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Featured Voice Interview: Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship

By Eleanor Mahoney November 9, 2020

This month, we had the privilege to interview Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship. Ta has a rural entrepreneurship background and 20 years of experience in journalism and public communications in Alaska and Pennsylvania. As Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, she has scaled the nonprofit and built a team that is developing models for asset-based rural development that are recognized nationally.

Ta Enos, Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepeneurship

Prior to founding the nonprofit in 2013, Ta served as the PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman for five years, working with entrepreneurs across the 13-county PA Wilds region. She says that when she saw the difference the PA Wilds work was making in the region’s rural communities, it inspired her to go way outside her comfort zone and found the Center to help advance and sustain the movement.

Before returning to her home state of Pennsylvania, Ta spent 10 years as a news reporter and editor in Alaska, writing for the Anchorage Daily News, Anchorage Press, Dutch Harbor Fisherman, Bristol Bay Times and other publications.

A fourth-generation resident region, Ta lives in the northwest corner of the PA Wilds with her husband and three young boys. She is working on a memoir about her experience moving back to her rural region and helping lead what has been called “one of the greatest, rural natural resource based economic development programs in America.” TA holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

LLO: What is the Pennsylvania Wilds? Can you describe the physical landscape and the organizing concept / idea to those outside the region?

TE: The Pennsylvania Wilds is one of the Commonwealth’s 11 designated tourism regions. The region is the size of Massachusetts, economically-distressed and home to the greatest concentration of public lands in the Commonwealth. We have two National Wild & Scenic Rivers, the largest wild elk herd in the northeast and some of the darkest night skies in the country. It is also one of Pennsylvania’s eight Conservation Landscapes because of its unique natural assets. The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) established its Conservation Landscapes Program in 2004 to further place-based and landscape-scale initiatives that embrace partner collaboration and entrepreneurial thinking (learn more about PA’s Conservation Landscapes in this recent report).

For more than 15 years, public- and private-sector partners in our most rural part of the state have made coordinated investments to establish the 13-county PA Wilds region as an outdoor recreation destination to help diversify rural economies, create jobs, improve quality of life and inspire stewardship. These include investments in small business development, branding and marketing, community character and natural resources stewardship, regional planning, and recreation infrastructure.

Through increased visitation and thoughtful investments in rural communities, the PA Wilds strategy is helping the region recover from decades of divestment and population decline by building rooted local wealth through entrepreneurship while celebrating and bolstering a stewardship ethic. These investments in turn make our rural communities – and the major employers in them – more competitive.

As the coordinating nonprofit for the PA Wilds Conservation Landscape effort, the PA Wilds Center, a 501(c)(3), works closely with DCNR, the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and other public and private-sector partners at the local, state and federal level. The Center is also the administrative home to a ground-breaking Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement (ICA), the largest geographically of its kind in PA, which brings together the region’s 13 county governments and other partners around the PA Wilds strategy through a group called the PA Wilds Planning Team. The Center’s Board of Directors is a mix of public- and private-sector leaders across a range of disciplines.

LLO: Where did the inspiration for this effort come from?

TE: I guess you can say the PA Wilds started the way a lot of opportunities do, with a challenge. Thanks to many years of conservation and wildlife management efforts, our region’s wild elk herd was rebounding. Word was getting out and visitors were flocking to see these majestic animals. But this was all happening in a super rural area that didn’t have the infrastructure to support the kind of visitation it was getting. So a Republican governor commissioned a study, and when his successor, a Democrat, took office, he took that report and visited the region and was really blown away by the elk and also by the region’s vast public lands and charming small towns.

With enthusiastic support from his Secretaries at DCNR and DCED at the time, a larger vision including the idea to brand the region as the PA Wilds was born. So the strategy itself was born at the top, but it never would have survived had it not resonated with locals in a real way, and had the state not championed local ownership from the start. Both happened. Today, several administrations later, the work is locally-driven, supported on both sides of the aisle, with strong involvement from our state partners around shared goals. As someone who grew up here, I can say it is a hugely positive effort.

LLO: Economic development and conservation interests can often be at odds with one another – what does collaboration look like in the Pennsylvania Wilds and how have you been so successful?

TE: Yes, economic development and conservation interests are often at odds. But in our landscape, marrying these two concepts is a no-brainer. Our natural assets are bringing new visitors, wealth, jobs, even residents to our rural communities, they are making our major employers more competitive, so it only makes sense to be great stewards of these assets. A lot of people here get that, and I think that’s a big part of why this work has been successful. I think another reason is because this landscape level approach acknowledges that to better steward public lands you have to care about the communities around those lands. I give PA DCNR huge kudos for walking the walk on this. They invest in our communities and in this work in tremendous ways, year after year, through dedicated staff support for the work in the conservation landscape, grant support from its Community Conservation and Partnership Program and by managing so many of the region’s star assets located in the 29 state parks and 8 state forests across the landscape.

The other thing that has been critical to our success is that this work, from the beginning, has attracted innovative thinkers from a variety of fields and industries in our region and state who want to help advance it. I have a great Board and a staff that blows me away daily with their work ethic, creativity and spirit. And then we are surrounded by and interacting with all these amazing rural entrepreneurs and conservation people, who are just completely inspiring in their own ways. As far as what does the collaboration look like, I’d say it looks genuine and authentic. Mostly fun and full of passion, sometimes rocky, always interesting. Just real. For me, when marrying conservation and economic development, it often starts by looking at a specific economic challenge and trying to help solve that in a real way on the ground with the help of these innovative thinkers around me. And then taking that solution and asking, how do we make this solution work harder for stewardship and/or conservation? We look a lot at how to make the market work for a particular solution, and how to make technology work for it.

LLO: How do you work across such a large landscape? Any advice to offer other efforts that have a similarly large geographic scale?

TA: On the program side, technology is a big help to allow us to serve the region. Even before COVID, because of our size, we were building systems that allowed people to plug in and benefit from the brand and our programs from many different locations.

The real challenge to our geography is in developing and maintaining partnerships. So much magic can come from bringing different kinds of partners together around a strategy or project. But building deep relationships takes real resources. Positions at partner organizations and political offices are constantly changing. Amplify that across a place the size of Massachusetts and it gets tough for a small staff. Building trust is critical. We have to be realistic and mindful about what partnerships we are trying to grow or reconnect with in a given year.

For example, we had a lot of county commissioners change over in the last few years, so we are going to try to do Zoom calls with all 13 sets of commissioners to put faces to names, talk projects and economic impact in their areas, and answer questions. I have found that meeting in person at least once a year is important. Having a core stakeholder network to help make in-person touches or to call on for insights around specific projects or situations is critical. Having staff based in different counties matters.

We also strive for geographic diversity on our board. We have one major event a year (an annual awards dinner) that brings scores of our stakeholders together, and that is helpful. We also publish several e-newsletters, social media communications, an annual report, etc. And handwritten thank you cards, they matter.

LLO: Can you highlight a program or initiative that might be interest to our readers?

TA: is our regional visitor site that helps excite and orient people to our 2M+ acres of public lands and charming communities, as well as our region’s conservation legacy.

The Wilds Cooperative of PA is our network of makers, outfitters, shops, lodges and other businesses and nonprofits that are rooted in our communities and are helping us grow the PA Wilds as a destination and lifestyle brand.

PA Wilds Conservation Shops are our stores that focus on selling regionally-made products from the Wilds Cooperative rural value chain at high foot traffic sites like flagship destinations managed by DCNR and other partners. Whether at a brick-and-mortar shop or online, shoppers support regional businesses and the PA Wilds Center’s mission through purchases and they can also take part in a charity checkout campaign for conservation. This is possible through a new and unprecedented public-private partnership that we have with DCNR.

The PA Wilds Design Guide for Community Character Stewardship is a great free resource the PA Wilds Planning Team developed to help property owners, developers, municipal officials and others build to fit the landscape. This tool can easily be adapted for different areas to help preserve the unique and authentic qualities of any community or place.


Forum on Public Lands in Utah and the United States West

By Eleanor Mahoney August 4, 2020

This forum brought together eight scholars who recently contributed to a special issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly. Each presenter offered brief (5 -7 minute) comments on the topics outlined below, followed by a general discussion on public lands history.

The conversation ranged from the early creation of National Parks and National Forests to contemporary conflicts over the role of government in the rural West. Speakers considered how the meaning, use, and management of public lands has changed over time and jointly reflected on what the future might hold.

Speakers (in order of presentation):

Jedidiah S. Rogers, editor Utah Historical Quarterly, introduction and overview of special issue

Leisl Carr Childers, Assistant Professor of History at Colorado State University, “Understanding Cliven Bundy: Using Narrative, Geographic, and Visual Empathy in Public Lands History”

James R. Skillen, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Calvin University, “Public Lands Rebellion” 

Elizabeth Hora, Public Archaeologist for the Utah Division of State History, “Utah Lake Rock Imagery: An Intersection of Public Lands, Recreational Shooting, and Cultural Resources”

Eleanor Mahoney, NPS Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow, “From Skepticism to Support: National Heritage Areas in the West”

Thomas G. Alexander, Professor Emeritus of Western American History at Brigham Young University, “After a Century: National Forest Management in the Intermountain Region in the 21st Century”

Benjamin Kiser, Teacher of Early American History at Wayne Carle Middle School, “Bucking the White Elephant: Utah’s Fight for Federal Management of the Public Domain, 1923 – 1934”

Laura Alice Watt, Professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Planning at Sonoma State University, “The Return of Uncertainty: Public Lands in an Unpredictable World”

Forum recorded on 6/15/2020

Maritime Washington National Heritage Area

By Eleanor Mahoney November 6, 2019

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View of Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island, Washington State. Image: Eleanor Mahoney

In March 2019, President Trump signed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (Dingell Act) into law. The bill, one of only a few major pieces of legislation to emerge successfully from the 116th Congress, had significant implications for the country’s public lands. Among the many notable provisions included in the act: 1.3 million acres of new wilderness, five new national monuments, and permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In addition, the bill also designated six new national heritage areas (NHA) – the first time in almost a decade that Congress added landscapes to the NHA system. Of particular importance, four of the six new NHAs were located in western states. This is noteworthy because the vast majority of NHAs are east of the Mississippi River in cities and regions with limited federal government land ownership.

The Pacific Coast, especially, has lacked in representation with no NHAs located in California, Washington State, or Oregon – until this year. The Dingell Act established one new NHA in California, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, and two in Washington State, the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area and the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area.

The Maritime Washington NHA is an especially remarkable addition to the NHA program owing to its explicit focus on marine landscapes, including historic vessels. The NHA boundaries are the saltwater coastlines of 14 counties or roughly 3,000 miles of shoreline .25 mile from the mean high water mark. These boundaries encompass parts of major cities like Seattle and Tacoma, dozens of smaller towns, National Historic Landmarks and National Register districts, and lands under local, state, and federal jurisdiction. Tribal lands could also be included if a tribe chooses to participate. The lands and waters of the entire region have been and remain homelands to Coast Salish peoples.

An iconic Washington State Ferry near the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Image: Eleanor Mahoney

The drive to create a maritime heritage area in Washington State has been underway for well over a decade. Efforts initially coalesced around a remarkable collection of historic vessels and related-maritime history in the Seattle area and expanded from there. In the mid-2000’s, advocates, with important support from the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), began a four year public engagement process that culminated in publication of a feasibility study in 2010.

