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Outsized Threats to Large Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett January 27, 2019

Boundaries of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.  Credit Department of Interior

It should be no surprise to readers of the Living Landscape Observer that conserving large landscapes in the current political climate is challenging. While the inevitable negative impacts of the recent shutdown (December 22, 2018 – January 25, 2019) represent the most immediate threats to the management of public lands and federal programs that conserve our cultural and natural resources, the bigger issue is the underlying erosion of landscape scale work throughout our national government.

The 2015 American Academy of Science report “An Evaluation of the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives”, identified the need for a landscape approach to resource conservation. The report noted that geographic scale and the complex web of management responsibility for natural and cultural resources demand a collaborative approach to conservation and that this is especially true in times of scarce resources. Only through this approach can the nation address such systemic challenges as conserving wildlife habitat, combating invasive species, protecting cultural landscapes, and planning for climate change.  The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) were designed to provide a framework for federal agencies to meet these challenges. And of course, they were one of the first programs to be dismantled

National Marine Sanctuaires
Courtesey NOAA

Another set of actions that has had an outsize impact on large landscape conservation is the ongoing reduction in public land protections. In 2017, for example, the Trump administration launched a review of 21 national monuments. The most publicized outcome of this process has (thus far)  been the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument. Within the borders of this monument alone, the potential losses are tremendous – decreased protection for an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites as well sites with significance for paleontology and geology. Even more important, the landscapes of the monument have tremendous ongoing cultural importance for many Indigenous peoples in the region. Shrinking Bears Ears is a lost opportunity to manage part of the country’s heritage on a landscape scale and to do so in partnership with the Native nations that have lived upon and cared for these lands for generations untold. Read more here.

Bears Ears National Monument as well as another Utah national monument, Grand Staircase Escalante, were not the only places that have suffered reduced protection. Protection for marine reserves have also been reduced. Overshadowed by the controversy over shrinking the size of national monuments that protect large swaths of the United States’ western landscapes, is a parallel effort to change the protected status of the nation’s marine resources. While all eyes have been focused on Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce has prepared its own report to review the size and protection offered to six national marine sanctuary expansions and five marine national monuments. Read More here.

Greater Sage Grouse
Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service

Less reported on – but also a real calamity – is the dismantling of the multi state effort to save the Greater Sage Grouse. Spurred to action by strong interest in preserving the bird and its habitat and concern about a possible endangered species listing many agencies and organizations came together to protect the species over a large landscape. These efforts to conserve greater sage-grouse habitat were not limited to state and federal agencies. Industry and private landowners also developed means of conserving greater sage-grouse.  The Sage Grouse Initiative  has worked with more than 1,129 ranches to conserve more than 6,000 square miles of sage-grouse habitat in 11 western states. Although hailed as a conservation success, in 2018 the Department of the Interior decided to revise this broadly backed and science-based approach. The proposed changes could have significant and far-reaching effects on sage-grouse in America—specifically by weakening protections on the landscapes the species calls home. Read More here.

Across the board the budgets for large landscape programs have been slashed whether it is the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives or the National Heritage Areas. And that does not even begin to touch on what is happening to climate change research. However, as we start 2019, we do have a few bright spots. Private organizations are stepping up.  The new Network for Landscape Conservation  has dedicated a lot of energy to the effort to bring conservation to scale. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has launched a comprehensive landscape scale initiative

States are also continuing to support landscape scale conservation. North American fish and wildlife agencies have recommitted themselves to coordinated conservation strategies on a national and international scale. See Association of Fish and Wildlife Organization’s Strategic Plan Goals 3. States like Pennsylvania are expanding  support for innovative Conservation Landscape efforts.  Virginia has adopted  a new Conservation Vision  to guide development on a landscape scale.

 All these efforts are praiseworthy, but we still need federal agencies at the table. A couple of  points to consider:

  • Because of the pattern of land ownership in the United States, large landscape work west of the Mississippi must engage Federal partners. If those essential partners are not engaged in these efforts, the work becomes immensely more problematic. For example, the reduced size of both Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments eliminated protected status for more than 2 million acres of land in Utah alone.

 

  • Federal partners bring more than just land ownership. Until recently they brought a powerful voice for a landscape ethic, partnership programs like the Landscape Conservation Collaboratives and landscape programs in the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and even the Department of Defense have played a critical role in making the landscape approach work.

 

  • In addition to  other actions the administration has delayed re-appointments to friends groups and Advisory boards. They might as well post a big sign “Not Open for Partnership Business.” Well not completely, the federal government is open for other business such as the business of extractive industries as demonstrated by, increase in drilling permits alone. And these interests have no reason to embrace landscape conservation. Under the current administration there is hardly even a nod to the landscape benefits to the recreational industry or to gateways communities. Issues were on the table during the last republican administration of George W Bush.

Of course, all this makes total  sense, if as the National Academy report states, landscape scale work is powered by the need to address issues like unregulated development, energy extraction, and  climate change.  Seen through this lens, the idea of landscape scale conservation is in clear opposition to the current administration’s agenda.

So, what can we do?

Many groups are tackling pieces of the puzzle by pushing back with activism on specific issues  and if needed law suits– see the work of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks. Other are working harder to be successful in their own bailiwick such as the Network for Landscape Conservation. But there is also a need to call out this dismantling of critical Federal programs and  partnerships as what it is – a systemic challenge to landscape scale thinking. Perhaps we need a more unified platform, a bigger vessel in which to track the risks to this important work. We need to merge the agendas of nature and culture conservation not just around protected lands, but in advocating  approaches  that engages all partners and incorporate our lived in landscapes toward achieving conservation goals at scale.

