Gusmeroli, S. Salvador, E. Sturaro (2014). Environmental 

Sustainability of Alpine Livestock Farms.Italian Journal of Animal Science, 13:2, 3155, DOI: 10.481/ijas.2014.3155. Retrieved from

Capper, J.L. (10 April 2012). Is the Grass Always Greener? Comparing the Environmental 

Impact of Conventional, Natural and Grass-Fed Beef Production Systems. Retrieved from

Green River Drift(n.d.) Retrieved from

Huntsinger, L. & C Forero, L. & Sulak, A. (2010). Transhumance and pastoralist 

resilience in the western United States. Pastoralism: Research, Policy, and Practice. 1. 1-15. 

Kauffman, M., J. Meacham, H. Sawyer, A. Steingisser, W. Rudd, & E. Ostlind (2018). Wild 

Migrations: Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates. Retrieved from

Liechti, K., Biber, JP. (1 November 2016). Pastoralism in Europe: characteristics and 

challenges of highland-lowland transhumance.Retrieved from

Manrique, E, Olaizola, A.M., Bernues, A., Maza, M.T., Saez, A., (1999). Economic diversity of 

farming systems and possibilities for structural adjustment in mountain livestock farms. Retrieved from

Mitloehner, F. (25 October 2018). Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not 

killing the climate.Retrieved from

National Park Service (2013). National Register of Historic Places: Green River Drift Trail 

Traditional Cultural Property. Retrieved from

Reeves, C. & K. Bagne. (May 2016). Vulnerability of Cattle Production to Climate Change on 

U.S. Rangelands.Retrieved from

Bethany Kelly is a pursuing a Master’s in Cultural Heritage Management from Johns Hopkins University.  Raised in Cody, Wyoming and currently living in Cheyenne, she holds a BA in History from the University of Wyoming.  She is interested in the sustainability and preservation of large working Western landscapes.


Perpetual Easements as Historic Events

By Guest Observer May 29, 2019

By John H. Sprinkle, Jr.[i]

“The family farm is sacred ground:” so opined Tiffany Dowell Lashmet in the April issue of Progressive Farmer.[ii] This often repeated and widely felt sentiment is well understood and broadly accepted among families who have generations of attachment to a particular patch of ground. It has inspired many, both farm owners and land conservation advocates, to develop creative secular ways to protect spaces and places that are held dear, and that represent a physical gift to future generations. 

A family farm in Kent County, Maryland protected via a conservation easement. Image: John Sprinkle, Jr.

A common means to provide for the perpetual conservation of a family farm, or any historic resource, is the legal instrument known generally as a conservation easement.

In Maryland farmland preservation has a long history. It developed in relation to efforts to preserve the viewshed from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate across the Potomac into Prince Georges County during the late 1950s and early 1960s.[iii] In 1966 Maryland was the first state to authorize the differential taxation of parcels encumbered with conservation easements, an approach that enhanced the value of such easements as a landscape conservation tool.[iv]

National recognition for this achievement was evidence by NPS Director George Hartzog’s presence at the Annapolis signing ceremony for the “scenic easement bill” in May 1965 and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall’s participation at the January 1966 ceremony marking Prince George’s County’s adoption of a conservation easement program.[v]  At that time, such easements were seen as just the right prescription to address the ever increasing acquisition costs for those portions of the rural landscape thought to be worthy of protection then and into the future.

With increasing suburbanization in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s (fostered by federal housing loan programs and further development of the interstate highway system) conservationists and political leaders in Maryland’s rural communities began to recognize the loss of prime farmlands as a threat to the economic and cultural survival of farming within the state.

The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation (MALPF) was established by the General Assembly in 1977, three years before the creation of the American Farmland Trust (AFT), a nationwide organization that highlighted diverse threats to the continuation of farming in the United States, as well as efforts to conserve such landscapes.

Using easements as a conservation tool, MALPF acquired its first agricultural land preservation easement in 1980. By 2017, the MALPF program had expanded to include the permanent protection of more than 300,000 acres spread across more than 2,200 farms in the state. Through a variety of federal, state, and local land conservation programs, Maryland has permanently preserved more agricultural land than any other state.[vi]

Map of Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Fund Easements (2017)

Beyond these impressive statistics is the recognition that placing a conservation easement on a property is in itself a historic act.  I can vividly recall the family meeting, held around the kitchen table, where my parents discussed participation in various land conservation programs. It was in 1987, during the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and our place had been recognized as one of 30 “Bicentennial Farms” in Maryland by the United States Department of Agriculture for its status as a family farming operation for over two centuries.

That same year, as evidence of their commitment to the conservation of the farm’s cultural landscape, my parents entered into a “district agreement” with the MALPF program. With this agreement, they committed to preserving the farm and maintain its agricultural land uses for a five year period, an action that set the stage for a subsequent execution of a permanent easement on the property in 2004.  Efforts to conserve—in perpetuity–the cultural landscape within this property constituted a significant event in the history of its land use.

Farmland Forever signage recognizing permanently preserved agricultural lands in Howard County, Maryland.

But when does the act of conservation itself become historic?  Among the federal lands, there are at least two examples where parcels are automatically considered as being eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places: at National Parks and National Cemeteries.  From the moment these places are created, that is, placed into perpetual federal care by the Congress, they are considered as historic properties and are afforded the protections found within the National Historic Preservation Act and other federal statutes.

In the same way, farm lands that are protected via a perpetual conservation easement are immediately historic places. The permanent nature of the easement means that its impact on the property’s land use history will be no more significant in five, ten, or even 50 years. 

By definition, the act of establishing a permanent easement is an exceptionally important event, and worthy of consideration and enumeration within the National Register—no so-called “50 year rule” need apply to these properties. Acknowledging the secular significance of conservation easements, many states have invested considerable funds to identify, evaluate, and support the continuing stewardship of what Lashmet called “sacred ground.” 

From a cultural landscape perspective, the act of establishing a permanent conservation easement creates a historic property.  Such an approach would have two potential impacts: first, land conservation advocates would be able to characterize the execution of a permanent easement as a historically significant act—one that tied today’s actions with those in the past and in the future. 

Second, the landscape of historic properties within agricultural communities would gain another layer of recognition, in that parcels protected by perpetual easements, now considered as historic properties in their own right, would gain additional consideration during future planning endeavors by local, state, and federal agencies.  The former Executive Director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Robert Garvey was correct when he observed in 1969 that both “the act of preservation and the product preserved are a part of a meaningful life and meaningful total environment.” [vii]

John H. Sprinkle, Jr. is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and serves as a historian for the National Park Service.  He has published widely on the history of the historic preservation and land conservation movements. He and his wife, Esther, are stewards to a legacy family farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore which in 2014 completed its third century of operation. 

[i] The views and conclusions in this essay are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the National Park Service or the United States Government.

[ii] Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, “This is Sacred Ground,” Progressive Farmer, (April 2019), pg. 11. 

[iii] John H. Sprinkle, Jr., Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States, (New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 23-43 and 150-151.

[iv] “The Nation’s First Local Law Granting Tax Credits for Preservation,” Preservation News, February 1, 1966.

[v] Richard Homan, “Prince George’s Passes First Law in U.S. To Exchange Tax Credit for Open Space,” The Washington Post, January 16, 1966.

[vi] The Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation FY2017 Annual Report.

[vii] Robert Garvey, “Look Back in Anger?” Preservation News, February 1, 1969.


Protecting America’s Long Trails

By Guest Observer November 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Gullah Geechee: Reflections on the warp and weft of cultural tradition and landscape

By Guest Observer August 30, 2018
by Heather Hodges, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Griffin Lotson of Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters demonstrating the ring shout at the Geechee Kunda cultural center in Riceboro, Georgia. Photo by Heather Hodges.

During the spring of 2018, the Network for Landscape Conservation coordinating committee convened for an annual retreat in Charleston, SC, where it had the privilege to connect with and learn from the folks at the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The Gullah Geechee story resonated deeply with committee members, as it offers a powerful reminder of the many layers of meaning that are woven into landscapes – and the potential for landscape conservation practitioners to build connections across those layers. The Network asked Heather Hodges, Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, to share the Gullah Geechee story – her piece offers a reflection on the interconnectedness of the Gullah Geechee cultural traditions and the lands on which those traditions were formed. The reflection is reprinted here with permission from the Network for Landscape Conservation.

On a humid night in early June, a group of chefs and their guests came together in a field on a Johns Island, South Carolina farm owned by third-generation Gullah Geechee farmer, Joseph Fields. Gullah chef B.J. Dennis presided over an evening rich in foodways history and served a menu that included traditional Gullah Geechee dishes like okra soup and Charleston red rice. A pit barbecue fashioned of materials found on the farm held a whole lamb and pig sourced from neighboring Wadmalaw Island. Many at the dinner were familiar with the dishes on the menu but likely knew much less about the deep relationship between their Gullah Geechee hosts and the very land where they stood balancing their plates of barbecue and cornmeal fritters.

In the last decades of the 17th century, rice was successfully cultivated in what is now South Carolina, and its production rapidly became the main economic activity. The Gullah Geechee are the direct descendants of people who came from different, often highly sophisticated agricultural societies of countries we now know as Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia – what was known as the Rice Coast of West Africa. They were trafficked across the Atlantic Ocean directly into Charleston and Savannah, the major ports along a stretch of the Southeast Atlantic Coast where the topography was similar to the rice-growing region of West Africa. The enslaved bought with them knowledge of how to grow rice. That rice would become the economic engine for the lower Atlantic colonies and make them some of the wealthiest in what would become the United States.

Tidal rice cultivation was a labor-intensive and technically difficult enterprise. Unlike other crops that require only a clearing of a field before planting, the ancestors of the Gullah Geechee had to clear many acres of land – with their hands, sometimes small tools and baskets – and then make extensive improvements to it. At first, rice was grown as a subsistence crop in damp soil without irrigation. Later, the reservoir system, which involved the impounding of fresh water from streams, springs, and swamps, was used for the periodic irrigation of rice fields. This involved situating rice fields adjacent to rivers and streams flowing into the ocean. Through an intricate system of canals, dikes, sluices, and trunks, the fields were flooded with fresh water that was forced upstream by rising tides. Africans from the West Coast were familiar with the technology of tidewater rice production and this knowledge was transferred to the New World with their enslavement. Most plantation owners were reluctant to acknowledge that it was the Africans on their plantations who had the array of technological and managerial skills that were essential to the production of rice.

Their achievements are all the more remarkable in light of the dangerous conditions they endured as they worked swampy mosquito-filled rice fields that favored diseases such as malaria, cholera, and yellow fever. Many Africans from the Rice Coast possessed a degree of immunity to malaria that Europeans lacked. The European planters were often absentee owners who spent the period from early May to late October in the pinelands and the winter social season in their city homes. The result was that many of the plantations were highly “Africanized” and the work of rice production was frequently managed by the enslaved themselves under the direction of a white overseer and a black driver. The ancestors of the Gullah Geechee arrived into this new world with a diverse range of cultural, linguistic, and spiritual practices. Because many of the transplanted African peoples did not share the same cultural practices, eventually common institutions and a synthesized new creole (but still very West African) culture and language – now known as Gullah Geechee – emerged on these isolated island and coastal plantations.

The Gullah Geechee can only be understood in connection to their relationship to the land of the Lowcountry, rice cultivation, and their coastal history and heritage. Land is still widely considered the most valuable of all Gullah Geechee cultural assets. It has always been the base for economic and social development. After slavery ended, family farms like the Fields Farm were often the primary source of income. Gullah Geechee landowners were able to develop a self-sustaining economy based on the small-scale production of cotton, subsistence agriculture, and truck farming supplemented with fishing and harvesting shrimp and oysters. As a result, many were able to avoid the hazards associated with the tenant farming and sharecropping systems.