2010 Feasibility Study Area

The in-depth outreach, which has continued since the study’s completion, included a year speaking to city councils, county commissions, local economic development agencies, the public and port commissions about the value of a maritime heritage area. In addition to the DAHP, key early partners included the Washington Trust (Trust) for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Pacific Northwest Maritime Heritage Council. The Trust is the designated management entity for the NHA. The final bill had the strong support of the Governor, both Senators and the Congressional delegation that represented the coastline districts.

The feasibility study emphasized the connectivity of Washington State’s coastal areas, recognizing that since time immemorial salt water has tied the region together. It also highlighted the importance of Washington’s coastline to regional, national, and international history. The study highlighted five goals for the proposed NHA, public awareness, including at a national level, economic development via heritage tourism, capacity building for local organizations, support for working waterfronts, and environmental restoration.

These aims mirror those found in many NHAs, with the exception of one – support for working waterfronts. Washington ports and the connected marine businesses contribute billions to the economy of the state. These are truly working landscapes. They are also contested landscapes. Organized labor, multi-national corporations, environmental activists, commercial and recreational anglers, government agencies, and more all have a voice and stake in these places. Indigenous peoples also have treaty rights to these lands and waters and play an integral role in their management.

The scale and scope of Washington’s working waterfronts represent a new type of challenge for the NHA program. The incipient Maritime Washington NHA will have to balance the competing needs, interests, and perspectives of dozens, if not hundreds, of stakeholders. This is daunting – yet the purpose of the NHA model is to address just this type of challenge.

The core function of any NHA is collaboration. NHAs are platforms for relationship building and partnerships. Management planning is the forum for developing common goals and aspirations for the next ten to fifteen years. It is a critical period for any NHA. This is why federal support is so important – but, unfortunately, the six new NHAs are facing a difficult funding environment. Designated in March 2019, they will not receive any monies this year. The potential for a continuing resolution means that appropriations might not arrive until 2021 – a full two years into the legislatively mandated three-year planning cycle. This will affect all the new NHAs as they undertake the robust public engagement and research processes necessary for management planning.

The Dingell Act also signaled a change in the legislative language governing NHAs. In the past, NHAs often had robust individual bills that contained numerous specific provisions relative to each heritage area. In this bill, the authorizing language for each NHA was brief. Instead, a longer section contained common generic elements that pertained to each NHA. Overtime it will be interesting to see how this new approach affects NHAs – if at all.

No other NHA has been as focused on the water and water-based resources as the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area. Its designation will raise the visibility of maritime resources and history in the state, while also offering new opportunities for collaboration and partnership building among diverse stakeholders in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. The history and contemporary perspectives of Native peoples will be also central to the effort. Protected areas managed by all levels of government will have a chance to exchange knowledge and expertise, as will workers in marine industries.

Thanks to Dr. Allyson Brooks, State Historic Preservation Officer/Executive Director Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and Chris Moore, Executive Director, Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, for their perspectives on the new National Heritage Area.


A National Network for the Labor Movement

By Eleanor Mahoney May 30, 2019

The story of organized labor in the United States is complex, powerful, inspiring, and infuriating. Millions of workers took collective action, often at risk of bodily harm or death, to better their lives and the lives of their peers. As a consequence of their bold efforts, regulations regarding work place safety, wages, hours, and overtime, now benefit large numbers of people employed in the U.S. – though millions still remain un-protected.

The Kate Mullany House in Troy, New York is a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Site. Mullany organized female workers in Troy’s laundry industry into one of the first female unions in the U.S. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Adam Lenhardt

At the same time, however, the labor movement and its members generated policies and supported campaigns that espoused intense racism, xenophobia, sexism, colonialism, and homophobia. Most unions remained segregated by race well into the 20th century, for example, and hiring practices in many fields often benefited white, male workers to the detriment of women and people of color.

Across the country, hundreds of sites tell the story of organized labor in some fashion. However, there is no central means or mechanism to identify these locations. Roadside plaques and waysides are common, but because the entities behind these markers are so varied it is almost impossible to know the extent of signage and interpretation – or to understand how the stories might be connected on a larger scale. Highway transportation departments, state historic preservation offices, nonprofits, city government, local and international unions and more have all contributed. Cataloging all the locations and then mapping them might reveal new linkages within and across regions for example and motivate additional documentation efforts.

It would be fascinating to chart the age and locations of plaques and other signage. Where, for example, are markers related to the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) located? Also , what language is used? Are striking workers described as rioters or in more complimentary terms? Do signs acknowledge the boycott of Pullman Palace Cars on American railroads in 1894 or the grape boycott of the late nineteen sixties and seventies led by farm worker organizations, including the United Farm Workers (UFW)? Can signs be used to track the histories of the Knights of Labor or Pullman Porters?

Many signs came about as a result of grassroots organizing, and this part of the history also should be recognized. Perhaps new technologies can be harnessed (and likely have been already!) to expand the possibilities of these types of markers.

Memorial sites are another way that labor history is marked. These places acknowledge the danger of work as well as the danger of organizing at work. Some eulogize those who died on the job, others men and women killed by the military, law enforcement, and angry mobs during protests and confrontations. Creating a shared record of these somber locations would do much to aid our understanding of labor history and labor memory. How long after the fact are memorials created and who pays for their establishment and upkeep? Again, many are grassroots efforts owing to lack of interest or even active hostility of political leaders to acknowledge the violence that so often characterized corporate and government responses to worker organizing. Geographer Kenneth Foote has documented these types of cases in his 1997 book Shadowed Ground: America’s Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy.

Mammoth Mine Disaster Memorial in Mount Pleasant, PA. Image: Wikimedia Commons user BuzzWeiser196

Historic sites and structures that tell the story of the labor movement should also be better recognized and protected. These vary from structures in private ownership that have connections to workers’ struggles to museums and visitor centers. The American Labor Museum in New Jersey is one example. The museum is housed in the Botto House National Landmark, which is named for Italian immigrant and silk mill worker, Pietro Botto and his wife Maria. In the early 2000s, the National Park Service completed a draft Labor History Theme Study for the National Historic Landmarks Program. That document is now being updated and revised by Dr. Rachel Donaldson, who has written eloquently on connections between labor history and public history and the imperative to lift up workers’ voices and experiences when interpreting the history of work. (1)

Heritage Areas, at the state and national level, also deserve recognition. They include individual sites, but also significantly seek to interpret entire landscapes shaped by work. Heritage Areas highlight the connections between human and non-human nature and show connections across industries and ecosystems. In Pennsylvania’s Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor it is possible to trace the entire story of anthracite coal. Learning about extraction, processing, transportation, and distribution. Workers’ life stories become vivid as does the often times devastating impact of resource extraction.

Archives are important as well. Universities, including Wayne State, Washington, and Maryland, all hold impressive collections. These are also community hubs and meeting places and bring together different constituencies involved in documenting the story or work and collective action.

Ruins are another category that should be considered. All too often, the physical remains of labor have not been preserved. This can be true of housing, factories, meeting places, mines, mills, farm land, and more.

Finally, a listing of sites and stories that remain unmarked or unacknowledged is also vital. This could then inform future documentation initiatives.

Given the complexity and diversity of sites and stories involved, I believe it is time for action to create a new national network dedicated to the history of the labor movement. It could be created by Congress and administered by the National Park Service, as other networks have been – or perhaps it should be independent, with roots in labor and community organizations.

The creation of such a network would acknowledge the centrality of labor to telling diverse American and global stories. As union density has declined, so too has broad public understanding of their past and present role in shaping life at work and outside of work too (time for leisure is a key achievement of labor).

Such a network would also highlight the fabulous efforts already underway in many communities, especially the work of local, state, and regional labor history organizations, including the Illinois Labor History Society and the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association, among many others. Metropolitan labor councils have also done impressive projects, with the Metropolitan Washington (DC) Council, for instance, sponsoring events all during the month of May and hosting regular walking tours. A network could tie together all these endeavors, connecting researchers and knowledge keepers from diverse settings. It could provide funding for new preservation and programmatic initiatives.

A network might also reveal what voices haven’t been documented, including stories that highlight discrimination and violence on the part of the labor movement – as well as against workers. A federal network might also prompt a more thorough and public analysis of the role of the federal government in shaping the trajectory of unions and other worker organizations. Scholars have published important work on connections between the state and labor, but this has not filtered down into historic sites and public interpretation to the degree that it needs to if we truly want to have a fruitful discussion about how labor has shaped the U.S. economy.

This idea is probably not novel. If it has been proposed before, please let us know what happened in the comments below. Or, if a network does not seem appropriate, what other means exist both to link together existing locations that tell labor movement stories and to call attention to worker histories of collective action more generally.

  1. See, for example, Rachel Donaldson’s article, “Placing and Preserving Labor History” in The Public Historian 39, no. 1 (2017): 61-83.


Best-Laid Plans: What Ensures Program Longevity

By Eleanor Mahoney February 7, 2019
In late 2009, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a new conservation program, the “Treasured Landscape Initiative.” Based on Salazar’s experience in Colorado, the effort sought to promote collaboration between public lands managers and private property owners on a large geographic scale. Embraced by many in the preservation and environmental protection communities, the idea generated a less enthusiastic response among some critics of federal land management, especially in the West. (See an earlier article we ran on Secretary Salazar’s legacy here)

A series of listening sessions to promote the Treasured Landscape approach were held across the country with different regions applying for recognition and support. I attended one such meeting in Annapolis, MD. After leaving the well-attended gathering, I wondered how Salazar’s Treasured Landscapes vision would transform the conservation of large landscapes. Would it lead to changes in funding, land ownership, and the centrality of partnerships?

A decade later, the term “treasured landscapes” is rarely used. Many of the principles driving Salazar and program supporters remain popular, but the formal effort itself received little visible support from the Secretary’s successors. Why did the initiative disappear so quickly?

Image from a report on the Treasured Landscape initiative released by the Department of the Interior. Image: DOI

As I thought about the fate of the Treasured Landscape Initiative, it made me wonder why some programs or ideas seem to gain traction and staying power, while others fade from view. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, for example, has been a relatively durable initiative –albeit one that suffers from chronic under-funding and  now, after more than fifty years, legislative uncertainty.

I would argue that at least part of the LWCF’s longevity lies in its origins as a recommendation of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC). The ORRRC was bi-partisan and importantly enjoyed support from the legislative and executive branches. Its final recommendations, though clearly supported by Secretary Stewart Udall, also had the backing of members of Congress and a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations, ranging from labor unions, to hunting and fishing groups, some businesses, and conservation organizations. In other words, in 1962, when the ORRRC issued its final report calling for a grant program aimed at land conservation, it was not seen as an “Udall” product. Also, important, of course, were the facts that the LWCF had a legislative mandate and a funding source.

Another factor that can influence program longevity is having origins (and thus a base of support) within a particular agency or bureau. The Pennsylvania Heritage Areas (initially called heritage parks) is an example of this phenomenon. The concept of heritage parks did not originate in Pennsylvania, but , during the 1980s and 1990s, savvy officials within a variety of Pennsylvania state agencies, including the now defunct Department of Community Affairs, championed the idea and led the effort to establish a formal program. They cultivated legislative and community partners (who, of course, were also essential!), while maintaining an active role over management. This approach, where support comes from within an established bureaucracy, can also be effective in ensuring a program’s survival, even during especially tough budget cycles.

What do you see as the keys to program sustainability? Is it important that an effort, especially one that identifies or labels landscapes (to create a new system, for example), be able to survive over time? Please share your thoughts.


Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States

By Eleanor Mahoney October 31, 2018

Featured Voices

Dr. John Sprinkle, author of Saving Spaces: Historical Land Conservation in the United States and Crafting the Preservation Criteria: The Origins of the National Register of Historic Places.