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Federal Budget: First Look is not Promising

By Brenda Barrett March 29, 2017

On March 16, 2017 the Whitehouse released the America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again  and the news was not great for programs that support large landscape conservation. For the FY 2018 budget, the Department of Interior faces a proposed 12% budget cut. Although not as bad as other agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency is facing a 31% reduction – the decline is still troubling. The budget document is very brief and in general it does not identify where the pain will fall. However, is it is clearly not supportive of land acquisition or regional conservation initiatives and threatens parks and protected area funding. Let’s look at the actual language in the Blueprint– limited as it is:

Impact on Landscape Scale Conservation

  • Eliminates funding for specific regional efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs. (EPA)
  • Reduces funding for lower priority activities in the National Forest System, such as major new Federal land acquisition; instead, the Budget focuses on maintaining existing forests and grasslands. (Agriculture)
  • Reduces funding for lower priority activities, such as new major acquisitions of Federal land. The Budget reduces land acquisition funding by more than $120 million from the 2017 annualized CR level and would instead focus available discretionary funds on investing in, and maintaining, existing national parks, refuges and public lands . (Interior)
  • Zeroes out over $250 million in targeted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education including Sea Grant, which primarily benefit industry and State and local stakeholders. (Commerce)

All of the above programs have been identified in an  National Academy of Sciences 2015 report as part of the public policy tool kit that helps support landscape scale conservation efforts. As for what will happen to the Department of Interior’s landmark program, the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC), well the fate of the LCCs are not mentioned by name. However, given the proposed drastic budget reductions and the trend to de-fund landscape scale conservation initiatives, the signs are not hopeful. And this all before the proposed cuts and deletions of any  program that addresses climate change.

Impact on National Heritage Areas

  • Eliminates unnecessary, lower priority, or duplicative programs, including… National Heritage Areas as more appropriately funded locally. (Interior)

The National Heritage Area (NHA) program has been a favorite target of the Office of Management Budget for almost two decades. This is despite the fact that each areas is congressionally authorized with the mission to conserve significant  heritage landscapes and tell part of our nation’s story and that the program has had very positive evaluations. In the just one and half  pages allocated to the Department of interior’s 11.6 billion dollar budget, the NHA’s line item of only 16 million (FY 2017)  is specifically singled out for elimination.  Even more ironic, the Blueprint then goes on to comment favorably on other DOI programs that:

  • Leverages taxpayer investment with public and private resources through wildlife conservation, historic preservation, and recreation grants. These voluntary programs encourage partnerships by providing matching funds that produce greater benefits to taxpayers for the Federal dollars invested. (Interior)

Wait a minute, isn’t that just how the NHA program is supposed to work with every Federal dollar matched by other public or private contributions? And, in addition, doesn’t the program have strong evidence to back up claims that it provides such a match as well as  additional public and private leverage? This is very discouraging.

National Park Service

  • Supports stewardship capacity for land management operations of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Budget streamlines operations while providing the necessary resources for DOI to continue to protect and conserve America’s public lands and beautiful natural resources, provide access to public lands for the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, and ensure visitor safety. (Interior)

This all sound good. However, any proposal that imposes a 12% reduction in funding for land managing agencies is problematic.  Front-line services at National Park units could be hit the hardest and it will certainly impact the service’s other cultural and natural resource programs. The Blueprint also proposes upping dollars to the NPS for deferred maintenance, but if staff for maintenance, planning and administration such an initiative is lost this increase will not provide much of a solution. For a comprehensive overview of the NPS funding and infrastructure issue see Denny Galvin’s recent testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources.

And now to Congress            

It is important to emphasize that in most cases the March 2017 Blueprint does not contain information on exactly which programs and accounts will lose out, but with such deep cuts in base funding there could be many losers. However, these proposals, both at the aggregate level and the specific program level, are just that—proposals. They are the administration’s ideas on how Congress, to whom the Blueprint goes next, should allocate dollars in each of these areas. While it needs to be taken very seriously as an indicator of the direction in which the President would like to head, it is only a starting point for the 2018 Federal Budget.

So over to you Congress… we  all need to be watching closely or better yet taking action.

See Something Say Something!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Highway Planning on a Landscape Scale: The Next Generation

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

Proposed Central Susquehanna Transportation Project
Courtesey Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

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

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn Courtesey Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Canoe Sojourn
Courtesey  Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The 2016 Federal Budget: How did Large Landscapes Fare?

By Brenda Barrett January 11, 2016

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

 

The Land and Water Conservation Fund

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

The Historic Preservation Fund

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

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

The National Heritage Areas

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

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

The Landscape Conservation Cooperatives

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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National Heritage Areas Deliver Place-Based Education

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

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

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

This innovative program presents students with the challenge of

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

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

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

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

A Coast for Every Classroom Essex National Heritage Area

A Coast for Every Classroom
Essex National Heritage Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Brenda Barrett September 28, 2015

 

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Courtesy of Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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National Heritage Areas at Thirty: Help tell the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bbarrett@livinglandscapeobserver.net or emahoney@livinglandcapeobserver.net

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Blackstone River Valley: Sounding a Retreat from Landscape Scale Work?

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2014

Fair warning: Insider discussion coming up…

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

An image of Slater Mill in the Blackstone River Valley NHC on the cover of the 2006 report “Charting A Future for National Heritage Areas.”

Not so long ago the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was the pride of the National Park Service (NPS) – the poster child of the new approach to managing a living landscape. It was lauded in publication after publication and was a regular stop for visiting dignitaries looking for models of intergovernmental partnerships in action. The corridor was a prime example of the NPS extending its reach to the landscape scale using a Federal Commission that included government at every level and private citizens to care for a 550 square miles corridor spanning Massachusetts and Rhode Island and 24 communities. Non-profit and private sector partners also played a key role in corridor planning and management, whether as the stewards of key sites like museums or as co-promoters of tourism and preservation initiatives.