Preserved along the beautiful, coastline of the Atlantic Lowcountry is the nationally important story of the history of the Gullah Geechee people – a powerful story of how they shaped this distinctive landscape over the course of centuries and their remarkable Creole culture and West African traditions that remain deeply rooted in it. A story told in the hundred-year old praise houses that still stand on islands like St. Helena and Johns Island as testament to the vivid, spiritual life of the enslaved – and where their “ring shouts” recalled the African religious rituals of their homelands and gave brief reprieves from the horrors of enslavement. In the patiently, hand-crafted sweetgrass baskets that reflect ancient West African weaving traditions and which are made from natural materials found only along the coast. In dishes like Chef Dennis’ red rice, a Lowcountry favorite that calls to mind jollof rice and indelibly connects today’s Gullah Geechee chefs to the cook pots of ancestors and contemporaries in West Africa. And in the acres of rice fields that are still an indelible feature of our Lowcountry landscape – drive down Highway 17, the old Savannah Highway, and you can still stand in them, silent and verdant memorials to the unfathomable sacrifices and inspiring perseverance of the Gullah Geechee people. A sustained commitment to the conservation and preservation of their land and its natural resources all across the 12,000 square mile Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor will always be integral to our work because Gullah Geechee history and culture has been inextricably tied to this ancestral land for generations and continues to be so today.

About the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor – The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, dedicated as a federal National Heritage Area in 2006, covers 12,000 square miles from Pender County, North Carolina, to St. Johns County, Florida – from the Atlantic Ocean and thirty miles inland. The Corridor recognizes the Gullah Geechee people and their living cultural traditions, and coordinates efforts to preserve and interpret the traditional cultural practices, sites, and resources associated with Gullah Geechee people that are so closely tied to the Lowcountry. Learn more here:

Heather L. Hodges became the Executive Director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission in November 2017.  Under her leadership, the Commission has placed a renewed emphasis on activities designed to expand the body of knowledge on the culture and history of the Gullah Geechee people in the Low Country and Sea Islands.  She has also placed a priority on facilitating heritage tourism across the Corridor and working with local Gullah Geechee preservation groups to preserve important community, cultural assets.  She is also partnering closely with the National Park Service to support their interpretive work around Gullah Geechee culture and to produce cultural and historical programs for Park visitors.

An honors graduate from the Tulane University School of Law, Ms. Hodges began her legal career in private practice in Washington, D.C., as an Associate at the international law firm of Arnold & Porter LLP and then as Counsel  with Crowell and Moring LLP.  She was the recipient of a 2010-2011 Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship from Georgetown Law School where she did field work exploring challenges to providing access to justice in Belize and organized programs on international human rights law.   Ms. Hodges is also a documentary photographer who specializes in African, African-American and Afro-Latino culture with an emphasis on contemporary and traditional music and dance culture.  She has traveled extensively including to Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, to study traditional Afro-Cuban dance; to La Sabana, Venezuela, for the Fiesta de San Juan; to Dakar, Senegal, to explore its contemporary music scene; and to Belize for Garifuna Settlement Day.  She has also documented the roots of Delta blues and the Gathering at Geechee  Kunda Festival in Georgia.  Her photographs have been exhibited in Washington D.C. and London.



The Slave Route Project: Jamestown 1619

By Guest Observer July 26, 2018
By Lisa Bergstrom

The James River from Jamestown, Virginia.

The James River from Jamestown, Virginia. Image: Lisa Bergstrom

In the summer of 1619 a Spanish ship, the São João Bautista, was enroute to New Spain (Mexico) from a Portuguese outpost on the west coast of Africa. The ship was carrying 350 enslaved Africans, probably people from the kingdom of Ndongo. Records reveal the ship did not make it to New Spain without incident and it is estimated 150 of the enslaved souls died enroute and another 50 were stolen by English privateers (on two ships) in the Gulf of Campeche, off the coast of New Spain.

By late August, the first ship, The White Lion , arrived at Point Comfort, Virginia on the James River. John Rolfe wrote a letter describing the captain and his cargo: “ He brought not any thing but 20. and odd Negroes, which the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victualls (whereof he was in greate need as he pretended) at the best and easyest rates they could” (Encyclopedia of Virginia, 2012). The “20 an odd” – historians now believe as many as 32 – enslaved people were sold again, some, or all of them were taken to Jamestown. We know that one woman was called “Angela or Angelo” and purchased by Lieutenant William Pierce and 8 others became the property of the Governor. Sir George Yeardley.

Sometimes called the “triangular trade” the main players in the transatlantic slave trade were Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, England and France, and involved Africa, America, the Caribbean, Europe and the Indian Ocean. The route took about 18 months and followed three basic steps:
1. Ships from Western Europe sailed to Africa with goods to trade for slaves
2. The ships then crossed the Atlantic where the enslaved were sold
3. The ships sailed for Europe carrying products produced in America (sugar, cotton, coffee, tobacco and rice)

Angela, and all those like her, who remain nameless, were stolen from their homeland and forcibly brought across the Atlantic to America. Theirs is a story of horror and survival. The beginnings of what would become an economic machine, sometimes referred to as the first system of globalization (UNESCO). The Jamestown example is an excellent look at how many countries were involved and how they benefited. Africans, “ the governor of Angola, Luis Mendes de Vasconçelos, fighting alongside a ruthless African mercenary group called the Imbangala, led two campaigns against the Kimbundu-speaking people of the region” (McCartney, 2017). Portuguese, who had established thriving slave ports off the west coast o f Africa (and who are responsible for sending as many as six million men, women and children across the Atlantic from the 16th-19th centuries), the English who would steal the valuable cargo under the protection of the Dutch who would issue them a “letter of marque” making them privateers instead of pirates, and the Dutch who benefit from the actions of the privateers.

On the first page of The Slave Route Project you will find this quote:

‘We acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade, including the transatlantic slave trade, were appalling tragedies in the history of humanity not only because of their abhorrent barbarism but also in terms of their magnitude, organized nature and especially their negation of the essence of the victims, and further acknowledge that slavery and the slave trade are a crime against humanity’ Declaration of the World Conference against Racism (Durban, 2001, Paragraph 13).

In March, 2018 an international conference was held at the University of Virginia on “Interpreting and Representing Slavery and its Legacies in Museums and Sites: International Perspectives” . This conference, sponsored by Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the University of Virginia , and the United States Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites along with the United National Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Slave Route Project: Resistance, Liberty, and Heritage brought together scholars and professionals from four continents.

This remarkable gathering highlighted the work that has been done across the world to tell a more transparent and truthful history of the transatlantic slave trade as a transnational cultural landscape. It brought to light the many resources available to cultural heritage professionals as well as pushing for further conversation, research and understanding. Currently, The Slave Route Project lays out the following topics for Nation States to act upon:
● Memory, shared history and heritage
● Interculturality, transculturality and new forms of identity and citizenship
● Human rights, fight against racism and discrimination, new solidarities and new
● Africa and its diasporas past and present
● Living cultures and contemporary artistic creation (depiction and staging of slavery)
● Intercultural education, culture of peace and intercultural dialogue.

And, what about Angela? Historic Jamestowne, in conjunction with the National Park Service is working to uncover (literally) her story and the stories of the enslaved on the island. The Angela Project involves Jamestown Rediscovery’s archaeology program. “ The current Jamestown Rediscovery excavations that began in 2017 and are expected to continue for three years. Goals for the project go well beyond locating the Pierce home site, identifying its occupants, and determining how the site evolved. They hope to intensively examine Angela’s impact on the Pierce family—the earliest known record of an enslaved African living in a household in English North America—to learn more about race, ethnicity, and inequality across the plantation landscape of 17th-century Virginia” (Jamestown Rediscovery, 2018).

The Slave Route Project is a vast and complex cultural landscape, and there has been much research on the scope and scale of the four centuries of the slave trade. But, go beyond the large landscape, cultural heritage professionals should not hesitate to look for the humanity that can be found in the telling of individual stories, like Angela.

Historic Jamestowne, n.d., The First Africans , Retrieved from

National Park Service, 2015, African Americans at Jamestown , Retrieved from

McCartney, Martha, 2018, Virginia’s First Africans , Retrived from

Rolfe, John, 1619, ” 20. and odd Negroes “; an excerpt from a letter from John Rolfe to Sir Edwin Sandys, 2012 The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 8. Virginia Records Manuscripts. 1606– 1737. Susan Myra Kingsbury, ed., Records of the Virginia Company, 1606–1626 , 3:241–242, 243–245, 247–248, Retrieved from

UNESCO, n.d., Transatlantic Slave Trade , Retrieved from

UNESCO, n.d., The Slave Route , Retrieved from

Vanderbilt University, 2018, Slave Societies Digital Archive, Angola , Retrieved from

Cottman, Michael, 2017, ‘Angela Site’ Uncovers Details on one of first enslaved Africans in America , Retrieved from


Lisa Bergstrom is the Preservation Programs Manager for Preservation Virginia. She works with communities around the commonwealth to help identify, preserve and advocate for their cultural heritage resources. Her current work includes advocacy for the cultural resources in the City of Petersburg, a survey of Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools, historic African American cemeteries and exploring the significant story of diversity at Historic Jamestowne. She is currently pursuing her MA in Cultural Heritage Management with Johns Hopkins University.


Northern Rangelands Trust: Building Peace and Security for Pastoral Communities

By Guest Observer May 29, 2018
Photo Courtesy of Ami Vitali

Photo Courtesy of Ami Vitali

By Margo Geddes

The Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) has been working in the remote arid and semi arid lands (ASAL) of Northern Kenya since 2004 to develop community conservancies that approach conservation and biodiversity through building sustainable communities. The NRT has taken a collaborative approach involving local leaders, government entities, and conservation organizations to collectively work with communities to create sustainable enterprise, peace and security, while working to establish an ecological balance between human and wildlife needs ( ). The communities of northern Kenya are primarily pastoralists, with cattle herds that they seasonally move through the region dependent on water and pasture.

The pastoralist communities have historically been marginalized on the national level. During colonial times they came to resent wildlife and the conservation of landscapes as it took away their pasture lands and restricted their ability to move their cattle to prime grazing lands (Triche, 2014). In Northern Kenya inter-ethnic conflict and wars in bordering nations have lead to conflict, a rise in small arms in the regions, and lack of security. These conflicts have contributed to poaching and increased cattle rustling (Pkalya et al, 2003). Conflict between communities arises primarily over pasture and water for their cattle. While cattle rustling has its roots in tribal structures, where young warriors proved themselves by stealing cattle and for bride price, today the influx of small arms and the commercialization of thievery has led to an increase in deadly conflicts (Chopra, 2008).

Climate change in ASAL regions has led to erratic rainfall and increase in temperatures, these effects have led to increased pressure for resources for pastoralists. There are more frequent droughts and political borders make it difficult for pastoralists to move their herds to resources that might sustain them (Pkalya et al, 2003). In 2011 the Horn of Africa experienced its worst drought in 60 years (Shilling et al, 2014). Pastoralists are particularly affected by drought and their historic adaptive capacity has been limited by political boundaries. Restricting their ability to move their herds to better pasture has led to high death rates for their herds and further economic instability. The NRT has been working with conservancy members to develop sustainable grazing plans that maximize the available resources and bring in contemporary cattle management practices to help pastoralists more effectively manage their herds. Finding ways to build collaborative strategies for rangeland management between tribes and avoid conflict is essential to sustaining the pastoral lifeway (Schilling et al, 2014).

Working to build peace and security for communities through developing frameworks by which conflicts can find resolution has been key to reducing poaching and creating economic resilience through diversification of income sources. The NRT has taken a multi pronged approach to building peace and security, most prominently in the development of peace committees. Evolving with traditional tribal structures in mind with a respect to tribal elders but also working to incorporate young men and women at the table and infuse negotiations with a democratic process, peace committees are changing how conflict is managed. The peace committees have worked to avoid conflict through meetings between communities as well as averting cattle raids through rapid response teams. By including young warriors (often the perpetrators of cattle theft) in the efforts to promote peace and educating them on the negative impacts of cattle rustling and the benefits of healthy community interaction, the NRT is helping to shift the mindset of the next generation of elders ( ).

The NRT has created a rapid response team, dubbed, 9-1 after their radio call sign, that deals with violence in the area from inter-tribal conflict to poaching. By deriving the team from multiple tribes, they are able to gain the trust of villagers and more effectively resolve conflicts (King, Craig, 2016). The 9-1 teams are part policemen, part wildlife guardians. One part of the NRT’s efforts in the conservancies is increasing biodiversity in the region and bringing a diversification of economy to communities through conservation and ecotourism. Pastoralists and wildlife have coexisted for a millennia. Under colonial rule they were driven off their lands in the name of conservation and only recently has the perspective shifted toward a recognition of the interconnectedness of humans and wildlife in their landscape. Pastoralists and their cattle are an essential element to the rangeland ecology; the cattle break up the soil allowing more grass to grow for all the animals (Yurco, 2017). The shift in focus to one that includes humans in the larger landscape as positive ecological influencers helps preserve the pastoral lifeway and wildlife.