After working as a private sector historic preservation consultant for a decade, John Sprinkle joined the National Park Service in 1998 where he worked for the National Historic Landmarks Survey and the Federal Preservation Institute before joining the Park History program as the agency’s Bureau Historian. He holds a doctorate in American history and a master’s degree in historical archaeology from the College of William and Mary. In addition to Saving Spaces: Historical Land Conservation in the United States, Dr. Sprinkle is the author of: Crafting the Preservation Criteria: The Origins of the National Register of Historic Places. He serves on the City of Alexandria, Virginia’s Old and Historic District Board of Architectural Review and is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park.

LLO: In your new book, Saving Spaces: Historic Land Conservation in the United States, you mention that much of your passion for preservation came from personal experiences. Can you elaborate a bit this topic? What got you into the field and what keeps you involved?

JS: Lloyd House in Alexandria, Virginia started my interest in the intersection of land conservation and historic preservation programs. I was fortunate to serve on the Alexandria Historical Restoration and Preservation Commission (AHRPC) for several years, where I learned the story of how Lloyd House was saved back in the late 1960s because of a HUD program that helped local communities acquire open space, including parcels that contained historic properties. My interest in the history of easements as a conservation tool came about because the AHRPC holds a variety of preservation and conservation easements within the city and a local news story about the proposed conversion of a Land and Water Conservation Fund parcel to alternative uses helped initiate another chapter.

Lloyd House in Alexandria, Virginia. Image: City of Alexandria

From Alexandria it was a just short journey down the Potomac and the story of Operation Overview and the protection of the Mount Vernon viewshed. As I began work it became apparent that conflicts between federal historic preservation and surplus property mandates were another important story to tell: after World War II the potential for adaptive use of federal buildings helped shape how the preservation movement responded to urban renewal. Finally, I have a significant interest in agricultural land preservation as my wife and I are stewards to our 300 year-old family farm operation on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

LLO: Saving Spaces is a wide-ranging text, which makes for great reading! One section that intrigued me personally is chapter 4. It focuses, in part, on the complex role of HUD in preservation and land conservation. On the one hand, HUD funded urban renewal. On the other, it gave significant amounts to park creation. Can you discuss this history for readers?

JS: The Urban Renewal Administration (soon renamed HUD) provided significant funding for urban land conservation for many years, from around 1961 to 1974. The focus was on preservation of open space within cities and towns. The program worked with more than 1,000 local governments to acquire 380,000 acres of open-space. Although the open space grant program was terminated in 1975 with the advent of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) approach the requirement that HUD approve proposals to convert urban open space parcels to new uses remained in effect until 1983. Since that time, urban communities have had the unfettered option to convert open spaces purchased with federal funds to alternative uses without oversight or review. Unless protected by some other instrument, such as local zoning controls or an easement, as is true at Lloyd House in Alexandria, it would appear that vast areas of open space within American cities remain unprotected and subject to potential conversion and development.

As with other urban renewal programs, the historic preservation community tried to shape the direction of the grant funding away from wholesale demolition and towards stewardship of existing resources. In 1976, on the tenth anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, Robert Rettig reflected on the status of the federal approach to historic preservation. “All in all,” he noted, “the confrontation between national historic preservation directives and existing urban renewal and housing programs was not a success story.” New challenges, based upon new legislation, would continue HUD’s muddled relationship with the historic preservation community throughout the 1970s. In addition, the urban open space grant program laid an important administrative foundation for a new and more extensive federal program: the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF).

LLO: Since World War II, there appear to have been significant opportunities for land conservationists and historic preservationists to join forces. Yet, the movements still seem separate to a great extent. Why do you think that is?

JS: The simple answer is stovepipes—each bucket of funding and its bureaucratic water-bearers were targeted to a particular type of resource, either land conservation or historic preservation. Until 1966 the National Park Service was significantly hampered by a legislative mandate that limited its involvement to nationally significant properties only. Thus, it was impossible for the agency to substantively contribute to most urban renewal projects, or in the analysis of surplus properties. The revitalized recreation movement that developed in the mid-1960s with the creation of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and the Land and Water Conservation Fund had little interest in collaborating with preservationists.

There was, perhaps, a chance in the late 1960s for the emerging environmental movement to unite old school land conservation and historic preservation groups through the concept of the “total environment” and “cultural landscapes.” However, even with the creation of the Historic Preservation Fund in the mid-1970s it was apparent that land conservation and other federal programs would always be better funded and have a greater potential impact on historic properties than the stand-along preservation programs. Regardless, advocates on both sides immediately recognized, as noted by Representative Francis Bolton at the White House conference on Natural Beauty in 1965, there simply would never be enough public funding to do all that was necessary in land conservation and historic preservation.

LLO: Are there any stories or case studies that didn’t make it into the book that you would like to share?

There are two curious stories about the adaptive use of surplus properties that I would like to have pursued further. One involves the adaptive use of Second Bank of the United States by a Philadelphia-based German/American cultural exchange organization in the late 1930s. The public-private partnership was to be the model for the active reuse of surplus federal buildings, that is, until the whole project was almost cancelled because the non-profit group was accused of being Nazi sympathizers. The second story centers on a proposed joint US-Soviet Union historic preservation project during the Nixon administration in the aftermath of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. Similar to the cooperation envisioned by the Apollo-Soyuz space mission, both countries were to collaborate on the adaptive use of a surplus federal building. The site selected in the United States was the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.

LLO: What are you working on next?

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the National Historic Preservation Act in 1965.

JS: On October 15, 1965, the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act in Washington, DC, Bobby Seale and Huey Newton established the Black Panthers party in Oakland, California. The accidental conjunction of two significant events in two very different social movements spurred me to wonder: how did the historic preservation movement responded to the civil rights movement over the next fifty years. I am working on another book-length examination of how the expansion of the types of spaces and places thought to be worthy of conservation reflects whether we now see the consideration of heritage as a civil right.


Interpreting histories of pollution

By Eleanor Mahoney October 4, 2018
Street signage in Butte, Montana.

Street signage in Butte, Montana.

During a two-week cross country drive this summer, I convinced my husband to stop in Butte, Montana. At first, he protested, arguing that it made more sense to spend the night in either Bozeman or Missoula, both lively college towns.

Eventually, after some cajoling on my part, he finally agreed, though I admit that it might well have been the lower motel prices along that stretch of Interstate 90, rather than my own entreaties, which focused on Butte’s compelling past and present, that ultimately persuaded him to reserve a room at the local Super 8.

As a student of labor and environmental history, Butte had long been on my list of places to visit. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Butte and the surrounding region became synonymous with both copper production and union organizing. At its peak in the years before World War I, this part of Montana provided almost a third of the world’s copper – a material that was essential to the burgeoning telecommunications industry. Butte became a boom town, with many sources identifying it as the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle in the early 1900s. Companies operating in and around the city, which included huge corporations as well as smaller, locally-owned businesses, employed tens of thousands of men and women in occupations that were both dirty and incredibly dangerous. (1) In an effort to improve conditions and ensure that the incredible profits of mining accrued to both labor and management, Butte’s workers organized. By the early 1900s, over 18,000 could claim membership in one of more than two-dozen unions active in the area. Significantly, however, not all workers were welcomed by organized labor. Chinese-owned businesses were systematically boycotted by unions and Chinese workers discriminated against.

The history briefly outlined above would be enough to justify Butte’s inclusion as one of the country’s most significant industrial regions. But, the story doesn’t end there. Copper continued to be incredibly profitable after World War II, with prices reaching new heights during the 1950s. The companies operating in the city and neighboring communities thus had a compelling motivation to continue mining, though they faced a challenge in that the most easily accessible deposits had long since been tapped out. In response, a new method of extraction became the preferred means to access the remaining copper ore – open pit mining.

Before the 1950s, vein mining predominated in Butte. This technique depended on human labor. Workers using picks, shovels, and dynamite dug deep underground shafts, with stations and drifts extending to the ore beds. The shafts were connected to huge iron head frames, which lifted out the ore. Over a dozen of the head frames are still visible in the city.

In contrast to vein mining, open pit mining is a surface-focused technique. It employs gigantic earth-moving machines that remove layers of soil (and trees etc.) on the surface to get to the mineral deposits underneath. A far smaller number of workers are employed using this method.

In 1955, using the open pit approach, the Anaconda Copper Company initiated excavation of the Berkeley Pit. Over the course of the next three decades, hundreds of millions of tons of ore and waste rock would be dug out of the pit, leading the “hole” to grow exponentially. It eventually measured 1.5 miles wide and 1,700 feet deep. In order to allow for the site’s expansion, nearby neighborhoods, home to some of Butte’s working-class ethnic communities, were abandoned with the Anaconda Company buying out residents and business owners.

View of Berkeley Pit, 2018

In April 1982, the pit, now owned by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), officially closed. But, of course, the story is not that simple. After active mining ceased and the pumps that had been keeping liquid out stopped running, the pit began to fill up. The groundwater flowing in was not only incredibly acidic, but also contained high concentrations of metals, including copper, cadmium, iron, and cobalt, as well as arsenic. Designated a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1983, the Berkeley Pit is now the largest body of toxic water in the United States.

The more recent history of Butte is – I would argue – just as significant as the earlier “boom town” period. While a fair number of historic sites (though probably not enough) examine stories of resource extraction in the 1880 – 1920 period, few examine post World War 2 industrial history, especially in the context of pollution and toxicity. We need to understand and debate the costs and benefits of extraction and production in the past in order to make better decisions in the future.

Vistors walking to the Berkeley Pit.

Walking to the Berkeley Pit, which is visit-able.

These stories, which are present in communities across the United States, are by no means cut and dry. The tensions between jobs, ecological well-being, human health and wellness, and corporate influence on politics are difficult and often painful to tell. Yet, they need to be explored.

I believe we need a National Park unit that addresses this issue, environmental pollution and remediation, head-on as one of its primary themes, perhaps developed cooperatively with the EPA. The NPS would not have to “own” the land and be responsible for clean-up – indeed, that would be prohibitive. This would be a partnership site, like many other new units. Butte, home to the largest (in terms of number of buildings) National Historical Landmark District in the country is one possible location (it is also important to recognize all the important work already underway in Butte in regard to interpreting its past and also tracking the current state of the environment), but there are many others. (2) The Gulf Coast, the Appalachian coalfields, the industrial farms of the California Central Valley, the many locations where natural gas extraction is proliferating, all come to mind.

It is time we interpreted this past – it is central to U.S. history. A site or sites that focused, at least in part, on the themes of pollution, remediation, and environmental recovery would do much to communicate the costs of industrial production as well as the resilience of communities and landscapes living with the long lasting effects of toxic waste.

For more information on the Berkeley Pit, visit the detailed website.

An excellent history of the region is Laurie Mercier’s book Anaconda: Labor, Community, and Culture in Montana’s Smelter City (2001).

1. Estimates put the number of miners who died during the underground mining period as 2,000 or more.
2. There have been efforts to designated Butte as a National Historical Park in the past. Indeed, the New York Times documented these efforts. Timothy Egan, “In it’s Own Decay, Butte Sees a National Treasure,” New York Times, August 30, 1997.


US/ICOMOS Updates and Symposium

By Eleanor Mahoney May 31, 2018
The International Council on Monuments and Sites, commonly referred to as ICOMOS, is a non-government organization dedicated to the conservation of cultural heritage sites across the globe. Founded in 1965 and now headquartered in Paris, ICOMOS plays a critical role advising UNESCO on the designation and management of World Heritage Sites.