The story of the Blackstone Valley illustrated an arc of the nation’s industrial history stretching from sites of early industrial innovation to environmental exploitation, and then abandonment. Through its the expansive mission, the Blackstone River Valley Commission, was able to interpret the whole landscape – the connection between cities and rural areas, industrial innovation, and the regeneration of the region’s natural and cultural values.

But somewhere along the way, the NPS changed its direction in the Blackstone Valley. Perhaps it was the lingering effects of the great recession or the inborn desire to care more for resources that one owns in fee. An NPS special resource study that was originally planned to create the next level of innovation for the region’s future inexplicably rejected the continuation of the heritage commission. The study devolved into a preferred alternative that would create a traditional national park. The sweeping ideas of the original heritage corridor – partnership management of the valley – were reduced to the NPS preserving a small collection of industrial heritage sites. It certainly was not about the money as the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of the new park as $26 million dollars (between FY 2014-2018).  The 2014 annual appropriation for the corridor program is only around $500,000. However, some argued that this was the best deal that could be crafted to keep a NPS presence in the valley. After all it was thought that a new park unit could partner with the heritage corridor and provide a stable base of operation.

Two years ago in reporting on the Blackstone situation, I noted the irony in this proposal…”Just as the NPS’s most recent strategic plan, calls for scaling up its work and promoting large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources, one of the best examples of collaborative lived-in landscape management may be headed for a down sizing.” (see full post here)

Recent congressional action on the proposed park bill for the Blackstone Valley is even more alarming than a mere down sizing. In September of 2014 the House Natural Resources Committee amended HR 706, “to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park” to strip out every reference of a partnership with the heritage corridor (along with other language that makes even establishing a traditional park problematic). This would end the innovative approach that has been in place for almost three decades.

So what is next? The Senate companion bill S. 371 still has the right stuff. But as is sometimes the case at the end of a two-year congressional session, the bills could be included in a last minute omnibus bill. If this bill rumbles down the halls of power, there will be little time to make the case for landscape scale thinking and try salvage what was once an exemplary partnership.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Roger Williams National Memorial. Credit: Brenda Barrett

Another possibility is that nothing will happen. Then legislative process would have to start all over in 2015, the same year that the funding authorization for the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor ends. If that happens what will be the NPS’s role in the Blackstone Valley? Well the agency will still fly the flag over the Roger Williams National memorial a 5-acre park in downtown Providence – a long way from the landscape scale vision that once animated their work.

 

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#NHA30: Tales from the Towpaths

By Guest Observer June 1, 2014

By Allen Sachse

National parks are popular. Despite our nation’s fiscal limitations, the American public has shown no sign of tiring of their national parks or desiring reductions in park opportunities. To the contrary, there is a demand for more services and accessibility to our public lands, especially near centers of population. So as we approach the second century of the National Park Service (NPS), how do we address these seemingly incongruent realities? A major part of the answer is that the NPS will be required to expand its current level and use of public/private partnerships. The national heritage area model is a public/private partnership model which has over-­‐time been proven to work.

The NPS has the daunting mission of preserving the resources and interpreting the most significant American stories. No doubt, Jon Jarvis, Director of the NPS, recognized the contribution National Heritage Areas (NHA) could make to this effort when he stated, “National Heritage Areas are places where small investments pay huge dividends, providing demonstrable benefits in communities across the country and in partnership with our national Parks.”

Credit: Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor

Josiah White Canal Boat Ride in the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Credit: Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor

Through my work as the former Executive Director of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Area, I developed a keen interest in this country’s early industrial transportation system of canals. So when visiting the District of Columbia, I often will stay in the Georgetown neighborhood. This affords me the opportunity in the evening to enjoy the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park (C&O). The NPS does an exceptional job of preserving this tremendous asset with a modest operation and maintenance budget of approximately $9.3 million. However, as impressed as I am by the care and interpretation of the C&O, it is still difficult for people to truly understand how important canals were in the 19th century to the growth and development of this nation.

Early canals connected many of the inland towns to the major maritime cities. They were financed by both private capital and public funds. Often the engineers were presented with unprecedented challenges of geography in the design and construction. Construction required a massive labor force, which was not readily available. Canals provided waterpower for mills; canals moved massive amounts coal and other raw materials to manufacturers of industrial products; canals transported the manufactured products to the consumers, improving commerce and trade; canals became the means to grow and expand our young nation. Canals linked the eastern markets to the Great Lakes and then on to the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. There are seven NHAs whose stories emanate from canals – Augusta Canal, Blackstone River Valley, Delaware & Lehigh, Erie Canalway, Illinois & Michigan, Ohio and Erie Canalway, and Schuylkill River.

Credit: Schuylkill River Heritage Area

Lock 60 Schuylkill River Heritage Area. Credit: Schuylkill River Heritage Area

Each of these NHAs is working in partnership with the NPS, state, and local agencies to preserve and tell this nationally significant story. Collectively, the seven NHAs received approximately $3.7 million in NPS Heritage Partnership funding in fiscal year 2014. Granted, one cannot accurately compare the cost of managing any given mile of a historic canal to another, for the resources truly differ. However, one can easily see that local ownership and multiple partners sharing the management responsibility can pay real dividends to the NPS as they face the challenge of preserving and sharing the stories of transportation, industrial growth, capital, immigration, labor, settlement, and more. However, it is equally important to note that because of the entrepreneurial nature of most NHAs the local partners also reap the benefits of this partnership by creating and supporting local jobs through investments in their community and heritage tourism. Regrettably many of this nation’s historic canals have been lost to time and neglect. These seven systems were also vulnerable, but because of the partnership work of these NHAs much has been saved for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

Credit: Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. Credit: Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

These seven NHA partnerships are conserving approximately 1,000 miles of historic canal corridors and in the process saving miles of watered canal. Today these historic canals and towpaths are becoming tomorrow’s network of trails and blue ways connecting population centers to parks and historical sites of national, state, and local importance. The waterfront towns along the way are experiencing re-­‐purposed buildings and preserved neighborhoods. This is all accomplished by leveraging the collective resources and the partners’ commitment to preserving their shared heritage and sense of place.