Beyond policing and conflict resolution building positive cross community connections is an essential part of reducing conflict. In 2011 the Kom Peace Marathon was held to help communities cross the cultural divides that separated them. It was a very successful event that found youth from different tribes sitting down to a meal together and sharing dance and stories. Enabling communication and connection through events like this builds peace and understanding between tribes (King, Craig, 2016)).

The NRT conservancies are landowner associations made up of tribal constituents. Developing a governing strategy that focuses on peace through conservancies builds social capital for communities (Pellis et al, 2015). Recognition of land ownership by pastoralists has given communities a new sense of stewardship and the NRT is working to guide them in the development of a diversified and resilient interconnected landscape of people and wildlife. By coming together to form these conservancies they are establishing their importance as primary stewards of the ASAL’s of Kenya. As an evolving cultural landscape, the people, wildlife, and landscape of Northern Kenya sit at the precipice of change. They face many challenges; from those out of their control like climatic shifts to development proposals for oil and gas exploration from which they may benefit if managed in a manner that retains for them a healthy landscape. Creating these conservancies and working toward peaceful solutions to conflict will allow them to face the decisions ahead with a unified voice and a sense of cultural identity as unique and valued contributors to the dialog on the balance between development and conservation.

Margo Geddes holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Oregon.  Currently, she is pursuing a Master’s in Museum Studies and Digital Curation at Johns Hopkins University. She is a practicing artist and garden designer living in Missoula, Montana. Her research interests range from human relationships to the plant world and the history of gardens to the wider landscape of the west and human interactions with borderlands.


Chopra, Tanja. (2008). Building Informal Justice in Northern Kenya. Legal Resources Foundation Trust: Nairobi, Kenya. Retrieved from:

King, J. and Craig, I. (2016) Northern Rangelands Trust. Retrieved from:

Northern Rangelands Trust. (2015). Talk About Peace. Retreived from:

Pellis, A., Lamers, M., Duim, R. (2015). Conservation tourism and landscape governance in Kenya: the interdependency of three conservation NGO’s. Journal of Ecotourism. Vol. 14, no. 2. Retrieved from:

Pkalya, R., Adan, M., Masinde, I. (2003) Conflict in Northern Kenya: A focus on the internally displaced conflict victims in Northern Kenya. Karimi, M (Ed.). Retrieved from:

Roe, D (ed) 2015 Conservation, crime and communities: case studies of efforts to engage local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. IIED, London. Retrieved from:

Schilling, J., Akuno, M. Scheffran, J., Weinzierl, T. (2014). On raids and relations: Climate change and pastoral conflict in Northern Kenya. In Salome Bronkhorst, Urmilla Bob
(eds.)Climate Change and Conflict : Where to for Conflict Sensitive Adaptation in Africa. Berliner Wissenshaftsverlag. Retrieved from:

Triche, Ryan. (2014). Pastoral Conflict in Kenya: Transforming mimetic violence to mimetic blessings between Turkana and Pokot communities. Retrieved from:

Yurco, K. Pastoralism (2017) 7: 15.

Margo Geddes holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Oregon.  Currently she is pursuing a Master’s in Museum Studies and Digital Curation at Johns Hopkins University. She is a practicing artist and garden designer living in Missoula, Montana. Her research interests range from human relationships to the plant world and the history of gardens to the wider landscape of the west and human interactions with borderlands.  

Requiem for an Advisory Board

By Guest Observer May 1, 2018
by Rolf Diamant

This article originally appeared in the George Wright Forum, vol. 35 no. 1 (2018)

Cover of the 2016 National Park System Advisory Board Report. The report is online at

Cover of the 2016 National Park System Advisory Board Report.

As 2018 began, a lesser-known but impactful component of America’s national park system, the National Park System Advisory Board, drew national media attention when 10 of its 12 members resigned to protest the refusal of the secretary of the interior to meet with them. Although the board and its activities do not often draw public attention, the mass resignation still “came as a shock,” reported the Los Angeles Times, explaining that “few groups have been closer and more involved in Interior Department policy and management than the National Park System Advisory Board, an appointed and nonpartisan group established 83 years ago to consult on department operations and practices.”

In fact, the idea of an independent advisory board to help guide US national park policy first surfaced in a 1911 letter from Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to J. Horace McFarland. McFarland, the leader of the fight against the proposed Hetch Hetchy Dam in Yosemite NationalPark, was drafting a bill to establish a professional national park service. Olmsted, who had inherited his famous father’s landscape architectural practice, is perhaps best known in park circles today for insisting in his letter to McFarland that the park service legislation include a “general definition of purpose” for national parks (“to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment…”).Olmsted also argued for establishing a “deliberative body … of overseers or commissioners in a position to safeguard … a harmonious continuity of policy.” Early drafts of the National Park Service (NPS) Organic Act did include provision for this advisory body. That language, however, was ultimately removed from the final version of the legislation that passed Congress in 1916. It has been suggested by historians that Department of Interior (DOI) officials (perhaps then as now) were generally uncomfortable with the idea of any independent board.

The newly established National Park Service was barely up and running before various iterations of Olmsted’s idea resurfaced. In 1918, at the request of NPS leadership, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Charles Walcott, organized a National Park Educational Committee that included university presidents and representatives from leading conservation organizations. In 1928, a “board of expert advisors,” along the lines of Olmsted’s original proposal, was formally established for Yosemite National Park, with Olmsted himself appointed as the board’s first chair.

What was good for Yosemite was ultimately judged to be good for the nation. Seven years later, Congress passed the Historic Sites Act of 1935, responding to the 1933 Reorganization and expansion of NPS responsibilities for preserving cultural heritage. Section 3 of the act authorized the creation of a National Park System Advisory Board that would draw on the expertise of leading preservation thinkers and practitioners to provide advice on national parks, particularly NPS historic assets. Over the years the board’s charge was broadened to provide counsel on park operations and management as well as recommending designation of new national historic landmarks (NHLs) and national natural landmarks. Today, the board’s 12 members, who volunteer their time and expertise, are appointed by the secretary
of the interior for terms of up to four years (renewable for a second four-year term) and represent a cross-section of disciplines and knowledge relevant to the increasingly complex opportunities and challenges facing NPS. The advisory board’s current charter specifies that:

At least six of the members shall have outstanding expertise in … history, archeology, anthropology, historical or landscape architecture, biology, ecology, marine sciences, or social science. At least four of the members shall have outstanding expertise and prior experience in the management of national or state parks or protected areas, or natural or cultural resources management. The remaining members shall have outstanding expertise … in another professional or scientific discipline, such as financial management, recreation use management, land use planning, or business management important to the mission of the National Park Service.

Board chairs have included publisher Alfred Knopf, author Wallace Stegner, historian John Hope Franklin, and most recently, former Alaska governor Tony Knowles. Eminent scientists and scholars have served on the board, including A. Starker Leopold, Sylvia Earle, and Bernard DeVoto, as have conservation leaders such as Lady Bird Johnson, Edgar Wayburn, and Marian Heiskell.

Board encounters
During my own NPS career, I began paying closer attention to the work of the advisory board when John Hope Franklin became its chair near the close of the Clinton administration. It was during Franklin’s brief but important tenure (1999–2000) that the board wrote its landmark report Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century. The report, a touchstone for contemporary park thinking, advocated that national 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.” Franklin’s
board declared that parks “should be not just recreational destinations, but springboards for personal journeys of intellectual and cultural enrichment.”

I had the good fortune as an NPS superintendent to work with a few later advisory boards, thanks in part to requests from my colleague Loran Fraser, who was formally charged with staffing the board for almost two decades (and who often informally served as its muse.) During the Bush administration, a time of relative DOI/NPS leadership inertia, I joined NPS colleagues assisting board working groups to advance a number of policy initiatives dealing with education, civic engagement, and national heritage areas. It was a particular privilege to lend an occasional hand to Dan Ritchie, the resourceful and politically adept chancellor of the University of Denver, who was then chair of the board’s education committee. Ritchie convened gatherings with some of the nation’s foremost thinkers and practitioners in the fields of education and the humanities, transforming his committee into a hub of new ideas and activity. In 2006, Ritchie’s committee organized at Independence National Historical Park a symposium with leading scholars to address the declining state of historical literacy and civic engagement. Called Scholar’s Forum: The National Park Service and Civic Reflection, the symposium highlighted the critical role of national parks as venues that provide “multiple opportunities to ‘re-enact’ experiences and stories uniquely associated with places that can reconnect people to the natural world, to their own heritage, and often to their most deeply held values and aspirations.” Participants challenged NPS to reinvigorate, in Ritchie’s own words, “active citizen participation in America’s civic life.” Later that year, Ritchie also hosted the National Park Service Interpretation and Education Evaluation Summit at the University of Denver— a pivotal event in building a “culture of evaluation” to guide and strengthen park interpretation and education. In his introductory remarks to the gathering, Ritchie explained why this work was so vital:

The survival of the national park system in the 21st century depends on how it interacts with society and how much society values it. The Interpretation and Education Program is the primary means by which the National Park Service engages diverse publics with their national parks, provides access to meanings, establishes relevance, and connects people and communities to national heritage.

In 2008, I joined with Jon Jarvis as NPS liaisons to the National Parks Second Century Commission. The commission was an independent body convened by the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association to develop a 21st-century vision for the National Park Service. Expanding on the foundational work done by Franklin and his board, the Second Century Commission’s report affirmed that “our vision of the National Park Service and of the national parks in American life is animated by the conviction that their work is of the highest public importance … creating an enlightened society committed to a sustainable world.”

When Jarvis became NPS director in 2009, he asked me to assemble a small team of park superintendents to formulate an early action agenda for a newly reconstituted advisory board.Building on the continuity already established between the board and the commission, Jarvis and Fraser envisioned a reinvigorated, forward-looking National Park Service Advisory Board to tackle some of the national park system’s greatest opportunities and challenges as NPS approached its 2016 centennial celebration. With this in mind, eight former Second Century commissioners—Linda Bilmes, Milton Chen, Rita Colwell, Belinda Faustinos, Carolyn Finney, Tony Knowles, Gretchen Long, and Margaret Wheatley—were appointed to the advisory board, with Knowles serving as the chair. The stage was thus set for the most productive period in the advisory board’s 75-year history.

A full plate

Advisory Board meeting at Independence National Historical Park, November 2016. Left to right: Stephen Pitti, Judy Burke, Paul Bardacke, Milton Chen, Lenore Blitz, Loran Fraser, Margaret Wheatley, Carolyn Finney, Rita Colwell, Jonathan Jarvis, Belinda Faustinos, Tony Knowles, Gretchen Long. Missing from photo: Linda Bilmes. Photo courtesy of Margaret Wheatley.

Advisory Board meeting at Independence National Historical Park, November 2016. Left to right: Stephen Pitti, Judy Burke, Paul Bardacke, Milton Chen, Lenore Blitz, Loran Fraser, Margaret Wheatley, Carolyn Finney, Rita Colwell, Jonathan Jarvis, Belinda Faustinos, Tony Knowles, Gretchen Long. Missing from photo: Linda Bilmes. Photo courtesy of Margaret Wheatley.

The board hit the ground running, with the core group listed above augmented by new board members Stephen Pitti, Judy Burke, Paul Bardacke, and Lenore Blitz. From 2009 to 2016—the year of the centennial—the advisory board focused on ways to strengthen the NPS role as resource educator and steward, expand relationships with diverse communities, and foster and sustain organizational change. NPS is very much an operational organization, often devoting a limited amount of time and resources to thinking about and planning for the future. The board was repeatedly called upon to help incubate new ideas and management approaches before NPS undertook a shift in policy or a significant operational investment— understanding that change has a greater chance of success when championed by respected professionals inside and outside of government.

Much was accomplished. The board’s education committee helped NPS broaden collaboration with a wide range of formal and informal educators to promote unexplored opportunities for lifelong learning, professional development, research, and evaluation. I’ve previously written about Revisiting Leopold: Resource Stewardship in the National Parks, a report produced by the board’s science committee. Taking climate change into account, Revisiting Leopold recommended that NPS manage natural and cultural resources “in a context of continuous change that we do not fully understand.” The report strongly influenced the adoption of a new NPS policy directive, Director’s Order 100 (DO-100), for basing resource management decisions on best available science, adherence to the law, and long-term public interest.