US/ICOMOS was the first of what now number 110 national committees that make up the larger ICOMOS alliance. It is a vital bridge linking preservation professionals in the United States with their counterparts in other countries, and also advises on inscriptions to the World Heritage List.

Over the past year US/ICOMOS has been quite busy. 2017 marked the first time in almost a decade that new additions were made to the US World Heritage Tentative List. The Moravian Bethlehem District in Pennsylvania was added, as was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, along with several other sites.

The highly competitive International Exchange Program continued for another year, with 13 participants. One of the awardees, Joanna Aruda, shared excerpts from her research on the history of National Park Service international engagement in a piece for the Living Landscape Observer.

Brenda Barrett, LLO editor and US/ICOMOS board member, traveled to Delhi, India to participate in the Scientific Symposium at the 19th ICOMOS Triennial General Assembly held from December 11-15, 2017.  It featured a track titled a “Culture/Nature Journey” that highlighted how the recognition of the interconnected character of natural and cultural heritage is critical for the future of conservation.

In 2017, US/ICOMOS launched also launched KnowledgeExchange. It uses web and social media-based tools to help US preservationists and cultural resource managers solve preservation challenges. Be sure to take a look around the site.

To learn more about the accomplishments of US/ICOMOS take a look at the organization’s most recent annual report.

This summer, US/ICOMOS will also be losing the invaluable leadership of Executive Director William Pencek, who will be stepping down. Pencek has done a wonderful job as leader of the organization, building on his wide ranging experiences in heritage tourism, historic preservation, planning, and so much more.

Also, consider attending the 2018 US/ICOMOS Symposium in San Francisco. It is convened by US/ICOMOS in partnership with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), UNESCO World Heritage Centre, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Presidio Trust, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and U.S. National Park Service.Check out the details. 


Cultural Parks: What Happened?

By Eleanor Mahoney March 28, 2018
View of Lowell NHP. Credit:

View of Lowell NHP. Credit:

The Living Landscape Observer has run numerous articles on the so-called nature / culture divide in the field of conservation, advocating for an approach that – at long last – acknowledges the artificiality of this type of split. Yet, less has been written about the tendency for many protected areas to also starkly differentiate the past (a time period deemed “significant”) from the present and the future. The subject has gathered interest from scholars in the fields of historic preservation and anthropology, however, who have sought to challenge and critique the idea that significance can be so temporally bound.

My ongoing research into the 1970s as a turning point in the history of American conservation recently had me thinking about how the culture / history divide, as I will call it here, played an important role in shaping the trajectory of a number of National Park units designated during the latter years of this pivotal decade. For example, at varying points during the run up to their eventual creation in 1978, the soon to be National Historical Parks of Lowell (MA), Kaloko-Honokōhau (HI), and Jean Lafitte (LA), all had the term “cultural” in their title. Residents of the affected communities were usually strong advocates of a cultural, rather than solely historical, approach, as they viewed the places as still living and evolving, not static and museum-esque.

Ultimately though, decision-makers (though staff had different views) in the NPS and Interior did not prove receptive to this approach and all three sites, along with others that had also sought to be among the first cultural park units, became historical parks instead. Over time, this decision lead to consternation, anger, and recriminations, especially in Hawai’i, as some early park advocates, including many Native Hawaiians, felt betrayed by the agency and its approach to management.

Despite the importance of the decision to create historical rather than cultural parks, little seems to have been written on the issue. Do readers have firsthand experience with these decisions or opinions on the culture / history divide I describe above? Please let us know. One important work that looks at the challenges of temporally bound interpretation in the context of one of the 1970s cultural turned historical parks is The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Post Industrial City by Cathy Stanton. Are there other studies of this issue that readers could share?

Also, it is important to note that innovative action on conservation and preservation policy also occurred at the state and local levels during the 1970s and 1980s. Paul Bray, a frequent contributor to the Living Landscape Observer, has written articles on the history of the New York State Urban Cultural Park System (later renamed heritage areas). In New York, program creators (including Bray) emphasized the importance of linking past to present, as a means to foster community pride and connection. Similar ideas animated heritage park initiatives in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts as well as at the federal level.


Behind the Scenes of the Legislative Process

By Eleanor Mahoney February 7, 2018

Featured Voices

Don Hellmann

Don Hellmann, former Assistant Director for Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the National Park Service.

Don Hellmann is the former Assistant Director for Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the National Park Service. Don ended his 40-year career working with Congress at the beginning of 2017, which included the last 22 years with the National Park Service. Don joined the National Park Service in 1994 and was responsible for the development, coordination, and implementation of its legislative affairs program. Prior to his position with the National Park Service, Don was Vice President for Conservation at The Wilderness Society, where he directed the conservation advocacy program before Congress and coordinated the litigation agenda of the organization. Before assuming this position, Don served as Legislative Counsel for the society. Don joined The Wilderness Society’s staff in 1988. Don also worked on  Capitol Hill as Legislative Counsel to Rep. Tony Coelho (D) of California from 1985 to 1988 and in several positions, including as Legislative Assistant, to Senator Walter D. Huddleston (D) from his home state of Kentucky from 1977 to 1985. He has a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar. Don is currently on the Executive Council of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks and on the Board of the Manassas Battlefield Trust.


LLO: You have seen the federal legislative process from more angles than most – as a congressional staff member, an advocate representing a nonprofit organization, and as Assistant Director for Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the NPS. Based on these rich experiences, what insights can you give into the creation of park and conservation policy? What are the keys to successful advocacy, for example?

DH:The process of creating laws can seem very complex to those not involved in it on a daily basis. Once you understand how Congress crafts public policy, however, the procedure is not that complicated.

When I first started on Capitol Hill someone told me that “the issues don’t change that much from one Congress to the next. Congress just looks at the issues from different angles.” I found this was true then and it continues to be true now.

The NPS just turned 100 years old. And really, the same principles that drove the protection of parks and public lands still exist today. For example, over time, the legislation establishing individual units NPS exhibits a remarkable degree of consistency. Of course, there is some variation, in that the language establishing a National Seashore might be slightly different versus the language establishing a National Historical Park, but underlying each bill is a consistency in the specific sections found in each bill. This consistency is not all that surprising as Congress codified its intent that park units be recognized as part of the same National Park System in the 1970s when Congress passed the General Authorities Act. Even though the units have individual mandates, they share a common mission in the NPS system- to present the story of America for present and future generations.

LLO: How did the federal legislative process change over the course of your career?

DH: From the mid-1980s to my retirement in 2016, the mechanics of how Congress worked on park laws remained more or less the same. We worked with committees and individual members of Congress, had hearings on the pending bills, and hammered out the language of the bills that eventually became laws. The thing that changed most was that members of Congress from both parties no longer fought to get on the committees that dealt with parks and public lands. The passion and interest for parks and public lands is no longer there. The environmental stars found in previous Congresses, like Rep. Morris Udall or Sen. Gaylord Nelson, by and large, are harder to find in Congress these days.

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the interest in environmental issues was far greater. It began in the 1960s, with Sen. Nelson and others pushing Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to make the environment a priority. It continued with President Carter. The public wanted to protect air, water, and land and Congress responded. Members of Congress could win points with constituents by working on these issues. This changed under President Reagan and the importance of the environment has continued to decline.

These days, members may get points with individual communities for creating a National Historic Site, but beyond that it is tough to get recognition beyond a specific community for sponsoring park legislation. Perhaps this is because many of the most well-known or outstanding natural sites have been protected. It is more difficult now to take action that is viewed as politically beneficial to a member’s constituents as a whole.

LLO: How did a change in administration affect your work?

DH: In general, Democratic administrations seem more interested in protecting the resources at specific sites, while Republicans want to promote usage of the sites. This potentially comes from the dual mandate of the NPS and different administrations wanting to please different constituencies. Of course, this isn’t always the case, as some Republican administrations have protected some wonderful resources that are part of the National Park System and I have seen some Democratic members push for specific uses, such as hunting, at individual park units.

LLO: How did NPS legislative priorities changed over your career?

DH: For a long time, NPS did not actually have an active legislative agenda. It largely responded to members of Congress and their priorities. In 1994, as part of the Vail Agenda, there was a recommendation made and adopted for NPS to have its own active legislative agenda instead of just responding to proposals introduced by members of Congress.

Starting in 1995, shortly after my arrival at the agency, we began compiling a list of legislative proposals that the NPS would send to Congress. It quickly became clear to me why NPS did not have an active legislative agenda as the approval process turned out to be quite difficult. The proposed list and the accompanying draft bills had to be approved at many levels in NPS, the Department of the Interior, and in the Office of Management and Budget before any bills would be sent to Congress. And often the approvals had to come from individuals with little background in park legislation or policy, or from people exercising their power on a political level who had no interest in how the legislation would benefit the Park Service or individual parks or programs. As a result, the number of legislative proposals sent to Congress every two years was not that long a list because of all the required levels of review. The number of proposals sent to Congress varied from administration to administration, and, because the approval process was so difficult, we also worked with individual members of Congress to get our priorities introduced separately to avoid the delays caused by the never-ending review process in the department.

LLO: How did you handle bills not supported by the agency?

DH: Basically, there were two alternatives. First, we just outright opposed some bills and NPS would testify against the legislation. This was actually relatively rare. If a member of Congress knew we opposed the bill, the last thing they wanted to happen was to have NPS testify against it. So usually these bills never came up for a hearing. Second, we would try to meet with a member and his or her staff prior to a hearing being scheduled in order to get them to understand why we opposed the legislation. We explained that there were certain ways to draft park bills in accordance with our policies or programs, and that working around these established mechanisms could result in a bad precedent. We would try to get them to change their position or to change the language of the bill. I’m happy to say that we were usually successful in getting bad provisions of bills removed, or replaced by language that fit better with park management and precedents.

LLO: Are there any especially memorable bills you would like to talk about?

DH: There are three bills in particular that stand out during my career. The first was a big Omnibus bill at the end of the 104th Congress, Public Law 104-333. It was memorable first because of the timing; the GOP had just taken over the House for the first time in decades and they were intent on changing a number of ways NPS did its business. And at the same time, NPS was trying to address the future of the Presidio of San Francisco, which is now part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). At the time, the Army had decided the area was surplus property. Former Rep. Phil Burton had included a provision in law in 1972 that declared the Presidio would be made part of GGNRA if it ever became surplus to the Army’s needs. However, the Republican Congress felt managing the vast real estate found at the Presidio was beyond the capability of NPS and they wanted an entity besides the NPS to manage the land. The Republicans accomplished this through the idea of a having a Presidio Trust manage the land that would work with the NPS on interpretation of the site, but would operate everything else independently. Now, it was memorable to me not because I thought the trust was a great idea, but because it came at this challenging time politically, and because it took hours and hours to hammer out the final bill. The Presidio bill became the vehicle by which dozens of other park and public land priorities became law when they were attached to the bill.

Public Law 104-333 included 150 sections total, half of which involved the NPS – creating new park units, new Wild and Scenic Rivers, and many more provisions that benefitted NPS. The Park Service and the Clinton administration opposed five of those titles that were initially included in this omnibus bill, and we managed to get all five excised from the final bill.

The second law that really stands out is the one that established the Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park, Public Law 106-352. This site honors the work of women and other civilians on the home front during the Second World War. The language of the law is similar to that found in other park laws; however, the hearing on this bill before the House Resources Committee was especially memorable. Three women, who had been ”Rosies,” testified in support of the bill at the hearing. One woman brought her granddaughter to see her testify. This Rosie had been a welder in Oakland and described the process of being lowered down in a ship with rope around her waist, welding for thirty seconds, then coming up for air, and then doing it again and again. The members of the committee were mesmerized when she spoke. She also passed her ID card to the members on the dais, and they treated it like a bar of gold. The impact of the Rosies’ testimony was obvious to all when, at its conclusion, the chairman of the committee turned to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. George Miller, and asked to be added as co-sponsor of the bill. Chairmen rarely did that because they wanted to appear impartial to members of their committees.