There are many lessons to be learned about partnership management by studying the successes of the NHA program as it has evolved over the past three decades. At the request of Congress, the NPS commissioned a series of evaluations of nine of the longstanding NHAs. Westat, an external evaluation firm, undertook the work. The evaluations have been completed and the findings verify the accomplishments of the nine NHA partnerships to address the purpose defined in the legislative language and the original designation; the NHAs ability to leverage additional funds to meet program and infrastructure needs 4–1 (local to federal) in most cases; the NHAs showed sound management and fiscal responsibility; the NHAs relied on public participation and created partnerships to carry out the work; the partners preserved nationally significant resources; and the NPS gained an invaluable partner.

Allen Saches serves as the President of the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and was formerly the Executive Director of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor. Prior to that position he had almost 30 years of service with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Community Affairs.

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NHA@30: Funding for NHAs – Past and Present and What About the Future?

By Brenda Barrett March 2, 2014

Charting a Future for National Heritage AreasOn the Thirtieth Anniversary of the National Heritage Areas (NHA), one thing we can celebrate is that the program is still alive and still funded. In the 2014 federal budget, the 49 NHAs felt fortunate to receive an appropriation of  $18.2 million as the administration’s FY 2014 request to Congress was for only $9 million. This demonstrates the resilience and political heft of the NHA idea.  How many National Park Service programs can go to Congress and double their money?

Once upon a time there was much more alignment of interest in the budget process. The National Park Service’s  (NPS) budget request for the NHAs and Congress’s give was (give or take a few across the board trims and special bonus dollars) approximately the same number. For example in the early 2000s  the  requested and enacted amounts were only 10% apart and a number of NHAs achieved the almost impossible –  authorized funding of close to $1 million.  Of course there were many fewer of them and the NHAs place in the budget was still being sorted out between the many arcane pots of money in the National Park Service (ONPS, Stat. Aid and NR&P).  But for more than a decade this has not been the case. At one particularly low moment the NPS FY 2007 budget request zeroed out the whole program.  The result – NHA leaders became even more skilled in advocating for their cause and Congress went ahead and put the money back. After that experience NPS reductions for the NHA budget have been hovering at a more modest 50%. And every year a great deal of energy is expended to refund the program.

Why has this happened? Over the years the NPS and its advisory bodies have consistently written glowing reports on the value of the program.   Just take a look at the Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas and a Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement. A recent evaluation of 12 longstanding NHAs concludes that they are focused on their mission, well managed, and cost effective, but, without continued NPS funding, may not survive.  There are many rationales for this budgetary disconnect.  The argument has been made that federal funding for NHAs was just start up money, that in hard financial times sacrifices must be made, that program legislation needs to be in place before the NHAs can be fully funded etc.… And yet still the NHA’s come. Today there are 49 areas and more are waiting in the wings.

So here is a 30th Anniversary idea. What if those planning the Centennial of the National Park Service made common cause with leaders of the NHA movement and harnessed their considerable advocacy skills and deep knowledge of the political process to help float everyone’s boat.  What if everybody got on the same page?  Emerging NHAs, National Scenic and Historic Trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other partnership parks could all benefit from this approach.  Then we could start building the kind heritage partnerships that will sustain the places we care about not just for one congressional cycle, but for the next generation.

Read More:

March 2013 – Another Close Call for National Heritage Areas 

September 2012 – National Heritage Areas on the Brink

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NHA@30 New National Parks in the 1990s: Thinning of the Blood or a Much Needed Transfusion?

By Brenda Barrett January 30, 2014

In 1991, I wrote a paper by this title as a contribution to a National Park Services (NPS) gathering on the occasion of the service’s 75 Anniversary. Known as the Vail Agenda (for the conference’s location at an off-season ski resort) the meeting was at a time of review and self-examination for the agency. Trying to be memorable or at least catchy, the title played off then National Park Service Director James Ridenour’s discomfort at many of the new national park proposals being pushed on the park service by Congress and local communities. Ridenour had spoken out strongly against such “thinning of the blood” and the agency’s leadership knew exactly what he meant – more than a few nodded in agreement. These new threatening ideas were rivers and canal corridors, cultural areas, and partnership parks. A number of these new fangled designations became known as National Heritage Areas.

The “new park proposals” were challenging for an agency that had attempted to maintain a high degree of credibility and control over the national park system. These designation were also a real concern for an agency that had suffered years of no growth or budget reductions and where resources were stretched to the limit. It was difficult to welcome these unfamiliar and possibly expensive newcomers. At that time I stated that:

… the issue before us is whether the National Park Service can make some sense or something of continuing value out of this phenomenon. While it may be too early to look for patterns and make predictions, we need to try. All time can do is prove us wrong.

In trying to identify the opportunities in this new approach, I wrote about the pressing need to think big. The NPS had long recognized that parks were only a small patch of any given ecosystem and were constantly buffeted by changes to the larger whole. Cultural parks commemorating a specific event in time and place had often become an island in a radically changed landscape. Perhaps I suggested these new ideas for large landscapes could help conserve land adjacent to national parks or tackle projects where fee ownership is not feasible or desirable. In addition the new parks reflected new ideas about history by addressing industrial themes, tales of laboring men and woman, and other of the country’s diverse stories. These new parks were a long way from the traditional great men, great events type of historic sites and the agency needed to embrace this new direction.