The board facilitated discussions about the agency’s workforce culture and organizational renewal while encouraging newly formed NPS networks to share best practices and innovations. The board encouraged an independent economic valuation—for the first time taking into account factors such as carbon sequestration, watershed protection, education programming, and intellectual property—that estimated the value of the national park system to the American people at a staggering $92 billion per year. The board also prepared designation
of 59 new NHLs “that recognize the experiences of an increasingly diverse America”
and encouraged NPS to prepare a new National Park System Plan, the first in 45 years. The plan, completed in 2017, identified significant gaps in the system and opportunities for new park partnership models, large landscape conservation, and expanded urban engagement.

One of the Knowles-led advisory board’s greatest strengths was its ability to recruit outside experts—many of the best minds in their field—to work alongside NPS professionals. A multiplier effect was at work as well, as this talent pool extended far beyond the membership of the actual board itself. Board members used their extensive contacts and networks to enlist over 150 experts from schools and universities, professional organizations, conservation groups, and businesses to serve on board committees. Board working groups were staffed by a variety of NPS subject-matter specialists and practitioners with benefits flowing in both directions. NPS participation offered the board valuable perspectives and knowledge of programs from people with field experience. In return, the board ensured agency professionals had access to the best available scholarship and to new directions in their respective fields. NPS staff also engaged their board contacts in workshops, symposia, and professional development programs.

An empty plate

For almost a year following the 2016 election, the Knowles-led advisory board was, in effect, sidelined. During this period, repeated requests by the board to discuss the new administration’s agenda for national parks were turned down. In August 2017, the Department of Interior rescinded DO-100. According to E&E News, NPS spokesperson Jeremy Barnum “provided a somewhat cryptic message when asked why the Director’s Order was tossed…. Barnum stated that the order was rescinded ‘to eliminate confusion among the public and NPS employees regarding current NPS policy in light of the Department of the Interior’s new vision….’ Mr. Barnum would not, however, explain what confusion had been created or what the ‘new vision’ was.” By January 2018, High Country News reported, “with few options to make their voices heard, advisory board members decided to resign en masse.” The decision of 10 of the 12 board members, including its chair, former governor Knowles, to resign, became national news. Reuters quoted a DOI spokesperson as saying that the department “welcomed” the mass resignation.

Looking beyond this derisive remark, there will come a day, not far off, when DOI/NPS leadership, putting aside partisan grievances, will retroactively recognize and thank the members of the departing Knowles advisory board for their extraordinary efforts and wide-ranging contributions to the national park system. Until then, members of this board depart with the gratitude of NPS employees, partners, and volunteers —and all who have benefited from the board’s endeavors—and with the deep appreciation and respect of many individuals who
have worked alongside them.

The once and future board

Perhaps it is helpful to take a step back from this confrontation and consider how the advisory board’s role has changed over time. Over the past two decades the board has evolved to assist the agency in ways not necessarily envisioned when NPS or the board itself were created. Not all incarnations of the advisory board have been unqualified successes; some have been more effective than others. Recent boards have become increasingly impactful, strategically helping to advance major NPS goals. But we have also learned that a progressive evolution of board engagement and responsibility is neither inexorable nor irreversible. While the board itself is established by statute, it is only fully animated and empowered by the vigorous engagement of DOI/NPS leadership. Given current circumstances, the advisory board’s immediate prospects are unfortunately not encouraging.

I believe, however, that the broad arc of history suggests that a fully engaged and respected board will be re-established at some point in the future. The board’s charge will likely continue to grow as well, commensurate with the increasingly complex needs of our national park system. When that time comes, the advisory board will regain its voice as an effective and articulate advocate for the NPS mission and for the role of the national park system as an essential civic institution of American democracy


Reimagining the History of the (Inter)National Park Service

By Guest Observer February 7, 2018
by Joana Arruda

Note: This piece originally appeared in the National Council on Public History’s blog History@Work. We thank NCPH for giving us permission to reproduce it here. 

On May 13, 1918, less than two years after the National Park Service (NPS) was established, U.S. Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane wrote to first National Park Service (NPS) director Stephen T. Mather regarding ways in which the new federal agency could interpret and expand its mission. Lane urged Mather: “You should keep informed of park movements and park progress, municipal, county, and State, both at home and abroad, for the purpose of adapting, wherever practicable, the world’s best thought to the needs of the national parks.”[1] Specifically, he suggested that Mather create ties with Canada’s park system (1911), “and assist in the solution of park problems of an international character.”[2]

The idea that international work shaped the NPS as early as 1918 may appear surprising because popular imaginings of the NPS traditionally center on the mystique of Western parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. The parks are often perceived as the stronghold of the uniformed figure of the knowledgeable, but fun, park ranger traversing the West’s expansive landscapes. These fascinations are best illustrated in Ken Burns’ documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (2009). “America’s best idea,” a phrase coined by writer Wallace Stegner, drives Burns’ portrayal of the parks. It focuses on the “invention” of the national park “idea” to preserve American natural landscapes, and later, in the 1930s, its cultural sites. However, Burns and even the agency itself have failed to engage as rigorously with the remainder of the agency’s twentieth-century history. This type of institutional amnesia makes it difficult for some narratives to make their way into the larger story. For example, where is the equal focus on cultural parks, which by the way, make up two-thirds of the NPS’s 400+ units? And more intriguingly, what about that bit about international engagement?

Historical and archaeological base map of the borders of Petra National Park, as assisted by the national Park Service Jordan in the 1960s.[5] Image credit: United States Agency for International Development


My research has examined the NPS’s engagement overseas, specifically when it founded the Division of International Affairs (DIA) in 1961.[3] In that time, NPS Director Conrad Wirth began to expand the agency in time for its fiftieth anniversary in 1966. Sweeping changes—and $1 billion in federal money over a decade—included buying new lands to build parks, building accessible roads, and revamping visitor centers and interpretation capabilities to make the agency bigger, better, and more equipped to host an unprecedented influx of park visitors in the postwar years. But this vision spilled over domestic borders, as the NPS sought to expand its work during Wirth’s Mission 66 initiative. The DIA was established to create an overseas support network regarding conservation issues and broadly about national parks, but it was also organized to provide technical assistance to nations seeking to build their own national parks.In one compelling case, scholars Lary Dilsaver and Terence Young briefly describe the first official DIA trip to Jordan in 1966 to the ancient site of Petra. Twelve NPS employees and their families relocated to Jordan, where they were tasked with rebuilding six historic sites and teaching Jordanian officials to manage this park system in the future. In 1968 the NPS “Team” developed an interpretive plan to meet this purpose.[4]

Ultimately, these projects were fueled by larger Cold War anxieties. Often funded by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, these technical assistance projects fit into larger American concerns about containing communism and other political pressures. The idea that national parks were used as nation-building at the height of the Cold War is a compelling story on its own, but even more importantly, it shows the NPS is not a neutral entity, nor its individual parks neutral spaces. Public historians should be aware of and interrogate the degree to which the NPS has shaped both American and international landscapes, both spatially and ideologically.

The NPS Office of International Affairs manages “Sister Park” relationships between parks in the U.S. and overseas. Here is an agreement between Denali National Park and Mongolia, 2017. Image credit: National Park Service.

In August 2016, the NPS celebrated its centennial. This time of reflection and future projections invited questions into the perceived simplicity of the NPS origin story and later history. I kept thinking about the success of the NPS as an “idea,” but as a former seasonal NPS employee, I began to see a lot of the issues that scholars raised in the 2014 Imperiled Promise report about the state of the agency. It identifies issues such as lack of support, low funding, and poor historical interpretation, just to name a few. Advises the report, “The more central history can be to the NPS’s missions and activities, the more relevant and responsive NPS can be to the needs of twenty-first century American society.”[6] “How things are normally done” won’t work for the challenges presented by this century.

The story of NPS’s international engagement serves as an important tool in reimagining the agency’s future. First, it propels us to think about how its mission has shaped and been shaped by global forces. If we can begin to understand how the NPS has contributed to American power structures domestically and internationally, contextualizing its history within our national narrative can push the NPS to do better history by embracing interpretations of how it has shaped park sites at home and abroad. Secondly, it can strengthen the decreased capacity of today’s renamed Office of International Affairs, as well as engage with global narratives at sites for better interpretation and audience engagement. Finally, rethinking NPS history complicates a simplistic, overtold narrative. If we re-examine a complicated past that challenges what we think we know, we can create something better for the future. Receiving Congressional support in these times is a feat in and of itself when the NPS is under attack on several fronts—lower funding levels, pushback against climate change policy in the NPS’s operating agenda, possible de-nomination of various national monuments, and visitor fee increases in parks, just to name a few.

The NPS is imperfect, but its work is worth doing, now more than ever. As concerned, invested, and engaged American residents and history professionals, let’s rethink how it can thrive and make a persuasive case for its importance.

Joana Arruda is a public historian whose research interests include twentieth century U.S., material culture, and the National Park Service. Most recently, she served as the International Exchange participant in Paris, France with the International Council of Monuments and Sites.

[1] Letter of Franklin K. Lane to Stephen T. Mather, May 13, 1918, in Lary M. Dilsaver, ed., America’s National Park System: the Critical Documents (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 51. Terence Young and Lary M. Dilsaver, “Collecting and Diffusing “the World’s Best Thought”: International Cooperation by the National Park Service,” The George Wright Forum 28 (2011): 271.

[2] Letter of Franklin K. Lane to Stephen T. Mather, May 13, 1918; in Dilsaver, ed., America’s National Park System, 51.

[3] Joana Arruda, “The National Park Service Division of International Affairs: The Case for International Perspectives, 1916 – 2016,” M.A. thesis, Temple University, 2016.

[4] Young and Dilsaver, “Collecting and Diffusing “the World’s Best Thought”: International Cooperation by the National Park Service,” 271.

[5] Master Plan for the Protection & Use of Petra National Park, (United States Agency for International Development, 1968): 7.

[6] Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Marla R. Miller, Gary B. Nash, and David Thelen, Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, (Bloomington: Organization of American Historians, 2014): 6.


Filling Mines with Fish: Rebranding the Mesabi Range as a Recreational Landscape

By Guest Observer August 30, 2017
by John Baeten

Post-mining landscapes often lie. What we see on the landscape today does not necessarily reflect the complex history in which that landscape was shaped. Instead, post-mining landscapes tell a story designed to convey a specific message to the public, often by heritage organizations or reclamation agencies.

In most post-mining landscapes, the story told by heritage organizations is often centered on either mining technology or architecture, seen in the focus on memorializing monuments representative of industrial capital. Consequently, the story that industrial heritage managers tell about post-mining landscapes often revolves around the interpretation of only a select few buildings and machines. However, these tangible manifestations make up only a small percentage of the post-mining landscape, while the overwhelming environmental impacts from mining are generally avoided.

Likewise, reclamation agencies wish to convey a story that speaks of environmental cleanup, told through the recontouring and revegetating of waste piles, and the removal of derelict buildings. These reclamation efforts obscure many visible signs of mining, while presenting a landscape to the public that has been seemingly re-naturalized. Yet, reclamation often functions like a band-aid on a tumor, as immediate physical hazards are prioritized for remediation while the more widespread contamination is often left unaddressed.

llo_overview copyIn Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, the post-mining landscape tells a story of state-driven heritage strategies and reclamation efforts aimed at rebranding the range as a recreational rather than deindustrialized landscape. Located in Northern Minnesota, and extending for nearly 100-miles, the Mesabi Range was North America’s most productive iron range.

From 1890 to today, more than 400 mines operated on the Mesabi Range removing over 3.8-billion tons of iron ore, the majority of which was extracted from highly efficient open-pit mining methods. Open-pit mining produces massive landscape transformations, evident in piles of mine waste along with deep surface chasms, impacts that persist long after a mine ceases production. During the late 1960s to 1970s, the Mesabi Range witnessed an increase in open-pit mine closure and abandonment, which accelerated the Range’s transformation from an active to a post-mining landscape, reflective of the economic, social, and environmental consequences of an industry based on a finite resource.

Beginning in the 1970s, state land managers and local communities began to grapple with how to reckon the landscape transformations that accompanied mine land closure and abandonment. Realizing that the Mesabi Range was entering a post-mining epoch, state personnel began to develop strategies to reimagine and rebrand the Mesabi as something more than a post-mining landscape, by promoting the Mesabi Range as a recreational destination cushioned with a rich and ongoing mining history.