The third law that stands out is Public Law 114-289, the National Park Service Centennial Act. It was the last bill I worked on before retiring. The third title of the bill was especially important to me as it put into law for the first time the education and interpretation mission of the National Park Service. In 1998, the science and research mission had finally been codified, and now we were able to do the same for the NPS education and interpretation mission, providing a solid underpinning for so much of what NPS does on a daily basis. This brought my career full circle, as I graduated from college with a degree in History and education and taught History and English for three years after I graduated. This law provided an appropriate bookend for my career.

LLO: How has the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks responded to the new Administration? (Note: Don Hellmann is a member of the Executive Council of the Coalition)

DH: From the Coalition’s standpoint, we are very disappointed so far with what the Trump Administration is doing to our National Parks. We were willing to give the benefit of the doubt and initially heard nice things from Secretary of the Interior Zinke – how he wanted to be another Teddy Roosevelt. We haven’t seen any evidence to support those words though; the only priority we have seen is for the extraction of energy resources from public lands. There is no consideration given to how these actions affect public lands (usually managed by BLM) or the adjoining National Park lands. The administration seems unconcerned about those potential impacts.

Also, the extreme budget proposed by this administration is of great concern. We do not understand how cutting the budget by 13% will enable the NPS to manage the park units it already has under its authority. The administration also wants to eliminate 4,000 jobs at the Department of the Interior. And most importantly, there is nothing to indicate that resource protection is a priority with this administration. The Coalition is a watchdog, calling out actions adverse to National Parks. We keep hoping the administration changes its direction to supporting the national parks, but we do not hold out much hope that will happen based on its actions over the last year.

Therefore, the coalition believes we need to concentrate on educating those in the department and among the general public. We have political appointees with no knowledge of the agencies they oversee. They do not know the history, the mission, the programs, and policies of our public land management agencies, including NPS. The general public and interest groups must continue to educate and advocate, which will hopefully lead to better decision-making. Remember laws Congress passed mandate much of what the agencies do in managing our public lands. Those mandates must be followed regardless of which administration is in office.

Previous Featured Voices

April 2017 –  Emily M. Bateson, coordinator for the Network for Landscape Conservation. She was previously Conservation Director at the Highstead Foundation and Coordinator of the New England Wildlands and Woodlands Initiative.

February 2017 – Jackie M.M. Gonzales, an environmental historian with experience working in the nonprofit and public sector.

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


From the Archives: Urban Recreation and Greenline Parks Capture Attention in 1975

By Eleanor Mahoney December 29, 2017
Senator J. Bennett Johnston. Credit:  U.S. Senate Historical Office.

Senator J. Bennett Johnston. Credit: U.S. Senate Historical Office.

The mid 1970s proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of large landscape conservation. The funding boom of the sixties had come to an end, but the political influence of the environmental movement still held sway in many state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The administration of President Gerald Ford sought to cut back on federal investments in conservation, especially in cities, while members of Congress pushed for increases or – at the very least – preservation of the funding status quo. A document from the era, drafted by Charles Little of the Congressional Research Service, captures these tensions and is worth a read.

In 1975, Senator J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, then chairman of the Subcommittee on Parks and Recreation, requested that the Congressional Research Service complete a report on the growing phenomenon of greenline (or green-line) parks. Authored by Little and entitled “Green-line Parks: An Approach to Preserving Recreational Landscapes in Urban Areas,” the study describes the challenge of protecting large, complex landscapes during a moment of budget austerity. Frustrated that the Ford administration was at once cutting funds for urban parks and ignoring or vetoing proposals for more novel and less expensive models, Johnston turned to the CRS as one way to document the need for and the possibility of less-than-fee approaches to conservation. Access the document here, via Hathi Trust.


Latest Updates: Federal Government and Large Landscapes

By Eleanor Mahoney October 31, 2017
Map of Bears Ears National Monument from

Map of Bears Ears National Monument from

It is getting harder and harder to keep track of all the news involving federal government action on landscape conservation.  The past few weeks have been especially overwhelming with each day (and sometimes each hour!) bringing a new headline or controversy. Oil drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, new fees at National Park Service units, and potential changes to National Monument designations are just a few of the issues to catch our attention.

National Monuments

Arctic National Wildlife Drilling

National Park Service Fee Increase

Department of the Interior  Management / Re-organization 

Other News



Worlds End Celebrates 50th Anniversary

By Eleanor Mahoney August 30, 2017
World's End, Hingham, Massachusetts.

World’s End, Hingham, Massachusetts.

In the late nineteenth century, land conservation by either public entities or private foundations remained relatively rare in the United States. The federal government had only just begun creating National Parks and Forests, while many state and municipal park systems were also in their very early stages. Few, if any, private organizations made land acquisition for the purposes of natural and cultural resource protection a priority, even though open spaces in and around growing cities faced pressure from development as did regions home to extractive industries like such as timber and coal.

In his book Conservancy: The Land Trust Movement in America, author Richard Brewer points to 1891 as a pivotal year in conservation history, especially as it relates to privately-initated, rather than solely, public action. That summer, a new organization, the Trustees of (Public) Reservations would incorporate in Massachusetts. Inspired, in large part, by the thinking of landscape architect Thomas Eliot, Brewer argues that the Trustees’ creation marks the origin of the now remarkably robust land trust movement in the United States. In addition to landscape preservation, the Trustees’ charter also emphasized public access, another important feature. Within 10 years, the Trustees owned some 430 acres spread across 6 sites.

IMG_2168 (1)

View of carriage path at World’s End in Hingham.

Today, one of the Trustees best-known sites is World’s End, located in Hingham, Massachusetts, about 15 miles southeast of Boston. Shaped by retreating glaciers, the striking landscape, which several “drumlins” (glacial hills) hosts roughly 70,000 visitors a year. Despite its longtime popularity, World’s End took a rather circuitous route to protected area status. In the late 19th-century, the lands’ owner commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to design a residential subdivision with over 150 lots. Work on the carriage paths (now serving as walking paths for visitors) and some tree plantings was completed, but no homes ever took shape, leaving the land largely in agricultural use.

In the aftermath of World War II, the site was one of many considered as a possible location for the newly formed United Nations. Two decades later, in 1965, World’s End faced perhaps its most serious threat, the possible siting of a nuclear power plant by  Boston Edison. A major fundraising effort to buy the land soon coalesced, with private donations matching the monies from the Trustees with the end result of acquisition in 1947.

The Trustees manage other properties near World’s End including the 700-acre Whitney and Thayer Woods and the 80-acre Weir River Farm. In 1996, World’s End became part of the NPS’ Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, though it is still managed by the Trustees.



Energy and Natural Resources Bill Introduced in Senate

By Eleanor Mahoney July 28, 2017
Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 12.30.38 AM

Senators Maria Cantwell (at left) and Lisa Murkowski are co-sponsoring the sprawling SB 1460. Credit:Murkowski.Senate.Gov

At close to 900 pages, Senate Bill 1460 is far from light reading. Introduced by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the legislation covers a huge number of topics ranging from infrastructure to federal lands management to energy efficiency and more. It is a rare bi-partisan effort that builds on the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, which passed the Senate before falling short of votes in a conference with the House.

The bill includes significant provisions related to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Historic Preservation Fund (permanent re-authorization), the National Park System (including the designation of new Wild and Scenic Rivers and National Heritage Areas and the creation of a federal African American Civil Rights Network Program) and the U.S. Forest Service (including wilderness designations and expansions).

It has drawn criticism from some environmental, health and community organizations for its promotion of fossil fuel extraction and use. An opposition letter signed by more than 350 national, statewide and local groups reads, in part, “No energy legislation is better than bad energy legislation that serves to increase our dependence on dirty fossil fuel production instead of building on successful policies to expand clean energy sources… We find it astounding that any energy bill could contain a ‘Renewables’ subtitle but not include provisions on solar and wind energy.”

Other groups, including the Nature Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation, have not come out in opposition however, as covered in the story, “Democrats Caught in Green Crossfire Over Senate Energy Bill,”featured in the Bloomberg News, Daily Environment Report,”

This is a complex piece of legislation. It, at once, brings new support to items like the LWCF and historic preservation, while also streamlining the permitting process for natural gas exploration and fracking among many other elements. With so many implications, the bill would likely garner much more coverage if not for the rather turbulent current political climate. Take a look at this proposal as it does have a chance of passing, especially given its bi-partisan origins and current lack of public opposition from many Democrats.







What’s in a (Public Lands) Name?

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2017
Agricultural land, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve

Agricultural land, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve

Public lands in the United States go by a variety of names: Parks, forests, monuments, historical parks, recreation areas, seashores, refuges and more. Though confusing to the public (and even, at times, to agency employees!), each appellation has a “genealogy” of sorts, a history that, if traced, offers insights into the goals and motivations of those who initially pushed for the creation of different types of protected areas. I recently visited two of the three “National Reserves,” Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve in Washington State and the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve and began to wonder when that term first came into use (NB: Both are Affiliated Areas, not National Park units)

Congress designated both National Reserves in 1978. They were included in the landmark National Parks and Recreation Act, a gigantic public lands omnibus bill put together, in large part, by Congressman Phillip Burton (D-CA). Among other items, the legislation created more than a dozen new NPS units, authorized new additions to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System and expanded wilderness areas in National Parks by close to 2 million acres.

These were heady times in the park service – as least as far as park creation goes – but it was also a moment that would soon pass, probably faster than anyone could have guessed. Within only a few years, Ronald Reagan would be elected President, bringing a new era of uncertainty and austerity to conservation practice.

But, back to 1978. Where did the bill drafters even get the idea to use the term “National Reserve?” One primary source was the NPS’ April 1976 Revised Land Acquisition Policy. In this document, the term “National Reserve,” also identified as an “Area of National Concern,” is defined in the following way: Federal, State, and local governments form a special partnership around an area to be protected. Planning, implementation and maintenance is a joint effort and is based on a mutual desire to protect the resource. Under this concept, the Federal Government, through the National Park Service, may acquire core zones intended to protect and permit appropriate use of the most vital physical resources within authorized boundaries of the area. The balance of property within these areas may be protected through a combination of acquisition and management by the State and local governments, and the development of zoning or similar controls acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior. 

If this sounds innovative, it was! The 1970s were a period of experimentation in land use, especially around the idea of regional planning and partnerships. In fact, in 1971, the newly formed Council on Environmental Quality issued a report on the trends, going so far as to label them a “Quiet Revolution.” The term “Areas of National Concern,” has its roots, at least in part, in attempts to pass National Land Use legislation between 1970 and 1975. Ultimately unsuccessful, a key part of the effort had been to identity regions or landscapes necessitating additional attention from state and federal agencies, i.e. Areas of National Concern.

The idea of creating National Reserves caught on – in fact, an attempt was even made in Congress to create a whole system of reserves. Spearheaded by members of the New Jersey delegation, the bill never gained significant support.

Once the idea of a system of reserves lost momentum, individual members began to work to designate reserves in their home districts. Existing efforts in Washington State (Ebey’s) and New Jersey (the Pinelands) fit the description contained in the 1976 park service policy language, especially in regards to proposed partnerships Though radically different in size, resources, and eventual administrative structure, both efforts shared key traits: mixed types of land ownership, rapidly growing populations and long-standing resource uses (ex. agriculture) that many residents wanted to see carried forward into the future. Significantly, management in each of the reserves is quite distinctive – a sign that local input went into the planning and implementation process.