Finally, the paper identified some of the innovations that these new park proposals might bring to enrich the practice of all NPS parks and programs, such as:

1) Partnerships – True partnerships are developed between the federal government, state partners, local governments, local citizens and other related historic attractions. These partnerships are broad based, even regional in nature, and must be true partnerships, not just opportunities to come to a few informational meetings.

2) Economic value – Unlike traditional parks, the tourism and economic development role of a park in a community are directly addressed. Related natural and cultural preservation opportunities in the region are recognized and assisted.

3) Education and interpretation – The message is more complex than the one story line that can be told at one park or one site. The landscape and the natural environment in a broad area are used to tell the story.

4) Local priorities and capacities – Unlike a traditional park where the NPS has total control, economic, social and cultural concerns of the community must be incorporated into park planning and management.

As we look backward, it turns out these ideas of partnership management, economic value of parks, regional interpretation and public engagement have become more  and more central to the agency. Today managing park units at a landscape scale is seen as a more mainstream approach and the number of National Heritage Areas have grown from a trickle to a flood of designations. However, despite all these changes, NPS still struggles to make something of value from these new park ideas in the face of persistent foundation myth that continues to reinforce the more traditional narrative of the park as an island of protection in a sea change. Read the full paper here: New National Parks in the 1990s: Thinning of the Blood or a Much Needed Transfusion?

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Sapelo Island: Still a Living Landscape

By Brenda Barrett May 31, 2013

Last month (May 18, 2013) the New York Times reported on the sale of a house on Edisto Island to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Once a slave cabin on the Point of Pines Plantation, it will be reconstructed as part of an exhibit titled Slavery and Freedom in the museum, which is scheduled to opens its doors in 2015.  According to the article, the building is in a remarkable state of preservation.

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

But for an even more remarkable preservation story, head south on Interstate 95 and take one of the three ferries a day to Sapelo Island. The 16,500-acre Sapelo Island, the fourth largest barrier island of Georgia, is 97% owned and managed by the state’s natural resource agency. However, the other 3% is the community of Hog Hammock whose residents can trace their lineage back for over two centuries. If you are lucky, you can book a room at the Wallows Lodge.

Built and operated by community residents Cornelia Walker Bailey and Julius Bailey, the Wallows offers more than a place to stay on the island. It offers a seat on the porch in the center of living landscape. Cornelia Walker Bailey, who was born and educated on Sapelo Island, is the community historian. Her book God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man (New York : Doubleday 2000) is a already considered a classic cultural memoir of Geechee culture. My husband and I enjoyed the Wallow’s hospitality for two nights in May (2013). We were fortunate to be there for the 147th Anniversary of the First African Baptist Church just down the road and blessed to attend the morning service. Best of all we sat on the porch of the Wallows and enjoyed ourselves.

These special occasions continue to call people back to Sapelo Island. The population of Hog Hammock almost doubled the weekend we visited, but by Monday morning most of the crowd had departed. The five children living on the island were all on the 7 AM ferry headed to school on the other side. Although the locally owned Wallows Lodge, catering for visitors, and island tours offer some economic opportunities, the community’s aging population continues to dwindle. To help preserve and revitalize Hog Hammock, the residents have formed a non-profit corporation known as the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society (SICARS). Through the efforts of SICARS, the Hog Hammock Historic District of Sapelo Island was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. The organization also sponsors a well-attended cultural festival every October.

The gradual attrition of population is a long-term problem, but the community now faces a more immediate threat. Last fall property tax reassessments by Macintosh County raised the tax bills of Hog Hammock residents by as much as 500%.  Appeals have been filed, but the future is still uncertain. The loss of real estate particularly in valuable costal locations is a recurrent theme for the larger Gullah Geechee community.  Communities in places like Hilton Head and St. Simmons Island have been overrun by the development of upscale resorts and gated communities. Other islands like Cumberland Island are protected lands set aside for nature conservation. Today a living traditional community like Hog Hammock is the most rare and endangered place of all.

The Management Plan for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor  devotes a whole section to the topic under the chapter Land Ownership and Land Cover  (Pages 96-101). However, implementation of the management plan, approved by the Secretary of the Interior on May 6 of this year, is just getting underway. Partners from the National Park Service and both historic preservation and land conservation organizations should be called upon to help conserve this part of our past before it is too late.

To see some wonderful recent photographs by a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design who also enjoyed staying at the Wallows: Visit Annelsie Moore’s Portfolio.

 

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Fabos Conference: Building a Movement

By Brenda Barrett April 30, 2013

Landscape architects, regional planners, academics, and students from over 20 countries gathered at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the Fabos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning (April 11-12, 2013). The conference theme was Pathways to Sustainability, but what really brought them together was Julius Gy. Fabos now Emeritus Professor in Landscape Architecture Department. Over his long and distinguished career, he has written the book Greenways: The Beginning of an International Movement (Elsevier, 1996) as well as hundreds of articles on the greenway movement, but even more importantly he attracted students from all over the world. His students went forth and implemented these ideas in Portugal, India, China, and beyond. The Fabos conference is held every three years alternating between the United States and Europe – the 2010 conference was held in Budapest. The goal is bring together experts who are influencing landscape planning, policy making and greenway planning from the local to international level.  The event was all of that and more with the celebratory vibe of a 25th anniversary class reunion.

Another landscape scale movement, the heritage areas, held a brief retrospective at the Fabos Conference.  The heritage area idea was founded in many of same impulses as the early greenway approach. Glenn Eugester, retired NPS, traces their evolution to related strategies to coordinate natural resource conservation, historic preservation, land use and economic development on a regional scale. Moderated by U Mass- Amherst Professor Ethan Carr, the panel provided a backward glance on the origins of the heritage area movement. Paul Bray and David Sampson traced the important legacy of both the greenway and heritage programs in the state of New York. Eleanor Mahoney reviewed the significant contribution National Heritage Areas have played in preserving industrial history and the landscapes of American labor.  I summarized what we can learn from evaluations of twelve of the early National Heritage Areas about successful regional scale management over a period of fifteen to twenty years. The four papers from this panel are available in the Research and Writing section of the Living Landscape Observer.