Greenway Pit-Lake

Greenway Pit-Lake

This process included the reclamation of the post-mining landscape, consisting of the revegetation of mine waste piles, and the removal of derelict buildings. Steps were also taken to bolster the Range’s heritage tourism economy, through the installation of a rails-to-trails system, and the marketing of active mine-viewing areas to promote the ongoing efforts of the iron mining industry.

In rebranding the Mesabi Range as a recreational landscape, the Minnesota DNR also made use of the abundance of new surface waters. As open-pit mines were closed and abandoned, the pumps used to dewater them were shut off, creating a veritable landscape of water. Today, there are 250 more lakes in the Mesabi Range than existed in 1890. Called pit-lakes, these waterbodies are the result of open-pit mining and abandonment, and represent a hydrological contrast from the dereliction that often defines a post-mining landscape.

The Hawkins Pit-Lake

The Hawkins Pit-Lake

By the late 1970s, the Minnesota DNR began stocking these lakes with trout, hoping to lure Midwestern anglers to the region with this new renewable resource. Although this fish-stocking program has been met with much success, these pit-lakes are currently managed by the DNR as natural resources rather than historic mines, blurring their cultural significance. Yet, the stocking of trout into these abandoned mines has also functioned as an unintentional form of landscape conservation and an innovative approach to adaptive re-use. Today, visitors in the Mesabi Range can fish for trout in abandoned mines, as well as scuba dive in the former chasms of the Sparta and Gilbert mines, collectively known as Lake Ore-Be-Gone (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Garrsion Keillor’s Lake Wobegon). At Lake Ore-Be-Gone, scuba divers can explore a number of out of place artifacts, including a helicopter, a bus, a pirate skeleton, and a WWII era military plane – adding a layer of confusion for future archaeologists.

Negotiating post-mining landscapes, like the Mesabi Range, present challenges for communities, land managers, and heritage organizations. Although mining may have ceased, communities within these landscapes often persist, as do the environmental legacies of extraction. It is the responsibility of heritage managers to articulate to communities and to the broader public not just the features on the landscape that they have selectively memorialized, but also the abundance of environmental impacts that may have become obscured by either reclamation or heritage efforts. Doing so provides a more honest interpretation of the post-mining landscape and helps ensure that future generations won’t forget how these landscapes came to be, or what latent mysteries they might contain.

John Baeten holds a PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology from Michigan Technological University. He is interested in analyzing the historical decisions that have shaped our understanding of post-mining landscapes, and is especially keen on contextualizing contamination as meaningful cultural heritage.
Future Reading:

Baeten, John, Nancy Langston, and Don Lafereniere, “A geospatial approach to uncovering the hidden waste footprint of Lake Superior’s Mesabi Iron Range,” The Extractive Industries and Society, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Nov. 2016) 1031-1045.

Baeten, John, “Contested Landscapes of Displacement: Oliver Iron and the Hibbing Mining District,” forthcoming in Change Over Time: An International Journal of Conservation and the Built Environment (Fall, 2017).

Goin, Peter, and Elizabeth Raymond, Changing Mines in America (Santa Fe: The Center for American Places, 2003).

Langston, Nancy, Sustaining Lake Superior: An Extraordinary Lake in a Changing World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

Manuel, Jeff, Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015).

Svatos, Ray, “Fishing Minnesota’s Abandoned Iron Pits,” Minnesota Conservation Volunteer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (July-August, 1986) 14-18.


Schoodic Head: Where Forest meets the Sea

By Guest Observer July 26, 2017
  Lower West Bay Pond in Gouldsboro CREDIT: Ben Emory

Lower West Bay Pond in Gouldsboro
CREDIT: Ben Emory

*This article originally ran in the Summer 2017 issue of Northern Woodlands magazine and is reprinted here with the permission of Northern Woodlands. Many thanks to the author Ben Emory.

Eastern Maine is the last place on the East Coast where large tracts of forest still meet the sea. On a blue-sky October day at the height of foliage season, I went to explore one such tract – a critical 300-acre parcel that Frenchman Bay Conservancy was considering for purchase. On a landscape scale, conserving it would have been one more step in maintaining the connection between the fabled North Woods and the shores of the Atlantic. On a smaller scale, as a long, undeveloped stretch of Route 1, the property was important to preserve as a wildlife crossing. I stepped past the steel gate and started up the woods road that not long before had provided access for logging trucks and harvesting equipment. Then, I trudged northward past various harvest areas toward the uncut shore of Lower West Bay Pond, identified by the Maine Natural Areas Program as important inland waterfowl and wading-bird habitat and alewife run. Not a soul was around as I reached the sun-drenched shoreline and worked my way toward a lovely cove of shallow marsh, hardwoods along the edge ablaze in red and orange.

Many conservation projects in the Northeast are trying to conserve natural land linkages between critical ecosystems and habitats. The Schoodic to Schoodic project (S2S) seeks to preserve an ecological corridor running north from Acadia National Park’s famed Schoodic Point to the 15,000-acre Donnell Pond Unit of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands, which includes Schoodic Mountain. The vision of Schoodic to Schoodic includes conserving contiguous tracts of forest, associated wetlands, and non-contiguous parcels that can serve as “stepping stones” for mammals, birds, insects, and plant seeds to travel. Corridors can help species that range widely, can minimize the debilitating effects of genetic isolation, and can enhance survival in the face of environmental changes. Corridors with a north-south axis allowing poleward movement seem especially significant in species’ adaptation to a changing climate. The S2S corridor is doubly important, for it not only leads north toward higher latitudes but also provides a path southward toward the coast, which the ocean keeps cooler than the interior in summer. While benefiting flora and fauna, the S2S corridor offers many opportunities for the public to enjoy a wide variety of outdoor recreations.

Schoodic2Schoodic Map Conserved Areas in Green Map: Martie Crone/Bob DeForrest

Schoodic2Schoodic Map Conserved Areas in Green
Map: Martie Crone/Bob DeForrest

The conservation of this corridor began in the late 1920s when private landowners donated Schoodic Point and it was added to Acadia National Park. Today, Acadia’s Schoodic District comprises 3,500 acres and forms the end of the massive peninsula south of Route 1. The brutal Atlantic Ocean frequently crashes spectacularly against the great sloping rocks at the tip.

On the north end, the Donnell Pond Unit was acquired by the state beginning in 1988. Its natural character is reminiscent of the better-known Mount Desert Island a dozen miles southwest. Prominent glacier-sculpted hills with much exposed granite rise above remote woods and clear lakes.

Once these bookends were established, conservation partners – federal, state, municipal, and nonprofit – began working in close cooperation to conserve linking parcels with fee acquisitions and conservation easements, sometimes by purchase and sometimes by gift. As of late 2016, the total mainland acreage permanently protected between Acadia National Park and the Donnell Pond Unit, excluding them, is about 3,300 acres in fee ownership and 3,100 acres under conservation easements.

For years, there was an elephant in the room between Acadia and the Donnell Pond Unit – 3,200 privately owned acres abutting Acadia. Acadia National Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele called the parcel “a dagger to the heart of Acadia” because the property spans almost the entire width of the peninsula, and too much or poorly sited development there could seriously impair scenic vistas and the ecological integrity of S2S. Years of effort by many parties to protect the parcel led nowhere until 2011, when an anonymous philanthropist bought the property. The conservation-oriented investment firm Lyme Timber facilitated the transaction. The southern half, mostly rough land dominated by red spruce, white cedar, and jack pine and recovering from hard cutting 20 years ago, has been added to Acadia National Park, with old logging roads transformed for biking.

Decisions about the final disposition of the northern half – arguably the most important part ecologically because of its extensive freshwater wetlands – are ongoing. The anonymous owners have already given permission for the Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park to establish forest monitoring plots as part of a plan for such study sites from Schoodic Point to Schoodic Mountain. The Institute’s forest ecology program director, Dr. Nicholas Fisichelli, explained that, “This area has a strong climate gradient driven by the maritime influence and thus provides a tremendous opportunity to study forest dynamics and change across the local landscape.” This research follows work done by University of Maine forestry students on the Schoodic Point area’s significant jack pine stands.

The north-south endpoints of S2S are easy to determine, but the east-west span is open to interpretation. Included in the corridor vision are coastal islands flanking the peninsula, for birds, some mammals, and some plant species easily cross narrow stretches of water. A milestone success in this geography was The Nature Conservancy’s first Maine island purchase, 129-acre Turtle Island, home to a rookery for great blue herons. Subsequently, many more islands east and west of the Schoodic peninsula have been preserved. Turtle Island was bought in 1963 to prevent its being denuded for the St. Regis pulp mill on the lower Penobscot River in Bucksport. Taking wood from Maine islands was still economically viable, although subsequently the economics became prohibitive. Today, that mill and others nearby are gone. A biomass electric generation plant in Jonesboro has also closed, adding to the challenge of profitably managing even mainland working forestlands in the area. So far, markets continue to exist for sawlogs and, with additional trucking costs, lower quality wood at more distant mills. In the S2S corridor, there are private commercial timberlands, large and small – many well managed – which hopefully someday will be protected with working forest conservation easements.

Leaving the cove, I struggled across slash left in a clear cut to reach the property’s other side, which fronts on a large marsh, much of which is on abutting property under conservation easement. Not only was this parcel important to wildlife crossing Route 1, but, significantly, it would enlarge a block already conserved and one with promising conservation opportunities to the north linking to the Donnell Pond Unit. If ever a property exemplified the importance of strategic connector parcels in preserving a corridor, this was it. This parcel that Maine Coast Heritage Trust spotted as an opportunity, and on which the conservation fund helped negotiate, was purchased by Frenchman Bay Conservancy 18 months after my visit, fabulously exemplifying the effective partnerships powering S2S.

Ben Emory has worked in Maine and national land conservation professionally and as a volunteer for nearly half a century. In his free time, he enthusiastically engages in all that the Maine outdoors offers on land and sea.


Virtues of Good Government

By Guest Observer May 29, 2017
Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

Sign explaining historic preservation work, Fort Monroe National Monument. Photograph by Rolf Diamant

In this piece, originally published in the May 2017 issue of the George Wright Forum (vol 34, no 1), guest observer Rolf Diamant explores the significance of National Monuments to the National Park system. He calls attention to Fort Monroe National Monument, located in Hampton, Virginia, as an example of how National Monuments have played a key role in expanding the depth and breadth of the stories interpreted at park units.

Also highlighted in the article is the recently created Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County, South Carolina. President Obama’s decision to designate this site shortly before leaving office will likely be regarded as one of his most significant uses of the Antiquities Act, as the Monument interprets a period described by historian Greg Downs as “America’s first great experiment in bi-racial democracy.” Until the creation of the monument in 2016, no unit of park system focused primarily on Reconstruction.

In addition to his discussion of National Monuments, Diamant touches on current funding and management challenges facing the agency, including shrinking numbers of staff and decreased support for some newly designated units.

Thanks to the George Wright Society for permission to use this piece.


Looking for Detroit’s Urban Landscape: My Experience on the George Wright’s 2016 Park Break

By Guest Observer May 27, 2017
Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems Credit: Ariel Schnee

Geo-referenced map showing locations of The Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, Submerge Studios and United Sound Systems
Credit: Ariel Schnee

When I was growing up in the suburbs outside of Detroit in the early and mid-1990s, it was easy to forget that the city existed. Generally speaking, if you were white, you didn’t go downtown. Even on the odd occasion that you found yourself in the city, you didn’t hang around, and you definitely left before dark. Detroit is a place indelibly marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows of American history. Its crumbling buildings and forgotten factories are the tangible evidence of economic booms and busts, the rise and decline of American manufacturing, and the after-effects of WWII, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, racism and classism, as well as decades of local mismanagement and corruption.

In Detroit, hope and resilience, despair and neglect, are not only inscribed upon the landscape, they are often next-door neighbors. Over the years, I saw family and friends steadily abandon their homes around the city as their neighborhoods went “bad.” In the 1990s, and even now, Detroit was a hard place to love, and an even harder one in which to live. But Detroit is also so much more than the disaster porn the media likes to show, and the city has a weirdly magnetic attraction. Some insanely determined people do, in fact, live in Detroit, and they do incredible things there—Detroiters create art, perform and record cutting-edge music, and work at the very forefront of urban agriculture. The people who have managed to remain there literally make the city bloom around them. But regardless of their incredible accomplishments and tenacity, it is a sad truth that, since the advent of white flight from urban America in the 1960s, almost anyone who was able to go somewhere other than Detroit, did. The wealthier and whiter you were, the further you went, and you never looked back.