Do you know more the history of “Reserves.” Please share in the comments!


Featured Voice: Emily Bateson

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2017
Emily M. Bateson is the Coordinator for the Network for Landscape Conservation. Before becoming Coordinator, Emily was the Network Co-Chair, and helped move the collaborative from its early formative stages to a more established, funded, and widespread network with active strategies and specific programs to help advance conservation at the landscape scale.

LLO: How did you become interested in the field of landscape conservation?

Morning in the Adirondacks. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Morning in the Adirondack Mountains, New York State. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Bateson: For me, landscape conservation is much more a matter of logical continuum rather than one recent “ah-ha” moment.

I spent my childhood summers in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, the largest publicly protected area in the contiguous United States. Protected under the New York State Constitution as “Forever Wild,” about half of the land within the six million-acre “Blue Line” is actually private land and populated hamlets, and the objective is management that sustains both natural and human communities. Founded in 1892, the Adirondack Park is one of the earliest examples of landscape conservation and management in the U.S.

My environmental career started at the New England-based Conservation Law Foundation, where we had a long battle in the 1980s, in and out of the courts, to keep offshore oil drilling out of the Georges Bank fishery off the coast of New England and Canada. I worked with diverse experts and stakeholders, including scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, local fishermen’s associations in New Bedford and Gloucester, MA, recreational interests on Cape Cod and the islands, and our Canadian counterparts to stop the drilling from going forward. This trans-border marine ecosystem was highly valuable ecologically, economically, and culturally, and needed to be managed as an integrated system – all the elements of landscape conservation today. That was when I learned to appreciate the critical need to work at the ecosystem scale, connecting sound science and local communities to environmental planning and policy.

Adirondack Mountain Lake. Credit: Thomas Cooper

Adirondack Mountain Lake. Credit: Thomas Cooper

As I moved on to land-focused New England projects and positions, I cannot think of a single example where working across whole landscapes was not fundamental to long-term success. At CLF, where I was Land Project Director for 16 years, we appealed a 1986 Management Plan for the White Mountain National Forest that looked at biodiversity piecemeal rather than across the whole Forest or across the whole region. Large-scale biodiversity protection was ecologically vital but not common practice at that time (and our appeal was actually before the word “biodiversity” was in use). As a funder at Sweet Water Trust in the 1990s, we worked to help people in New England protect larger and more connected areas based on biodiversity values – key components of landscape conservation and resilience today.

I then co-founded and served as the first director of Two Countries, One Forest, an early landscape conservation initiative founded in 2003 to help connect and protect the 80 million-acre Northern Appalachian/Acadian region in the eastern US and Canada – particularly through conservation of nine key habitat connectivity areas (work that continues to this day through its Staying Connected Initiative).

That initiative broke a “green ceiling,” since U.S. conservation maps (and associated conservation activity) had previously just shown white space above Maine. But the fundamental difference between political and ecological boundaries, the importance of ecological science to conservation planning, and the difference between top-down and collaborative conservation was already clear to me and to many, many others who had worked in conservation for the past 20 years.

LLO: How does landscape conservation differ from other approaches to the protection of places with cultural and ecological significance?

Bateson: The U.S. has a remarkable conservation legacy and impressive ongoing programs and progress. However, the loss of our natural and cultural heritage continues to occur at an alarming rate. The fact is that current programs and traditional, piecemeal conservation is simply no match for the ecosystem scale of the challenges confronting us today. Habitat loss and fragmentation, water scarcity and degradation, climate change impacts, and more threaten the integrated systems upon which human and natural communities depend.

We know today that even our largest protected areas are not big enough or connected enough to protect our ecological and cultural heritage. Conservation at the landscape scale is the practice of people working together – horizontally, not top down – across sectors, cultures, and geographies at the necessary ecosystem scale to conserve and connect our natural and cultural landscapes. This highly collaborative conservation approach embraces the complexity of working across these boundaries, from the urban and suburban environs to our wildest places, and across the public-private land continuum.

Today, more and more people across the country, continent, and the globe are advancing a landscape approach, working together to conserve their local landscapes for clean water, healthy outdoor recreation, climate resilience, sustainable local economies, connected wildlife habitat, cultural heritage, and local sense of place for the generations that follow.

We are erasing the hard lines between protected “versus” populated, and nature “versus” people. The landscape conservation approach recognizes that our natural and cultural landscapes are invaluable, intertwined, irreplaceable, and part of the very fabric of our society.

LLO: Could you provide some examples of how landscape conservation works – what do these types of initiatives look like on the ground and how might they differ based on location and community needs?

Bateson: Although many of the older landscape conservation efforts are regulatory in origin (such as the Adirondack State Park and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency) many of the new landscape conservation initiatives are community-grounded, informal efforts. Many of these initiatives are also “nested,” so that an initiative focused on one culturally and geographic appropriate landscape is also part of a larger effort. And a good number have support from the growing number of state and federal programs that recognize achieving regulatory mandates must include support of conservation beyond public land boundaries.

For example: in central Massachusetts, the 500,000-acre North Quabbin Regional Landscape Partnership, founded in 1997, focuses on conserving “ecologically, historically, and culturally significant lands.” Local municipal leaders, land owners, land trusts, agencies, conservation organizations, and academic partners work together on key activities, including mapping conservation and climate resilience priorities, expanding trail systems, promoting agricultural sustainability, improving conservation zoning, and developing a land acquisition transaction costs regrant program. Together, partners have conserved more than 12,000 acres of high priority lands, attracting far more in federal funding and making a far greater contribution to the future of the region than they ever could have alone.

Although this may appear small in scale to some, the North Quabbin Initiative is also the southern anchor of the equally effective two million-acre Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership that stretches up into the White Mountains of NH. And these two efforts are also part of a larger Network of 45 landscape conservation initiatives or “regional conservation partnerships” that together cover more than 70 percent of New England and increasingly learn from each other and work together on shared regional goals. This scale and structure fit the geography and culture of New England.

In the intermountain west, the Blackfoot Challenge in Montana focuses on conserving the 1.5 million-acre Blackfoot watershed (“Better Rural Communities through Cooperative Conservation Action”). Although the focus may be more on rangelands than the forests and agricultural lands around the North Quabbin, this group is similarly focused on watershed protection and has also had notable success through consensus-based and community-grounded collaborative conservation. They are also nested in larger efforts, including the 18 million-acre Roundtable on the Crown of the Continent and the 2,000-mile long Yellowstone to Yukon (Y2Y) Conservation Initiative. As Executive Director Gary Burnett stated in a recent presentation, “But our watershed is a small place, and we need our neighbors – right across the fence and clear across the county – to sustain our local work and bring it to scale for people, water and wildlife.”

Are there differences across landscape conservation initiatives? Yes, context matters. And despite the similarities between North Quabbin and the Blackfoot Challenge, groups choose different governance structures, conservation priorities, and approaches. For example, The Intertwine Alliance, more than 150 public, private and nonprofit organizations working to integrate nature more deeply into the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan region, is wrestling with higher density populations, local urban-specific priorities, and smaller scales than the Blackfoot Challenge. Their strategies and solutions may not look identical.

But I would suggest that there are more similarities than differences. Landscape conservation initiatives are working to achieve conservation that is both locally grounded and regionally significant. They are working, by and large, to look at conservation more expansively to include culture, community, traditional local economics, health, recreation, and local sense of place, while never losing sight of the long-term importance of healthy, connected natural systems for the future of their own landscapes and the world overall. Landscape conservation helps put the future back into the hands of informed and committed people living and working on the landscapes they love.

LLO: What are the biggest challenges as well as opportunities right now in the field of landscape conservation and how might the roles of public vs. non-governmental entities be changing in the coming years?

Bateson: Regardless of geography and scale, initiatives often share similar challenges regarding 1) meaningful collaboration and effective governance; 2) conservation science and planning at the local-to-landscape scales; and 3) funding for and commitment to long-term collaboration and conservation implementation.

One major challenge has been that there was no central place for sharing information, identifying best practices, tackling common challenges, and developing cutting edge research and analysis in this new field. That of course is what we are trying to change through the Network for Landscape Conservation.

Although I hope I am wrong, I think the current federal administration may be a challenge, which is too bad as conservation has been a robust bipartisan issue for many years. And recent Republican and Democratic administrations have made so much progress on moving toward a landscape conservation approach at the federal agency level, from the National Park Service Scaling Up program to the Landscape Conservation Collaborative Network and much, much more.

Despite the challenges, there are boundless opportunities in this rapidly growing field. We have enormous forward momentum in specific landscapes, and an increasing number of examples of effective initiatives and enduring success. Conservation at the landscape scale is increasingly embraced in local and regional landscapes across the country, continent, and beyond. It is the groundswell of local understanding and support that will carry this imperative conservation approach inexorably forward.

LLO: Your organization recently changed its name from the Practitioners’ Network for Large Landscape Conservation to the Network for Landscape Conservation. Does this reflect a shift in its mission or area of emphasis?

Bateson: The Network has only shortened its name, and not changed its mission. We decided it was evident we are a network for “practitioners,” and we dropped the “large” because many people thought it suggested only large, wild landscapes and not the equally valuable efforts in urban or other smaller-scale settings.

Founded in 2011, the goal of the Network continues to be building a “big tent” network and a robust community of practice to support and advance the rapidly growing landscape conservation movement. Before the Network, there was no central forum for landscape conservation practitioners to connect – there was too much reinventing of the proverbial wheel and opportunities for progress and innovation were being lost. Our Network of professionals in the private, public, non-profit, academic, and philanthropic sectors has already grown to almost 100 organizational partners and 2,000 individual practitioners.

We work with partners to build a valued nexus for connecting with peers, accessing information and resources, building skills, leveraging individual efforts, improving on-the-ground performance, and innovating new landscape conservation. One of our highest priorities continues to be connecting practitioners to each other and showcasing their work for the broader community.
We are all figuring out this pivotal, new landscape conservation approach together. I hope individuals and organizations will continue to join the Network for Landscape Conservation to help build the conversation and the community of practice, shaping the future of the local and global landscapes that will sustain our grandchildren and the many generations to follow.

Learn more: Network for Landscape Conservation : Advancing the Practice of Conservation at the Landscape Scale 


Examining Federal Land Acquisition Practices After World War II

By Eleanor Mahoney March 30, 2017
View of Big Cypress National Preserve. Photo by National Park Service.

View of Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida. Photo by National Park Service.

In the decades after World War II, the Federal government significantly altered its approach to land acquisition for parks, forests and other protected areas. Before this period, Congress rarely appropriated funds for the purchase of private property. Instead, protected areas were either carved out the public domain (which has much of its origins in Indigenous dispossession) or created through donation. Condemnation also occurred, though at times states, with federal urging, took the lead as in 1920s/1930s era National Parks in Appalachia.

The push for open space and recreation opportunities near urban areas as well as the passage of landmark legislation like the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act (1964) meant there was both an increased demand for and funds available to support an unprecedented level of land acquisition. Yet, the results of this new approach proved, in many cases, to be far from ideal. Agencies frequently acquired lands in a haphazard fashion and less-than-fee options garnered little interest or enthusiasm. Residents and landowners whose property fell within protected area boundaries became confused and angry along the way, feeling betrayed by a process that was far from transparent.