Next year the National Heritage Area idea will turn thirty and it is time for reflection and taking stock.  Until the Fabos Conference, I never thought that much about the nexus between academia and changing the world.  Paul Bray summed it up “I was impressed with the success Julius Fabos has had in scattering the seeds for greenways in many nations.” The heritage area movement needs their own Johnny Appleseed to nurture the idea, write the book, and engage the next generation of practitioners.

Read all the conference proceedings here.

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Another Close Call for Heritage Areas

By Brenda Barrett March 28, 2013

Just when you think things cannot get more dire for the National Heritage Areas, the program found itself fighting a rearguard action as the Senate was poised to pass the FY 2013 budget – well, actually it was a continuing resolution (CR), which is what passes for a budget in Washington these days.

On Thursday March 17, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) proposed a amendment to strip away half of the funding for National Heritage Areas ($8.1 Million) and redirect much of the money to reinstate tours of the White House and for other national park service activities  His amendment would have also nixed a one-year extension for twelve areas that had reached the end of their authorization. And just to show that he was really serious, Coburn backed himself up with talking points and a press release to Fox News listing “wasteful heritage area projects’.  So all weekend, the NHAs scrambled their delegations on both sides of the aisle and on Wednesday March 20th the Senate defeated the amendment by a vote of 45-55. The Senate sent the CR back to the House minus the language harmful to NHAs. It passed the next day. Phew!

The short history of the National Heritage Area (NHA) program has been full of last minute saves. The Living Landscape Observer has posted several times on the brinksmanship that has characterized the life of heritage area leaders. See this piece from last year for example.

What is truly hard to swallow about this most recent attack was that Coburn’s most damming indictment of the program came directly from the mouth of the current administration. The Department of the Interior FY 2013 budget request  recommended an $8.1 reduction from the  $17 appropriated for the program in FY 2012.  The rationale stated in the budget document was:  The National Park Service is proposing to reduce funding for the National Heritage Areas program for FY 2013 by roughly 50 percent. This proposed reduction would allow the Park Service to focus its available resources on sustaining park operations and other critical community partnership programs. Managers of NHAs continue to rely heavily on Federal funding, although the program was not intended as a pathway to long-term Federal funding for individual Heritage Areas” Ouch!

Over the past year the National Park Service’s Call to Action identified NHAs as a promising strategy. Director John Jarvis has spoken out strongly in favor of the approach and has issued a policy directive that reinforced the importance of these partnerships.  The agency is in favor of legislation to establish a NHA program.  The next big step — send a new message on the value of NHA to Congress with the right price tag – how about $49 million in FY 2014?

Seriously, in these times of high budget drama and shrinking resources, the NPS should take advantage of partners like the NHAs with such proven and effective advocacy skills. What if everybody got on the same page?  Then we could start building the kind heritage partnerships that will sustain the places we care about not just for one congressional cycle, but for the next generation.

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Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission Starts the Journey

By Brenda Barrett March 1, 2013

It has been a long process, but the management plan for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is finally done. There is only one step left, the Secretary of Interior has to ink in his, or maybe now her, name on a letter of approval. So what lies ahead?

Recently, the Living Landscape Observer caught up with two members of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, Veronica Gerald and Ralph Johnson. We talked about the opportunities the commission faces as a standard bearer for a living cultural landscape that stretches over four states. It is a big task to interpret this narrative on such a geographic scale and it is made more complex by the importance of telling the story over time. Gerald was worried that “people only want to interpret us historically.” She noted that the story stretches back across the Atlantic and forward into the present day as the Gullah and Geechee people spread out across the nation. Johnson gave as just one example the history of the Underground Railroad to the south. At one time enslaved people from the region escaped to then Spanish controlled Florida and dispersed from there. The corridor still serves as a cultural hearth for all of the Gullah Geechee people and Gerald and Johnson noted that it is a hearth that is still burning.

Both Commissioners agreed that the national designation, the corridor is one of 49 heritage areas or corridors in the National Park Service, is important because it serves as umbrella arching over the region that is such a significant part of America’s collective heritage. They encouraged the park service to work closely with the commission to interpret the Gullah Geechee experience.

Help is also needed on other pressing issues, for example:

a) Heritage Tourism – How can authentic Gullah Geechee products be marketed to improve the economic position of community members, where so many are now relegated to service positions?

b) Land conservation – How can land traditionally owned by the Gullah Geechee community be protected from development or even from public acquisition?

These are big topics that are probably beyond the know-how of the National Park Service. However, perhaps working together the expertise can be assembled to tackle them. The commission will have an important role as ambassador and translator to help ensure the right outcomes. Of course, all of this if going to require money and it is not going to be done on the meager allowance doled out to National Heritage Areas projects. So add raising money to the list of challenges.

On one thing everyone agrees, the first step is to build awareness and recognition of what the Gullah Geechee Corridor has to offer the nation. So congratulations to the commission for their web site and read the post on the float inaugural parade. Now it is all of our job to promote this good work.


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Erie Canal – Deserves Attention

By Paul Bray November 30, 2012
Lock 27, Photo by flicr user sailorbill.

View of Erie Canal, lock 27. Photo by flickr user sailorbill.

Historian Warren Roberts begins the chapter on “Albany and the Erie Canal” in his book “A Place in History: Albany in the Age of Revolution, 1775-1825” by declaring, “The Erie Canal is one of the most important transportation projects in all of American history.” The Erie Canal is approaching its bicentennial in 2025. It is hard to underestimate how transformational its creation was to the nation. Yet, why can’t we realize its potential as what former Gov. George Pataki called one of New York’s most valuable resources?