And that was why I was sitting at a desk in Colorado, and not one in Michigan, when the notice for the George Wright Society’s 2016 Park Break appeared in my email inbox. When I saw that the program was taking place in Detroit, I knew I had to seize the chance to go back, so I applied. Park Break is a week long program for graduate students to gain experience working on public lands, usually in National Parks. Park Breakers normally work on a defined project and are supported by the hosting park’s staff and resources.

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Documents Recovered from the Bluebird Inn
Courtesy: Lorin Brace

Despite the amount of NPS tax breaks and grant money invested in rehabilitation projects in Detroit, there was no national park we could rely on to help us in our work. As an NPS Urban Fellow, Dr. Goldstein was looking for a way to implement the NPS Urban agenda—an NPS program aimed at making parks more relevant and accessible to urban populations—in Detroit (for more information on the Urban Agenda, click here). Dr. Goldstein created the Park Break in order to lay the research basis for a full National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) district nomination that highlighted Detroit’s longstanding importance to musical history in America. The need to preserve these buildings is pressing. Detroit is currently experiencing a burst of revitalization centered on the downtown area. Nearby neighborhoods are redeveloping quickly, but often haphazardly, and in ways that threaten historic buildings and neighborhoods.

Without a park home base, we pieced together the project from the resources that were available in the community. We borrowed workspace at Wayne State University, research materials from the Burton Library’s Special Collections and the Detroit Historical Society, and expertise from local music authorities and the property owners themselves to try and reconstruct the history of four of Detroit’s most important musical heritage sites. In partnership with Wayne State University and the City of Detroit, Dr. David Goldstein identified the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems and Submerge Studios as candidates for an NRHP historic district.

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.   Courtesy:  Google Earth

Clockwise from top left. United Sound Systems, Submerge Records, Motown Studios, and the Bluebird Inn.
Courtesy: Google Earth

Each property represents a distinct element of Detroit’s musical heritage. The Bluebird Inn was a popular African-American nightclub and the birthplace of Bebop, a highly energetic and improvisational form of Jazz. Motown Records was home to Berry Gordy’s “Empire on West Grand Boulevard,” where musical legends like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Martha and the Vandellas made timeless Motown hits. Though it has changed hands several times, United Sound Systems remains to this day a professional recording studio, and famous musicians like John Lee Hooker and the Motor City 5 made music at United Sound Systems ranging from Blues to Punk Rock. Submerge Studios represents yet another musical genre born in Detroit—Techno. The building was once used as a union gathering place. Today, the historic building houses a Detroit techno music label, radio station, and recording studio.

The buildings themselves reflected the full range of conditions one might find in Detroit as a whole. The Bluebird Inn, for example, has sat vacant in a rough neighborhood for fifteen years. It lacks doors and a complete roof, and is in an advanced state of decay. United Sound Systems, while well-maintained, is currently under threat of eminent domain from a proposed highway expansion. Motown Records and Submerge Studios are not under threat, but should be recognized on the National Register due to their integrity and historic significance to Detroit’s musical heritage.

The buildings we examined were the survivors of a formerly broad and dense network of recording studios, radio stations, record stores, and talent agencies . African American musicians, recording artists, and entrepreneurs created economic opportunity in their own neighborhoods that the outside world often denied them. Banks refused to approve African Americans for commercial loans on the basis of their race. Even if African Americans had business capital through other means, racist city zoning practices, or “red lining,” made buying property outside of certain neighborhoods was nearly impossible. To start their businesses, Black Detroiters got creative, borrowing money from family and friends, and setting up fledgling recording studios in non-commercial spaces, like private residences. From their homes, Berry Gordy (founder of Motown), James Siracuse (the North African founder of United Sound Systems) and other African American entrepreneurs created, captured, and distributed a timeless sound that was assertively Black and distinctively Detroit.

Although not yet an official historic district, the spatial arrangement of the Bluebird Inn, Motown Records, United Sound Systems, and Submerge Records are physically grouped so closely to one another that regarding them holistically as a historic district was natural and intuitive. However, a lack of sources remains a barrier to any future NRHP nomination. Because businesses and studios changed hands frequently, many of the records necessary to prove the sites’ historic significance are now lost, and development now threatens their historic integrity. Under-funding of cultural institutions like the Detroit Public Library also means that while the library has retained its collections, much of the research infrastructure is under-developed. For example, the library still relies on a physical card catalog, which makes the research process slow and laborious by the digital age’s standards. Thanks to Wayne State University’s recent archaeological investigation of the Bluebird Inn, the building has yielded a forgotten cache of documents, including receipts, pay stubs, and other invaluable historic evidence. The collection now resides at Wayne State University and is the subject of an Archaeology Master’s thesis by Wayne State University student and 2016 Park Break participant, Lorin Brace .

Apart from the four sites we researched as part of Park Break, we do not know how many of the buildings where other African-American owned music businesses once operated still exist. Hundreds of African American-owned businesses in Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods were demolished to make way for the I-75 highway as part of an urban renewal project. Most of the former residents relocated to public housing, such as the Brewster projects, to the profound detriment of Detroit’s African-American community.

Over the course of that whirlwind week in Detroit with Park Break, I got to see the city as it enters a new phase, one that, shockingly enough, includes breweries, artisanal coffee shops, trendy restaurants, and high-end watches. While it was thrilling to see the city coming alive for the first time in my lifetime, Park Break was also an opportunity for my team and me to think seriously about who Detroit was coming alive for, who was being pushed out, and what was being lost in that process. Outside the small bubble of revitalization in downtown is where you find the people who are the most passionate about the long, hard, and often painful history of the places and of the city where they live and work. Helping to preserve these sites and the stories they represented during Park Break made me feel like I was doing a small part to preserve Detroit’s (pardon the pun) soul.

Ariel Schnee is a writer, researcher, and Public History Master’s Candidate at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. She can be reached online at, or by email at





Featured Voices – Interviews with Landscape Practitioners and Scholars

By Guest Observer February 28, 2017

Jackie M. M. Gonzales is an environmental historian. Her policy research is informed by several years working at non-profit environmental policy organizations in Albany, New York. Gonzales has also worked as an interpreter for the National Park Service at Cape Cod National Seashore, Chickamauaga and Chattanooga National Military Park, and Manzanar National Historic Site. Her dissertation project, Coastal Parks for a Metropolitan Nation, examined the postwar federal initiative to buy America’s beaches, with a focus on how communities across the country reacted to a federal plan to make their backyards public space. Gonzales currently works as a research historian with Historical Research Associates, Inc. in Seattle.

Credit: National Park Service

View of Cape Cod National Seashore in
Provincetown, Massachusetts, one of the landscapes examined by Jackie M.M. Gonzales in her dissertation.   Credit: National Park Service

LLO: Your dissertation, Coastal Parks for a Metropolitan Nation: How Postwar Politics and Urban Growth Shaped America’s Shores, examines the rapid growth of national park units (like Cape Cod and Point Reyes) in coastal locations after World War II. What big ideas or arguments do you tackle in your work?

Gonzales: Communities reacted differently to plans for a park in their backyard—some welcomed it, some fought it, and all worried about their private property rights—and those reactions shaped each park into distinctive management units. Because of this pull between local and federal policy, my argument is two-pronged: that the National Park Service (NPS) coastal conservation strategy ushered in a new era of cooperative park planning for the NPS, and that this new approach occurred because coastal community involvement and coalition-building shaped those plans in ways unprecedented in NPS history. This was one of the first examples of the NPS incorporating a myriad of local concerns into the park establishment process, and it only happened because those who owned summer homes at the seashore were often wealthy and politically connected (for example, Arthur Schlesinger owned a summer home on Cape Cod).

I also look at how the coalitions that formed out of movements to preserve coastal lands laid groundwork for the environmental movement. While that was just one of many conservation initiatives in the 1960s, it is one that was very much in the public eye, but that has been overlooked by historians. Including this coastal conservation initiative in the narrative of the early environmental movement strengthens the argument that environmental awareness arose in the urban outskirts in the postwar period (see Chris Sellers’s Crabgrass Crucible, in which he argues that the suburbs facilitated the growth of the environmental movement).

LLO: How did you become interested in the topic of coastal parks? What drew you to this aspect of environmental and U.S. history?

Gonzales: The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore drew me into this topic. I worked and lived in the Dunes one summer as an undergraduate, working on an energy efficiency grant. What struck me—what strikes most people about the Dunes, really—is that this beautiful and unique dunal ecosystem is surrounded by steel mills, coal-fired power plants, and other factories. I couldn’t square away why anyone would decide to create a park in a place so littered with heavy industry. When I found out that the mills were actually built at the same time as the park’s establishment, I was hooked on the story. Who, in the 1960s, in an era when conservation leaders waxed poetically about untouched wilderness, had the foresight to realize that industry and conservation often walked hand-in-hand, that one could not always exist without the other?

After the Indiana Dunes drew me in, I realized this was part of a much larger federal initiative to preserve coastal lands. In each case I checked, there were citizen organizations fighting for or against the park, shaping uniform federal blueprints in distinctively regional ways. What’s more, historians of the NPS have given this coastal initiative short-shrift in histories of the agency. I believed that this story illustrated a shift in how the NPS entered communities and created parks, and that these coastal parks therefore merited further study.

LLO:  In your dissertation you write that, often times, establishing a park was the easy part – actually buying land and/or figuring out how best to cooperatively manage a complex landscape over time proved more difficult. Can you give some examples of the challenges faced by park supporters, including the NPS?

Gonzales: Most of the major challenges had to do with land uses and private land ownership. At Point Reyes, provisions were included to allow some dairy ranching to continue in order to get the local community on board, but the NPS did not know how to manage a landscape with intensive agricultural operations within its boundaries. There, the NPS has stumbled time and time again (and still are today) with how to cooperative with the dairy ranchers on that peninsula (Laura Watt tackles these challenges in depth in her recent book, The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore).

At Cape Cod, some of the well-intentioned legislative compromises to buy back certain homes and return that area to open space fell through when the park lacked funds to follow through on the purchases. At parks like Cape Cod or Fire Island that are dotted with privately owned homes within the park’s outer boundaries (called “inholdings” by the NPS), the NPS relies on zoning laws to manage land. The NPS has learned the hard way that zoning laws only work if the towns are willing to enforce them and update them over time.

LLO: What are some of the success stories you came across in your research and what mistakes or missteps did the NPS and/or others make in the development of coastal parks?

Gonzales: The “Cape Cod Formula,” in which the National Park Service allowed citizens to remain in their homes in order to achieve conservation of surrounding lands, was fairly successful at Cape Cod, Indiana Dunes, Fire Island, and others in preventing future development of areas along certain coasts. However, that model also had drawbacks that the NPS has had to deal with over the last several decades. At Fire Island, for example, inholdings within the park are so extensive and have so much autonomy that land uses within those pockets can sometimes weaken park-wide conservation goals.

A major misstep that came to a head in the 1960s was the NPS effort to take lands from the U.S. Forest Service along the Oregon coast. NPS takeover of Forest Service lands had been common practice in the early 20th century, but the NPS underestimated the level of loyalty of Oregonians to the Forest Service amid a thriving logging industry. That area remains under Forest Service control.

LLO: In your view, how did the boom in coastal parks change conservation in the United States?

Gonzales: Coastal park establishment changed how the NPS made new units, and in so doing, altered the definition of national parks. Because citizens of coasts had the wealth and political clout to shape founding legislation for these parks, the NPS listened to and actually incorporated citizens’ wants and needs into founding legislation for these parks. The parks that came out of this coastal conservation push were piecemeal, segmented, and some even had formal mechanisms like Advisory Councils for communities to have a say in how the federal government managed land in their neighborhoods. This was a major shift towards cooperative management of federal conservation and recreation lands, which accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s as land purchases became increasingly cost-prohibitive. In addition, cooperative models for coastal parks empowered fledgling grassroots environmental organizations which then went on to push for additional conservation measures in following decades.