In 1979, the Government Accountability Office looked at the issue of federal land acquisition in the 1960s and 1970s in a report entitled The Federal drive to acquire private lands should be reassessed  (available via the Hathi Trust website, a free online archive worth searching if you haven’t already). This document, which includes analysis of sites like Big Cypress National Preserve and Lower St. Croix National Scenic River, provides an in-depth commentary and analysis of acquisition by land management agencies as well as agency responses and should be interesting reading for those involved – past, present and future – in adding lands to the federal portfolio.


1981 and 2017: What Can We Learn?

By Eleanor Mahoney January 30, 2017
Secretary of Interior James Watt (at left) and President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Watt, a longtime critic of federal land management policies, was among Reagan's more controversial cabinet picks. Photo by Mary Anne Feckelman, The White House. Image from

Secretary of Interior James Watt (at left) and President Ronald Reagan in 1982. Watt, a longtime critic of federal land management policies, was among Reagan’s more controversial cabinet picks. Photo by Mary Anne Feckelman, The White House. Image from

Despite the fact that I am a historian, I never really liked the adage that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” a phrase attributed to novelist and philosopher George Santayana. It is not that I believe history cannot inform the present – far from it – but rather that the notion of ‘repetition’ denies contemporary actors agency in their decision-making and disregards the incredibly contingent nature of so much of human life. The past is certainly there as a guide, resource, and yes, even a warning, but it is not a template.

When I started writing this blog post, I could not have imagined what the last seven days would bring. My goal was to look back at the early days of the Reagan administration, when, after two decades of unprecedented action on the environment, a President and a Secretary of the Interior (among other appointees) were in place who vowed to undo much of the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s (ex. the Wilderness Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, etc) Those who had worked countless hours to put these policies in place, as well as the millions who benefitted from them, were understandably apprehensive – as well as angry. Would the undeniable improvements in air and water quality as well as the (limited) progress on regulating chemicals and other hazardous substances be halted and then reversed?

In the end, the answer was both yes and no. During the 1980s, the development and enforcement of environmental regulations did slow tremendously. Support for resource extraction, including logging and mining increased, with irreversible consequences. A new “uncertainty” about science gained traction with repercussions that have been disastrous for action on climate change. Yet, during the 1980s, other trends also emerged. Mainstream environmental groups grew in membership and sophistication, especially in the legal arena. Government employees leaked documents, served as whistleblowers and engaged in important research and public outreach. The environmental justice (EJ) movement also gained tremendous traction by calling attention to the ways in which exposure to environmental contaminants as well as access to what might be termed environmental benefits (clean air, water, open space, recreation facilities, etc) had been undeniably shaped by race, class and ethnicity. The work of EJ advocates was especially significant because it revealed the inequities not only of federal policies, but also of traditional environmental organizations, which were overwhelmingly white and middle and upper-class.1

At present, we find ourselves in worrisome and, for many, perilous times. In a whole host of areas, civil liberties, healthcare, foreign policy and education, the future is, at best, uncertain. In regards to the environment, angst over what potential cabinet nominees could mean for climate change policy, the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, public lands management and pollution control regulation (among other issues) is palpable among those concerned with the health of the planet. As I pointed out above, we can find echoes of some of these feelings in the 1980s, though, at that moment, we did not yet know how dire the climate crisis would become or how imperative immediate action on the issue would be.

What lessons can we take from that history? Public employees can be quite influential and respected. We’ve already seen that in the “Alt NPS” movement and the excitement that various “rogue” twitter accounts have generated across multiple federal agencies. Incredibly important and vital grassroots movements take shape when more mainstream politicians or organizations may be slow to act. And finally, established groups focused on environmental or civil liberties will likely grow stronger as well as their missions become even more crystalized.

There are many ways to get involved – but what is important is that we all became active participants in shaping our shared present and that we remember that the effects of government actions do not affect all equally and that vulnerable members of our communities need support. We are not condemned to repeat the past, but we can certainly learn from its lessons in order to build a more just, equitable future.

1. For more on the Reagan Administration and its environmental legacy see the following: A great recent blog post and article (scroll to the bottom for a link to the article) by Historian Jacob D. Hamblin available at Additionally, a few few length texts provide more background. These include: Hal Rothman’s The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since 1945, Samuel Hay’s Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985 and Robert Gottlieb’s Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. .


Looking Back at NPS Centennial Coverage

By Eleanor Mahoney November 3, 2016
comboOver the past year, we’ve been examining the National Park Service in the context of its 100th anniversary. We considered whether the NPS should expand its “brand“; looked at the history of Mission 66; evaluated the idea of certain parks being “crown jewels”; and argued for a more nuanced understanding of the NPS’ recent post World War II history. We’ve also been compiling a list of key documents and reports for thinking about the future of the agency. Here are five that are worth taking a look at as the centennial winds down.

Scaling Up – In the years leading up to the 2016 centennial, the NPS released a Call to Action, which included “Scaling Up,” or embracing a collaborative approach to large landscape to conservation, as #22. The report linked here highlights efforts already underway across the NPS system and in affiliated areas that seek to protect diverse resources through partnerships.

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service – Released in 2012 by the Organization of American Historians, the report examines the practice of history (broadly defined) in the National Park Service. This is an important issue, considering that 2/3 of NPS units are considered historic sites of one type or another, with the remaining natural parks also home to rich stories of the past. Among many important recommendations, the study suggested park units look beyond their boundaries in order to tell richer, more nuanced, multi-layered narratives.

Second Century Report – Published in 2009, the report, entitled “Advancing the National Park Idea,” was a product of a year’s worth of meetings and research conducted under the auspices of the Second Century Commission, a group of scientists, historians, business people, conservationists, educators and more convened by the National Parks Conservation Association.

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas – Published in 2006 by the National Park System Advisory Board, Charting a Future offered one of the most detailed analyses of the NHA system-to-date. Among other recommendations, it called for research on the workings of collaborative conservation at a landscape scale.

The Vail Agenda – Published in 1992, the Vail Agenda grew out of a public meeting held in 1991 in Vail, Colorado. Intended as a forum for the consideration of the Agency’s future on the occasion of its 75th anniversary, the report’s recommendations, now a quarter of a century old, are interesting to consider in the context of the centennial.

The e-library of the NPS also has a thorough listing of key documents from the Agency’s history available to download here.


Origins and Outcomes

By Eleanor Mahoney October 3, 2016
In researching the history of post World War II protected area management in the U.S., I’ve begun to think more and more about how the particular origins of a program or initiative can affect its ultimate ability to succeed in the long term. More specifically, I wonder if efforts that have their impetus outside the agency ultimately tasked with program management suffer as a result, especially if the initiative in question differs significantly from other agency responsibilities.

A good example of this phenomenon is the various heritage park and area programs that took shape in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. In many cases, these efforts marked a large departure from traditional approaches to park management. Park agencies did not “own” the resources (or if so, it was only a few buildings) nor did they manage the efforts independently – usually partnerships were involved. Most, though not all, of these efforts originated within local communities or with interested legislators, not among agency personnel.

As a result, and perhaps not surprisingly, disinterest or even hostility developed. With financial and staff resources scarce, why would time and money be dedicated to programs perceived (by some) as well outside an agency’s core mission? Such reactions were not universal, but they were widespread enough to pose a serious challenge – especially after community and / or legislative leaders moved on to other areas of foci. Once the pressure and attention from outside waned, innovative programs could be left in a vulnerable position. Unless staff within an agency stepped up to take the lead, monies and technical assistance withered. However, in cases where the agency personnel had been central to program creation, they often served as champions of the effort and could help sustain it through moments of fiscal austerity.

What does this all mean? I’m interested to know what others who have worked on innovative or non-traditional programs think about it. Can bureaucratic culture change? Does getting institutional buy-in make sense if doing so dilutes or weakens the approach under consideration? How can the desires of those pushing for change or new approaches outside an agency work with longtime staff and decision makers within that entity to be successful?



National Heritage Areas: Learning from Thirty Years of Working to Scale

By Eleanor Mahoney August 31, 2016
View of Wilkes-Barre, PA in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

View of Wilkes-Barre, PA in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

In the face of challenges such as climate change and urban sprawl not to mention shrinking budgets and at-times hostile lawmakers, how can those interested in large landscape conservation ensure that their work is both effective and sustainable? In the most recent issue of The George Wright Forum, a variety of scholars and practitioners examine these types of questions, analyzing the past and present of landscape-scale work in North America. Among the efforts reviewed is the National Heritage Areas (NHA) program, a more than 30-years old initiative that now includes 49 areas stretching from New England to Alaska.

Each NHA is authorized by Congress and, though placed in the portfolio of NPS, operates with a great degree of autonomy. These are lived-in landscapes, with no federal regulatory authority linked to designation. The regions included range from vibrant cityscapes to vast rural farmland and ranches. The individual NHAs are managed by nonprofits, state and local governments, universities, or federal commissions and operate with a high degree of local control. The direct funding commitment for both program administration and project work is limited and NHAs seek support from other funding sources and partnership arrangements. Program goals include protection of natural and cultural resources, education, recreation and economic development.

Since the mid 2000s, a significant number of NHAs have been evaluated in an effort both to understand their investments and accomplishments and assess their progress relative to the goals laid out in each individual piece of authorizing legislation. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating the potential of partnership-based endeavors on areas such as historic preservation, interpretation and trail development, for example.

To learn more about key lessons from NHA work as well the history of the program and its roots in the Reagan administration, read the entire article, “National Heritage Areas: Thirty Years of Working to Scale,” here.

Thanks to The George Wright Forum for allowing us to share this piece.


Corporate Role in Parks Recalls Earlier Era, Presents New Challenges

By Eleanor Mahoney August 1, 2016
This summer saw a flurry of articles centered on a proposed change (read the change here, Director’s Order 21) in how the National Park Service solicits and recognizes private donations, including from corporate entities. The Washington Post published a story on the issue headlined, “Yosemite, sponsored by Starbucks? National Parks to start selling some naming rights,” while the organization PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) entitled its story on the matter, “Panhandling and Pandering in our National Parks.” Clearly, the issue of corporate sponsorship arouses strong feelings among park supporters and, perhaps not surprisingly, also makes for some eye-catching headlines. But is the link between conservation and corporations actually new? And what does it reveal about deeper connections between economic change in the United States and the manner in which the country manages its public lands and historic sites?

Photo Harry Teng / Wikimedia Common

Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park. Built by the Great Northern Railway. Photo Harry Teng / Wikimedia Commons

The early history of National Parks in the late 19th and early 20th century is inseparable from the development of railroads, then one of the most influential industries in the nation. Railroad companies had benefited from a huge land giveaway during their initial construction phase and now sought to increase traffic and profits along their lines through the creation of National Park sites. Indeed, many historians argue that were not for the influence of the railroads in state capitols and in Washington, D.C. a good number of the parks widely hailed as “crown jewels” of the system, such as Yellowstone, Glacier and the Grand Canyon, would have faced greater opposition over their respective designations. Moreover, railroads financed the construction of iconic lodges in the parks as well as other infrastructure improvements. Of course, they were not the only supporters of park designation or the only beneficiaries. Early concessionaires, also private entities, played a role in promoting the creation of new units as did nearby towns and businesses. Preservationists, eager to protect natural wonders (which was a primary focus in the early period of park history), also lobbied Congress. In the majority of cases, the voices of less prominent local residents, especially Indigenous peoples, received scant attention. Overshadowed by those with more ready access to power and influence.