Visions for a new chapter for the Erie Canal came from Pataki when he was governor, Andrew Cuomo when he was the U.S. housing secretary, members of Congress when the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was established and Peter Tufo, chairman and CEO of the Thruway Authority when Mario Cuomo was governor.

Little of that potential has been realized. The Erie Canal is threatened every time a Thruway toll increase is proposed. Tufo led the preparation of the Canal Recreationway Plan and called the scenic vistas that appear when a canal lock lifts travelers to new water levels as being “like a Verdi opera.”

Tufo envisioned the Canal Authority doing for upstate what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey does for economic development downstate. He proposed goals to Pataki including “piers, restaurants, retail shops, information kiosks, picnic tables and trail amenities” along an end-to-end trail from Buffalo to Albany as well “tourist clusters” at Tonawanda, Rochester, Oswego, Seneca Falls, Little Falls and Whitehall. Planners believed the increase in tourism would create 2,700 jobs and pump $230 million into the state’s economy by attracting 1.3 million visitors.

I thought Pataki would jump at a project that would benefit traditionally Republican upstate New York, but Thruway interests killed it. The best Pataki did for the canal was the not-so-bold “bold new vision to create an ‘Erie Canal Greenway.'” It was a news release solution.

As Pataki dropped the ball, Cuomo announced a Canal Corridor Initiative for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide $74.2 million in low-interest loan guarantees and $56.8 million in grants along the entire Erie Canal Corridor and connecting waterways. Members of the New York congressional delegation announced legislation to designate the Erie Canal to be a National Heritage Corridor. The results were small steps forward for some Canal communities.

Cuomo recently announced an upgrade to the state’s tourism program to attract more visitors to economically struggling upstate. The report in the New York Daily News on this tourism revival didn’t mention the Erie Canal that Tufo believed could be an international attraction. It also didn’t mention the marketing power that could come from a bicentennial celebration for the Erie Canal looking forward to the emerging technologies across the state.

To be serious about upgrading upstate tourism, it is time to go back to Tufo’s vision from the Mario Cuomo era and hitch it to the Erie Canal bicentennial as a means to capture the attention of the whole state, the nation and the world.

The Erie Canal is not only a recreational asset; it symbolizes a dynamic state that opened commerce to the Great Lakes. It sparked the development of upstate cities and allowed New York City to become a world-class city.

In addition, builders of the Erie Canal moved on after its completion to build the Ohio & Erie Canal. Roberts wrote, “the success of the Erie Canal was so great that it ignited a ‘canal fever’ that swept across America.” According to Roberts, “it contributed to a shift in the geographical center of economic activity, giving America a new place in the world community of nations.”

The Erie Canal bicentennial should have a national series of events. One of many benefits for us, for example, could be learning how the Ohio & Erie Canal counties like Tuscarawas County were inspired by their canal to create a countywide trail and green space system.

Some of the historic steps that led to the building of the Erie Canal have already had their 200th anniversary. Time is running out to launch the commemoration of the canal we deserve.

This article originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on November 8, 2012.

 Photo by flickr user sailorbill.

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Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor: Keeping the Promise

By Mary Means September 24, 2012

South Carolina low country landscapeI’ve had a lifelong affinity for South Carolina’s Low Country (there are Means family buried in the Episcopal Church yard in Beaufort) and one of my earliest memories is of the golden marshes and moss-draped live oaks. For the last year, a volunteer assignment has taken me to St. Helena Island numerous times. There, we have guided the recently adopted strategic plan for Penn Center that will assure it continues to serve the Gullah Geechee communities. Begun in 1862 as Penn School, one of the first schools for Africans (they were still enslaved; this area of the state was occupied by the Union Army throughout the Civil War), this National Historic Landmark was struggling as it approached its 150th celebration. Though the transition may at times be difficult, Penn Center’s leaders are successfully moving to a much stronger and more sustainable condition, on course to a much brighter future.

Steeped as I have become in the this fascinating place, and having led the consultant teams for management plans for several National Heritage Areas, I’ve been looking forward to reading the recently released Management Plan for the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor, for Penn Center is smack dab in the middle of it. Moreover, St Helena Island is one of the strongest concentrations of Gullah Geechee people. Here is one of the few remaining distinct peoples who can trace their beginnings to the west coast of Africa, mostly what is now Sierra Leone and Angola. Penn Center’s mission revolves around preserving and interpreting Gullah Geechee history and culture.

Sprawling coastal development continues to decimate many of their communities; physical evidence of their existence is fading fast all along the coast. Penn Center and St Helena Island are probably the most intact remaining cultural landscape in the Low Country. With the inevitable diaspora, language and cultural practices also disappear. The ability of people to hold on and stay here hinges as much as anything else on the ability to make a living. Bringing appropriate economic development is key; heritage tourism represents a promising albeit complex opportunity. So, time is of the essence if current and future generations are to be able to hold on to their traditional communities.

If ever there was a cultural landscape worthy of being a heritage corridor, it is this one – especially in the Low Country. Local and regional leaders fervently hoped national designation would bring badly needed public exposure, funding to preserve, interpret and market the corridor’s sites and communities, and greater clout when advocating for the preservation of fragile communities. In 2004, the Corridor made the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Eleven Most Endangered Sites list.