Previous Featured Voices

January 2017 – Allen Dieterich-Ward, urban and environmental historian and author of Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the State of Industrial America


More Than Campfire Conversation

By Guest Observer January 29, 2017
By Rolf Diamant

* this article originally appeared in the The George Wright Forum, vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 271–274 (2016)

In 1903, Theodore Roosevelt insisted on camping alone with John Muir while the president was on a tour of Yosemite. This encounter no doubt encouraged Roosevelt to support the eventual inclusion of Yosemite Valley into the larger Yosemite National Park. With the 2016 National Park Service (NPS) commemorations winding down, I took another look at the agency’s centennial webpage where there is a special feature with the biographies of “early national park visionary leaders.” Muir and Roosevelt are there, reunited once again and given top billing as the lead visionaries of the national park movement, along with Stephen Mather, the politically adroit and charismatic first NPS director.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.

“The Early Leaders,” from the National Park Service website.


They are all credited with “groundbreaking ideas preserving America’s treasures for future generations,” with Muir praised as “the father of national parks.”

Roosevelt was of course a great conservation-minded president and Muir was a brilliant publicist and a passionate and influential park and wilderness advocate. However, national parks had already been in existence for more than 30 years at the time of the camping trip, and the establishment of a National Park Service would not happen until 1916, 13 years later, when Roosevelt had long been out of office and John Muir was dead. What is most striking about this official web feature is not only who is being given all the credit but also who is being erased, in effect, from this high-profile NPS history lesson.

To begin with, there is no mention of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and his landmark Yosemite Report, or of his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who penned the compelling statement of purpose for the 1916 Organic Act. The elder Olmsted’s 1865 park plan for Yosemite Valley presciently called for the “establishment by government of great public grounds for the free enjoyment of the people”—a prescription for a future system of national parks. There is no mention of Congressman John Lacey, principal sponsor of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which has been referred to by historians as the first national park service “organic act.” And there is no mention of J. Horace McFarland, long-time leader of the American Civic Association, who was the driving force behind 16 bills introduced into Congress to establish a national park service. Neither is there any mention given to Mary Belle King Sherman, also known as “the national park lady,” who mobilized 3,000 clubs and nearly one million mem- bers of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs behind McFarland’s campaign. Looking years into the future, Sherman envisioned the contributions national parks would make to American civic life and education, asserting that they provide “the better, greater things of life” possessing “some of the characteristics of the museum, the library, the fine arts hall, and the public school.”

Part of this official adulation of John Muir, as “the father of national parks,” is, I suspect, in part due to his larger-than-life popularity with contemporary environmentalists and wilderness enthusiasts. The fabled Roosevelt–Muir encounter was also a story made for television. In 2009, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan obliged, devoting part of an episode of their documentary series on national parks to the Muir–Roosevelt camping trip in Yo- semite—further canonizing the two, in the public’s eye, as the main architects of “America’s best idea.” NPS has made little official effort in the centennial to present a more inclusive, scholarship-based narrative. This has been a recurring problem for the agency. For much of the 20th century NPS clung to a story, discredited by its own historians, that the national park idea was first suggested by explorer Cornelius Hedges seated around a campfire in the Yellowstone wilderness. A high-level NPS official once said, when scholars challenged the story, “If it didn’t happen we would have been well advised to invent it.”

In the case of the 2016 centennial web page, I am not questioning the very significant contributions Muir, Roosevelt, and Mather made to conservation and national parks, but the story being told is too neat and woefully incomplete. This was just what the Organization of American Historians’ report Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, issued in 2011, five years before the centennial, cautioned NPS to avoid: interpretation that is “less the product of training and expertise and more the expression of conven- tional wisdom.”

I think the inclusion of Olmsted (and, for that matter, his son, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.), Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman could have in fact strengthened the overarching themes of the 2016 centennial campaign in a number of helpful ways:

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

“The Early Leaders,” re-imagined by The George Wright Forum.

Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.—forcefully argued that the concept of protecting special places for the benefit of all people, not only privileged groups, has always been an idea worth fighting for. His example suggests that meaningful change arises from an engaged citizenry and the duty of government, based on principles of “equity and benevolence.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.—called for an agency with the highest ethical and profes- sional standards and understood and consistently promoted the advantages of a strong and unified system of national parks.

Congressman John Lacey—made profound contributions to American conservation and reminds us all that NPS cares for places with multiple values and layers of meaning. In our current era of scaled-up landscape conservation, there are lessons to be learned from the way Lacey brought natural, scientific, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and eth- nographic interests together in a big conservation tent.

J. Horace McFarland—repeatedly emphasized that public lands are the heritage of all Americans and are essential to the health and well-being of our democracy; or, as he said, “a plain necessity for good citizenship.”

Mary Belle King Sherman—clearly saw how central to continuous life-long learning national parks could be, and how education and civic engagement have always been a fundamental purpose of public land stewardship.

A 2016 election postscript
The results of the recent election mean there will likely be hard times ahead for America’s national park system. Park supporters everywhere will have to resist the temptation to retreat into a defensive posture solely focused on protecting park resources and budgets while putting aside or perhaps abandoning our highest aspirations for the future of the national park system. Though many difficult and painful battles over resources and budgets may lie ahead, there are higher purposes for the system also at stake—a broad vision that had its roots with people like the Olmsteds, Lacey, McFarland, and Sherman. It is a vision that has been refined and expanded by several incarnations of the National Park System Advisory Board since the 2001 John Hope Franklin report, by the careful work of the 2009 National Park Second Century Commission, and by the 2016 NPS/National Park Foundation centennial campaign that is now concluding. This is a vision of a national park system that is inclusive and committed to engaging diverse constituencies in cooperative stewardship and life-long, real-world learning. It is a vision that always embraces the best current science and scholarship. It is a vision that values national parks and programs for their many contributions to climate resiliency, to ecosystem services, and to the public health and well-being of the nation.
It is a vision we have to hold on to.


Thirtieth Anniversary of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area

By Guest Observer November 1, 2016
Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Crown Point, Columbia River Gorge
Photo: Satish, J Creative Commons

Political compromise is unappreciated in our culture of late. It should not be so. Sometimes compromise works. Last July I returned once again to the Columbia River Gorge to visit dear friends and relish the beauty of a treasured landscape. Coming back to an old home—I served as Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999—put me in a reflective mood.

The Columbia Gorge has long been recognized as one of America’s majestic landscapes. It stretches for some eighty miles from just east of Portland Oregon through the Cascade Mountains to the open hills beyond The Dalles Oregon. From temperate rainforest and waterfalls in the west to grasslands in the east, the Gorge is diverse in many things–scenery, topography, climate, botany, cultural heritage and recreation.

Discussions of how to conserve the majesty of the Gorge landscape date back to at least the 1930s. Efforts to do something were almost cyclical for decades. But the Gorge is complicated. It encompasses parts of two states and six counties; is part publicly owned land, but mostly private; includes areas covered by treaty rights of four American Indian nations; holds key communities like Hood River, The Dalles, White Salmon, Cascade Locks and Stevenson; and supports major transportation routes and hydroelectric dams.

By the 1980s concern over development pressures and inadequate land use controls created a turning point. Thirty years ago, on November 17 1986, President Reagan signed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act into law. The Act is a marvel of compromise, worked out through what may appear unfathomable bi-partisan collaboration among the two states’ congressional delegations and Governors. Creative solutions are written throughout the law. It combines public land acquisition in roughly a third of the Gorge with land use controls in the remainder. Growth boundaries are set for thirteen towns and cities but the areas within them are exempted from the Scenic Area Act’s regulations. An intersecting management structure involving the US Forest Service, a bi-state commission and local governments is set up to administer the Scenic Area. Financial incentives for early local implementation are written in.

Overlooking the Columbia River Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

Overlooking the Columbia River
Photo: Sarah McDevitt Creative Commons

The creativity of the Act does not mean it wasn’t controversial. For a decade or more, some wanting a national park were sorely disappointed. Some counties and landowners bitterly resented the management plan and land use controls imposed under the Act. Thirty years later I am struck by this: if the Scenic Area Act is judged by whether its broadest purposes have been achieved, it can only be regarded as a tremendous success. Driving through the Gorge I scanned the landscape looking for changes. The stunning scenery of the heavily forested western half is virtually the same. The sweeping walls and hills of the more open and sensitive east are equally unaltered.

This is what the Gorge Act sought to accomplish. In face of Portland metro’s explosive growth—from 1.5 million people in 1990 to 2.35 million in 2015—it is a stunning achievement. The Scenic Area abuts the metro area. It is not hard to envision the changes that would have occurred in an unprotected landscape over the past thirty years. At the same time, the Gorge landscape is not set in stone. Most dramatic to me is the evolution of some of the small mid-Gorge towns in Washington formerly dependent upon the lumber economy. By the 1990s recreation had stimulated economic activity in Hood River Oregon, but across the Columbia the small city of White Salmon (population 2,000), where I lived, lagged behind. Walking around town in 2016 is clearly different. A local brew pub, people at restaurant sidewalk tables, a lively new bakery –all driven by a locally-based tech company now employing hundreds, plus the people attracted to the region’s vast recreational resources.

There is another side to this. Median housing costs in White Salmon have more than doubled since 2000. Teachers report new school hires are unable to afford homes in town. The mid-Gorge’s farm workers likely also struggle with housing costs. Recreation demand is also higher. Trailhead parking lots throughout the Gorge fill quickly. A researcher reported the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River has a higher use by rafters and kayakers than any river he has studied nationwide.

The Scenic Area Act sought to support economic growth in the thirteen small urban areas that conserves the Gorge landscape and enhances recreation. After decades it is remarkable to see this playing out. Still, it brings new challenges to managers and communities: a smaller version of affordable housing issues faced in larger cities; how to manage the huge numbers of people from Portland and around the world visiting iconic sites like Multnomah Falls and Dog Mountain.

Addressing such challenges, collaborating with local, state and federal agencies and tribal governments, being responsive, monitoring how the Gorge is doing, adjusting conservation measures and economic strategies – these things take staff and resources. Unfortunately, the Columbia River Gorge Commission, the tiny bi-state agency charged with stewardship of the Scenic Area, is as constrained in resources as ever. Despite three decades of success in protecting the Gorge, the Commission today can only afford six staff to run a nationally important planning and regulatory agency. Adjusted for inflation today’s budget is less than that of the mid-1990s. This amounts to just seven cents annually for each of the two states’ residents. Not enough to ensure the success of the Scenic Area for the next thirty years.

The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act stems from a period of great innovation in approaches for conserving large landscapes. Like the Pinelands National Reserve in New Jersey, it falls within the “green-line park” movement of the 1970s and 80s. The effectiveness of these landscape-scale conservation experiments is evident today. We need to glance back thirty years and recognize how a forward-looking accord was forged by people working across state lines, parties, and barriers between state and federal government. They knew the Columbia River Gorge was a nationally significant landscape, vital to the heritage of the Northwest and the nation. They knew it was threatened. And they looked to the future and did something about it. Three decades later the wisdom of their actions is clear for anyone to see. To view the success of compromise, just take an eighty-mile drive through the Gorge. We should all take inspiration from it.


Jonathan L. Doherty was Executive Director of the Columbia River Gorge Commission from 1992 to 1999. He now works on landscape conservation matters in the Chesapeake Bay region.





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 

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




Rappahannock Retracing their Past.

By Guest Observer August 29, 2016
By Joe McCauley

Historic marker Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Historic marker
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

In 1940, Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again, a novel about finding one’s identity in the modern world.  In popular American speech, the phrase has come to mean it is impossible to relive the optimistic expectations of youth once you have experienced the world as an adult.  Perhaps so, but through the Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative, the Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service intend to turn that concept around for the American Indian tribes of the Chesapeake region, and demonstrate that in some respects, you can go home again.

The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes initiative (or ICL in short) is an attempt to identify and map geographic areas where Chesapeake tribes once lived, where they worked the land, fished and hunted, gathered materials for pottery, weaponry and utensils, and where they fought for survival against the English incursion.  ICLs are defined as trail-related resources for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in its Comprehensive Management Plan. From the Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy perspective, identifying and mapping these places help us achieve one of the Trail’s three goals, that being to “to share knowledge about the American Indian societies and cultures of the 17th century.”  Equally important, this initiative provides an opportunity for Chesapeake American Indian tribes to, in a sense, go home again.  This collaboration among the tribes, the Conservancy, and the Park Service is also critical to achieving another of the goals of the Captain Smith Chesapeake Trail: “to interpret the natural history of the Bay (both historic and contemporary).”