All this is not to say that the National Parks are a bastion of corporate America, only that their history has never been free from the influence of big business. Indeed, as most of the articles critiquing the new policy make clear, corporations have long been donors to the National Park Foundation as well as individual Friends’ groups. What might change now are the visibility and, potentially, the impact of such efforts. In this regard, National Parks are only the latest in a long line of public entities – state universities, k-12 schools, libraries, highways, local park efforts – to make more evident the longstanding influence of private individuals, nonprofits and companies on what were once considered public landscapes. All now bear the imprints and the management philosophies of non-public actors, which is not necessarily a negative. Indeed, it is important to remember that government has often played a less than benign role in perpetuating racial, class, gender, and ethnic inequities, with pressure coming from outside organizations for reform and change.

As the American state contracts and cuts discretionary funding items, like its public lands, arts and science initiatives, other bodies will fill the void. For parks, this may well become a “retro” moment of sorts, recalling the early influence of railroad financiers who played a integral role in deciding construction projects and marketing priorities. Given the enormous challenges facing not only the NPS, but also conservationists in general, the question then becomes, if not the state then who might be best to bring into partnership. Large foundations, nonprofit groups, corporations, and small individual donors are all a possibility. The new reality calls for not only vigilance on the part of those who would seek to maintain accountability and transparency, but also creativity and a renewed commitment to equity and outreach. All to ensure that public access and resource protection remain central to the Park Service mission.


Guide to the Parks – Past, Present and Future

By Eleanor Mahoney June 30, 2016
Published in 2016, A Thinking Person's Guide to America's National Parks

Published in 2016, A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks

Last summer, I taught a college course on the History of U.S. National Parks. At the time, I lamented the relative lack of high-quality, scholarly research on recent National Park history to share with my students. Fortunately for me, when I teach the class again this spring, I will now have the book I was looking for – the recently published A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks.

Unlike many synthetic or edited volumes on National Park history, A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks not only addresses both natural and cultural resources, but also effectively makes the case that all sites in the system are, in fact, a combination of both – that humans have shaped the landscape (including in lands now labeled as protected areas!) for millennia and continue to do so in a variety of ways.

In addition, urban parks receive much needed attention, including in an article co-authored by one of the volume’s editors, Rolf Diamant, and Michael Creasy, a park superintendent with experience in urban parks. Too often park units located in and near cities get scant attention from the public and scholars, save for a few locations such as Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia or the Jeffferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis. Diamant and Creasy challenge this exclusion, noting that one-third of parks are in urban areas and it is often these places that most effectively communicate the diversity of U.S. history and the complexity of the nation’s relationship to the natural world. In addition, their article contextualizes NPS involvement in cities, with a mention of the 1960’s Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission or ORRRC.

Other authors address such pressing issues as civic engagement, partnership parks and Indigenous voices, to name only a few topics. For those interested in learning more about the history of National Parks and the National Park Service as well as current and future policy concerns, this book is a must read – especially given the context of the NPS centennial and the upcoming federal elections.

A Thinking Person’s Guide to America’s National Parks. Edited by Robert Manning, Rolf Diamant, Nora Mitchell and David Harmon (George Braziller Publishers: New York, 2016)


Back to the Future for National Parks

By Eleanor Mahoney April 27, 2016
Ebey's Landing cabbage field. Photo by Mitch Richards.

Cabbage field in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Designated in 1978, Ebey’s (WA State) is one of several cooperative land management models first tried out in the 1970s. Photo by Mitch Richards.

What does the 21st century hold for the National Park system? It’s hard to say for sure, but one thing seems fairly certain, the parks of the future will look and be managed quite differently from those established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The older model of park creation, one characterized by exclusive federal government ownership is no longer tenable or, in many ways, desirable. Indeed, it has been called into question both by environmentalists, who doubt its ability to protect large and fragile ecosystems, and by Indigenous peoples, who are rightly demanding restitution and the eventual return of ancestral and sacred lands illegally and often violently seized. Advocates of private property rights are also seeking to exert their influence, lobbying elected officials to limit the creation of new protected areas and shrink the boundaries of many existing sites.

In addition to the critiques outlined above, the National Park System is suffering from years of stagnant budgets and waning interest among younger visitors. In an era of government austerity and at-times hostile public perception, how might those committed to the idea of National Parks respond to such an unprecedented set of challenges? Will the National Park Service, celebrating its centennial in 2016, adapt and survive, or will it gradually fade away, a nostalgic relic from a by-gone era?

Cranberry Bog Pinelands National Reserve. Credit: John Bunnel Pinelands Commission

Cranberry Bog, Pinelands National Reserve. Designated the same year as Ebey’s Landing, the Pinelands offers another model for cooperative land management. Credit: John Bunnel, Pinelands Commission

In considering these questions, it might be wise to look back a few decades at a period when the United States likewise confronted economic dislocation, national security concerns and political polarization – the 1970s. The era that brought us stagflation, Watergate and a succession of oil crises, also produced a series of innovations and attempted innovations in protected area management that are without parallel in post World War II American history. Not only were an unprecedented number of non-traditional parks created at the local, state and federal levels, but attempts to pass a National Land Use Policy garnered significant support in Congress. A new agency, the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, briefly flourished within the Department of the Interior, and a heightened emphasis on recreation in urban areas gained traction throughout the decade, before ultimately falling out of favor during the Reagan administration. Indeed, when looking for sources of inspiration for contemporary conservation policy, a back-to-the-future approach might yield unexpectedly beneficial results.

What truly sets the 1970s apart was the willingness of some National Park advocates to acknowledge and even celebrate the connection of people and place. Instead of denying or hiding the human impacts on a landscape, as had so often been the case with earlier park designations, many protected areas created during the decade deliberately highlighted the influence humans had exerted on the world around them. No longer were parks simply far away lands, reserved for the wealthy few. Instead, they could be anywhere and everywhere, even in far from “pristine” settings, such as cities suffering from de-industrialization or rapidly developing suburbs and coastal areas. Creating a park also did not mean that longtime residents had to be displaced — although this did, in fact, continue to occur in some instances. Preserving a site’s unique ecology could complement the protection of its history and culture and vice-versa; indeed the two often proved inseparable.


Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. Also designated in the 1970s management of the complex and living cultural site led to crisis and disagreement between many local residents and the NPS.

Fishpond at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. Photo by NPS. Also designated in the 1970s management of the complex and living cultural site led to crisis and disagreement between many local residents, including Native Hawaiians, and the NPS.

Did 1970s-era protected areas always “work” according to the visions of their planners? No. Were community members always happy with the results? No. Indeed, in some cases, it seems safe to say that local residents deeply regretted ever inviting the NPS and other federal partners to the table. These failures, as well as the successes of the 1970s, need to be systematically assessed in a way that goes beyond the platitudes of merely naming them as “partnership” parks. Investigators need to dig deep and truly understand the diverse reasons why non-traditional efforts at landscape conservation gain or loose support. The lessons learned from such studies could, in turn, be vital to informing future efforts, especially those aimed at protecting large landscapes. (Park administrative histories, many wonderfully researched and written, provide a great starting point. The next step would be a comparison across sites to compare findings).

National Parks still hold a special place in the American imagination, but that position is in serious jeopardy. In order to remain relevant, the National Park Service and its supporters must adapt, embracing new and novel modes of conservation, while also sincerely acknowledging past missteps. Though certainly difficult, the task is far from impossible, especially given the fact that a road map, drafted at a time when the Ford Pinto ruled the highways and the bell bottom the runway, already exists. Briefly: Be collaborative. Recognize that all landscapes, whether the northern reaches of Alaska or the streets of New York City, are shaped by the interaction of people and place. And finally, think outside the box, with an eye towards inviting diverse and, yes, even critical partners to the table. The end result, a relevant and revitalized National Park system, will be well worth the trouble.


Anniversary of the NPS: Building on a Legacy?

By Eleanor Mahoney February 21, 2016
Rangers and visitors  celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and Find Your Park.

Rangers and visitors celebrate the National Park Service Centennial and Find Your Park.

This post  first ran in our September 2015 newsletter, as NPS and Anniversaries. We are re-printing it now in an effort to spark conversation not only about the NPS centennial, but also the legacy of the Obama Presidency and National Parks more generally. After almost 8 years, what do you see as the primary imprint of the Administration on the National Park System and other public lands? Will the President’s expansive use of the Antiquities Act, which has resulted in the protection of more than 260 million acres of America’s lands and waters, be remembered as advancing the large landscape approach to conservation policy? The Administration has also focused on telling the stories of underrepresented communities, for example the recent designation of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument,  Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument, and the Pullman National Monument.  In recent years the NPS has led efforts to tell the history of all Americans by exploring American Latino heritage and Asian American Pacific Islander heritage, Women’s history, and LGBTQ history. For the celebration of its Centennial year  NPS has  committed to making the national park system more diverse and relevant and its narratives more inclusive. Will these initiatives change the long term culture of the agency and how it is perceived by diverse communities? Share your thoughts on all these topics as well as ideas for what the next Administration should emphasize.

NPS and Anniversaries

In 2016, the National Park Service will celebrate its 100th anniversary. If you work for or with the NPS, this is probably old news. However, for those outside of conservation and preservation circles, the information may well come as a surprise. Coverage of the upcoming NPS centennial in popular media has been relatively scarce, with prominent sources like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, for example, devoting little coverage to the Agency’s plans for the upcoming year. What, if anything, does this relative lack of attention reveal about the current and future state of the NPS as well as its many affiliated programs and partnerships?

Fifty years ago, the NPS found itself in a radically different position – at least insofar as the media was concerned. As the country’s population exploded and as discretionary income and vacation time grew for many, though far from all, Americans, public lands, including National Parks, experienced an unprecedented surge in usage. At the same time, however, funding remained flat, resulting in overcrowded and even dangerous conditions at many sites. Popular magazines such as Life and Readers Digest published exposes on the subject. Among the most famous was a 1953 piece in Harpers by columnist Bernard DeVoto entitled “Let’s Close the National Parks.” In it, he critiqued both the entitled attitudes of many park visitors as well as the insufficient support provided by Congress.

The article and others like it generated substantial interest in the future of recreation and land use, especially as it related to the park service. Within a few years time, the Agency would finally succeed in gaining the attention of decision makers in Washington, D.C., who approved a decade-long, multi-million dollar spending program dubbed Mission 66, which aimed to “modernize” the parks in time for the NPS’ 50th anniversary in 1966. The initiative received substantial attention in the press, with numerous articles in local and national publications highlighting efforts big and small.

In the end, Mission 66 fundamentally re-oriented the way visitors experienced NPS units, whether through the addition of new front country amenities, the building of enlarged visitor centers or the construction of new roadways to previously inaccessible areas. These projects and others proved controversial, with many scholars crediting Mission 66 as a factor driving support for passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 as well as a push against commercialization in NPS units.

Roughly a month ago, on September 1, 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the Obama Administration’s legislative proposal for the upcoming NPS centennial. Dubbed the National Park Service Centennial Act, the bill focuses particular attention on the creation of a Challenge Fund, which would use both private and public monies to support “signature projects.” In addition, a separate, smaller Public Lands Centennial Fund would also be established, which would provide up to $100 million annually to not only the NPS, but also other federal land or water management agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service. Attention in the bill is also focused on youth outreach, volunteers in parks, interpretation and visitor services. But, what is the big picture or vision behind this initiative? It’s hard to tell. What does the Agency want to become over the next 50 or 100 years? For all its shortcomings, which were myriad, Mission 66 captured the public’s (albeit a select public of park goers) imagination. Will this effort do the same? Are public-private partnerships the answer to the NPS’ chronic under-funding? Do new approaches to large landscape management need to get more attention? What do you think?

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