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Chief Anne Richardson and the Author
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

The ICL concepts and opportunities came together beautifully on a warm, blustery April day when six members of the Rappahannock Tribe, including Chief Anne Richardson, visited several sites along the Rappahannock River and two tidal tributaries.  Tribal members were joined by archeologists from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, along with staff from the National Park Service and Chesapeake Conservancy.  Stops included Sabine Hall, which may have been the site of the Rappahannock town of Toppahanock; Cobham Farm, where the Rappahannock dug clay for pottery even into the 1960s; and Totuskey Creek, which formed one boundary of the land grant to Moore Fauntleroy that resulted in one of many moves the Rappahannock were forced to make by the English.

The day was filled with excitement and discovery.  Most tribal members had never before visited these sites with the exception of Cobham Farm, where Chief Anne remembered digging clay for pottery when she was a teenager.  Vestiges of the Packett family campground that once thrived there along the Rappahannock River still remain and brought back memories from decades past.  At Menokin, the ancestral home of Francis Lightfoot Lee, the group toured the visitor center where artifacts from the original 18th century building are on display.  Of particular note for the Rappahannock was an engraved “X” in a mantelpiece that resembled one they had seen on a 17th century treaty.  Was it the same mark used as a signature by the tribal leader who signed the treaty?

This is just one of many questions that surfaced throughout the day, and during another similar visit in early May.  In fact, there are now more questions in search of answers than before the ICL Rappahannock initiative was begun.  Does an Essex County farm hold remnants of palisade walls erected by the Rappahannock?  If so, it would be the first such palisade documented along the river.  Where are the exact locations of the many Indian towns mapped by Captain John Smith along the Rappahannock River?  To date, none have been accurately mapped or documented.

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh Courtesy: St. Mary's College of Maryland

Fones Cliff Beverly Marsh
Courtesy: St. Mary’s College of Maryland

During the second of the two trips, the group visited Beverly Marsh, a special place whose history is unquestioned.  On August 18, 1608, as Smith’s shallop approached the narrowest part of the river at what is now called Fones Cliff, Rappahannock bowmen let loose a volley of arrows directed toward the English.  Smith had erected shields along the gunwales of his boat, so the arrows did no harm.  The event is exquisitely captured in Smith’s writings and there is little doubt as to the location, with the high white cliffs being a prominent feature in the story.  What remains in doubt is the future of this ecological and historic treasure as Richmond County has approved two development proposals that would place hundreds of homes and townhouses atop Fones Cliff.  While Beverly Marsh is permanently protected through the generosity of the Wellford family, Fones Cliff is highly threatened.

From Smith’s journals and maps, it is believed that at least one, and perhaps more, Rappahannock towns existed on the Fones Cliff properties, but no archeological work as been performed.  As Chief Anne noted during the May visit to Beverly Marsh, ” I was amazed to find the places we frequented on the South side of the River were directly across from historic towns on the North side of the River.”  But exactly where those towns were remains unknown.

The entire Fones Cliff ecosystem is within the boundary of the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge and efforts are ongoing to bring the properties into public ownership, or at a minimum, protect them via conservation easements.  If they were to come into public ownership, it would provide opportunities for tribal members, young and old, to visit their ancestral lands.  It would provide equal opportunities for visitors from around the Nation and the world to experience what it must have been like to be there in 1608, since the landscape is remarkably intact with few intrusions of 21st century habitation.

Documentation is key to the ICL project and any similar archeological endeavor.  Investigators, in this case from St. Mary’s College, NPS, and the Rappahannock tribe, are attempting to piece together what is known from historic records with oral history to get as close to the “truth” as possible.  The St. Mary’s team is using geographic information systems to map the best corn growing soils, high-resource marshes, fresh water sources, and routes of travel among other key ingredients for pre-17th century survival. Those layers are augmented by reports of known archeological sites maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. What sets the ICL initiative apart is the added layer provided by the Rappahannock themselves, adding their oral and written history to the mix, which will provide the most comprehensive mapping project of its kind for indigenous occupation along the river.

When completed, the Rappahannock ICL report will have multiple uses.  Areas mapped as having a high probability of being sites of occupation and utilization by the Rappahannock Tribe can provide another layer of information for those who wish to conserve their lands.  Adding this information to known priority areas for fish and wildlife for example, will help focus efforts to work with willing landowners who are interested in both habitat and cultural resource conservation.  Participation in the endeavor is encouraging the tribe in ongoing efforts to revisit their cultural heritage and relearn the traditional skills involved.

The ICL work will also help identify those sites that warrant further investigation by archeologists on public land, and with landowner concurrence, on private lands as well.  There is great public interest in the pre-17th century indigenous use and habitation of the Chesapeake Bay region, as evidenced by well-attended public lectures on the subject.  Public land managers have a duty to understand where important cultural resources exist on lands they manage, so they can both protect these sites and interpret them for the visiting public.  Private landowners too have shown great interest in knowing where on their property these sites exist, so they can avoid accidentally damaging resources that are vital to our understanding of the earliest days of what would become the United States of America.

And then there are the Rappahannock themselves, without whom the ICL project would be just another academic exercise.  Tribal members’ recollections, research, and willingness to become fully engaged in the process are what set the ICL initiative apart from more traditional archeological endeavors.  Where this path will ultimately lead, only time will tell.  But for now it offers hope for the Rappahannock and other Chesapeake tribes that you can go home again.

Joe McCauley retired in 2015 after 32 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and now serves as the Chesapeake Fellow for the Chesapeake Conservancy (, Joe can be reached at


Bridging the Nature/Culture Divide with Ecological Restoration

By Guest Observer July 28, 2016
By Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago, Canada
Courtesy: Jon Weller

Lately, many members of the conservation community have been asking the question of how we resolve the dissonance in our thinking between the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. One area where this question is being dealt with in an engaging way is within the field of ecological restoration. What the dialogue happening within this field demonstrates is that far from being antagonistic towards each other, as it is often portrayed, the goals of conserving ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ can be intricately intertwined and mutually reinforcing.

Restoration ecology is a practice that has traditionally sought to return disturbed natural environments to what they were before a point of human disturbance. But, this is increasingly recognized as an unlikely goal. On the one hand there is a growing awareness that there has never been an original point of pre-human contact to return to, and secondly, in a world where anthropogenic change is pushing flora and fauna far beyond their historical range it is “futile to try to restore past conditions.”1 Therefore, contemporary restoration ecologists do not aim to ‘recreate’ the past, so much as to reestablish the historical trajectory of an impaired ecosystem in order for it to continue its evolution.

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago  Courtesy: Jon Weller

Galiano Island in the Gulf Islands Archipelago
Courtesy: Jon Weller

More than a changing understanding of the role of history, however, the field has also broadened its mandate beyond the natural world. What is being called ‘comprehensive ecological restoration’ is an approach to intervening in ecological systems that takes as its goal the recovery of the entire socio-ecological system. A comprehensive approach recognizes that, if successful, its efforts contribute to the overall well-being of the ecosystem and the societies that rely on them by renewing economic opportunities, rejuvenating traditional cultural practices, and enhancing ecological and social resilience to environmental change.2 Emphasizing this broader picture pushes ecological restoration into the realm of what alternative fields understand as cultural landscape management. Furthermore, a broader mandate injects an important element of transparency, engagement, and communication with citizens and stakeholders to determine the goals and objectives of interventions.

Off the west coast of Canada, on a small island in the Gulf Islands archipelago, The Galiano Conservancy Association offers an exciting model of how traditional nature conservation, can, and is, being transformed by these dialogues and practices. Formed in 1989 with a mission “[t]o preserve, protect and enhance the quality of the human and natural environment” on Galiano Island, the Galiano Conservancy Association was one of BC’s first community-based land trusts.3

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano IslandPrtotected Areas Network
Courtsey: Jon Weller

Originally organized as an “instrument for community-based acquisition, management and conservation of land and habitat,” the Conservancy has successfully protected important ecological communities through direct land purchase and cooperative partnerships. It conducts work such as extensive long-term biological monitoring; but it has also grown to take on a broader range of activities than traditional conservation organizations that focus on the preservation of relatively intact ecosystems. This work includes the stewardship and restoration of ecosystems, (much of the island’s land was degraded through intensive logging operations) as well as efforts to educate the public and raise awareness of sustainable human relationships with the natural world. Instead of simply seeing their sites as degraded ecosystems, the Conservancy has embraced the history of human habitation (and degradation), not by preserving it in the sense of a cultural landscape, but rather by documenting it, allowing it to remain, incorporating it into educational programming, and refashioning it in contemporary ways such as establishing food forests on earlier agricultural land.

Galiano Island Courtsey: Jon Weller

Galiano Island
Courtsey: Jon Weller

The management of a multi-use landscapes is most certainly a complex and complicated process, but because of the kind of activities that are available it is possible, in the words of Conservancy Board Member Lorne Wilkinson, to “begin to create a model of how we might bring together natural systems and human systems in ways that are mutually reinforcing” and serves also to educate “people in their relationship to the natural world.”4 More than simply a protected natural or cultural landscape, the Conservancy’s properties are an ongoing example of how the restoration and conservation of natural and cultural systems can be integrated in a sustainable way. Such a model for community-led restoration of ecological systems, where the cultural connections to the land are deeply connected to all of the activities, offers a compelling case for reconciling the division between nature and culture.

1) Luis Balaguer, Adrián Escudero, José F. Martín-Duque, Ignacio Mola, and James Aronson, “The historical reference in restoration ecology: Re-defining a cornerstone concept,” Biological Conservation 176 (2014): 13.

2) Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group, The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration, Society for Ecological Restoration International (Tucson, AZ, 2004)

3) Galiano Conservancy Association, “Our Mission.” (accessed 18 June 2015)

4) Deborah Curran, Resource Guide to Collaborative Conservation Planning (Galiano, BC: Galiano Conservancy Association, 2013), 8.

Jon Weller is a researcher and heritage advocate from the University of Victoria where he studies alternative approaches for culture-based land and resource management. This article was first presented as a paper at the University of Massachusetts’ 2016 conference ‘Nature/Culture: Heritage in Context’ in Prague


Introducing the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN)

By Guest Observer May 22, 2016
Yellowstone to Yukon a transboundary conservation initiative Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Yellowstone to Yukon a transboundary conservation initiative
Credit: Wayne Sawchuck

Private land conservation has been used as a land protection tool for centuries. Working within local and national political and legal frameworks, private and civic organizations have been protecting and stewarding private forestland, farmland, natural habitats, and historic/cultural sites around the world. Less well known than public protected areas, such as national parks and preserves, privately protected areas are gaining attention and momentum as a critical tool for modern day conservation.

In the last several years, conservationists in the US and around the world have started to quantify and assess international private land conservation efforts. Publications by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the European Commission highlight the broad scope of this movement, as well as opportunities to strengthen efforts through collaboration, legal reform, and capacity building. The IUCN report goes as far as to say that “privately protected areas deserve far greater recognition and support” than they have previously received, and that such recognition and support “will help bring the private conservation movement fully into the mainstream of global conservation practice.” It is also becoming increasingly clear that if nations are to meet international biodiversity, conservation, and preservation goals, privately protected land will have to be part of the equation.

The need and the recognition of a growing movement inspired the founding of the International Land Conservation Network (ILCN), which is working to connect organizations and people across a broad spectrum of action relating to private and civic land conservation. The ILCN envisions a world in which the public, private, civic (NGO), and academic sectors, together with indigenous communities around the globe, work collaboratively to protect and steward land that is essential for wildlife habitat, clean and abundant water, treasured human historical and cultural amenities, and sustainable food, fiber, and energy production.

The ILCN formally launched at its First Congress in Berlin, Germany in October 2015. Attended by 90 participants from 27 counties, the Congress catalyzed and reinvigorated national efforts and international exchanges around the world. Attendees from such disparate locations as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile and Myanmar have continued to build relationships and learn from one another since the Congress. Overwhelmingly, participants called for a forum through which to share best practices, model documents, technology, case studies, and professional development/career training opportunities across the globe to address shared challenges and empower organizations.

The ILCN is working to implement these suggestions, beginning with an e-newsletter and a census of organizations working on private land conservation around the world. This is the first comprehensive effort to determine a baseline of organizations, and, already, over 1,600 organizations in more than 100 countries have been identified. As interest in, and support for, this movement grows, there is an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen this global community of practice and accelerate efforts worldwide.

Emily Myron
Program Manager, International Land Conservation Network
Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

If you are affiliated with an organization that engages in private land conservation or stewardship, we invite you to please take our brief survey: We look forward to learning about your important work.


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.