St. Helena Island, South CarolinaLegislation to create the GGNHC was first introduced in Congress in 2000, and it was finally designated in 2006, with the designation set to end in 2021. The process of creating the corridor management plan has been managed by the National Park Service in cooperation with the 21-member Commission established to oversee the corridor. The plan document is nearly 300 pages long and reflects a great deal of work and public involvement. I’m sure it fully meets NPS standards for planning, which seem to revolve around counting, studying and consulting – always mindful of not committing NPS to anything too specific, being voluminous in documentation and lofty goals, while micrometer thin when it comes to implementation. It has taken six years of the NHC’s fifteen-year shelf life to get to this point. Buried deeply in it is the acknowledgement that funding will have to come from elsewhere. Remember, NPS funding for national heritage areas is roughly $18 million dollars. Today, there are 49 designated heritage areas all scrambling for crumbs of the budget pie. Six years of planning fatigue and high hopes. Now what?

Partnerships. When there is no money, the solution always offered is partnerships. Throughout the GGNHC Management Plan it is a major theme: to work with existing sites and organizations, to bring financial resources and technical assistance, to make marketing efforts more effective. Yet nowhere in the plan is there a realistic assessment of who those key partners must be for this to succeed. There are hundreds of organizations and agencies – NPS even notes “too numerous to list” in the plan itself. Apparently the planning process did not involve actually identifying, much less brokering a couple of these key partnerships.

Brick Church Penn CenterIf the survival of the communities of the GGNHC must depend on partners, shouldn’t the planning process have focused less on NPS internal policies and more on what might motivate some of those key entities to invest in priority initiatives in the Corridor? Shouldn’t it help articulate the benefits that could come to a few key “others” for becoming an active partner in achieving the visibility and interpretive infrastructure the Corridor badly needs?

In addition to the economic climate of our times, there’s another hurdle for the GGNHC. During this same time-frame, Charleston struggled to explore the feasibility of a capital campaign to build an International African American Museum. Research for the campaign revealed the daunting task of raising millions in a state that has not even begun to process the legacy of slavery and its resultant climate of racism. The sad truth is that preservation of cultural landscapes that are predominantly those of the descendents of slaves is painful and does not touch the hearts and wallets of preservation’s traditional philanthropists.

Penn Center is one of those struggling Gullah Geechee sites. Its story is one of blacks and whites working together during the Civil War, through Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, into the Civil Rights movement and beyond. Its newly adopted direction builds from these roots. As a National Historic Landmark with a rich association with education, self-sufficiency, community building, civil rights and social justice, Penn Center can play an important role in bringing the Gullah Geechee NHC into being. Penn’s leaders believe there is mutual benefit to be had in becoming a strong partner to the Commission, to the best of its own ability. Discussions will soon begin about how best to achieve it.

The Corridor Management Plan is available here. Learn more about the Penn Center here.

Mary Means is nationally known for her leadership in heritage development and planning. Prior to forming her firm Mary Means + Associates, she was vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and led the team that created the National Main Street Center.

Photos:  Mary Means

 

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National Heritage Areas on the Brink

By Brenda Barrett September 24, 2012

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

Talk about a cliffhanger!  As of now it looks like the funding for 12 of the 49 National Heritage Areas may be going over the edge.  The Living Landscape Observer reported on this possibility earlier this year, but expressed hope in a post on National Park Service Policy & Proposed Legislation  that new thinking and support of the program would save the day. However, Congress took no action on the long awaited National Heritage Area Program legislation (HB 4099) or on any of the individual funding extension bills. Now the passage of a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through March 27, 2013 leaves the 12 heritage areas in the lurch – the CR provides level funding for the broader National Heritage Partnership program, but without the requisite authorizing legislation, none of the 12 areas in jeopardy can access these dollars.

And here is what is so frustrating; within the National Park Service (NPS) support for the program is stronger than ever. Heritage areas were identified in the recent Call to Action as a promising strategy. Director John Jarvis has spoken out strongly in favor of the approach and has issued a policy directive that reinforced the importance of these partnerships.  In March of this year, NPS testified in favor of reauthorization legislation for a number of areas.

In a final irony, the NPS is just putting the finishing touches on evaluations of nine of the twelve area (evaluations of two of the earliest heritage areas were completed in 2006). These have not yet been released, but if the findings are anything like the earlier evaluations, it will reinforce Director Jarvis’s message that NHA’s are an important means for developing partnerships, engaging diverse communities, and protecting large landscapes. In other words, making the NPS relevant to a wide cross section of our nation’s people.

So what is the future for 12 areas? The short history of the National Heritage Area (NHA) program has been full of last minute saves. There are number of  “save the day” possibilities: Congress could pass a reauthorization bill after the election and before adjourning for the year; it could take legislative action when the members come back in 2013; or it could tackle the issue as part of adopting the other half of the FY2012 budget.  Whatever the outcome, this kind of brinksmanship along with all the other budget drama in Washington makes it difficult to keep building heritage partnerships that local communities can believe in.

The roll call: Augusta Canal National Heritage Area, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Essex National Heritage, John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, Lackawanna Valley National Heritage Area, Ohio & Erie Canalway National Heritage Area, Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, National Coal Heritage Area, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, and Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.

 

 

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Charting a Future: National Heritage Corridor to become our next National Park?

By Brenda Barrett May 24, 2012

Interested in the future of National Heritage Areas or in the bigger issue of partnership management in the National Park Service (NPS)?  If so, the proposed legislation to rethink the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor may be of interest.

In the past, one of the selling points for designating National Heritage Areas was offering a model that was   an alternative to a NPS park unit. Within the boundary of a heritage area, the NPS would not own any land, would avoid costly maintenance of historic buildings, and would be able to count on partners and volunteers to make a major contribution to the work.  In return, the NPS would be able to tell nationally important stories of industry, agriculture and cultural heritage on a large landscape scale that would otherwise be impossible to imagine. This was certainly the idea in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan signed into law the first national heritage corridor along the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This model was also fresh in Congress’s mind when they created the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor two years later.

For a quarter of a century the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Commission, in partnership with the NPS, has managed a 550 square miles corridor that spans two state and 24 communities. The landscape of the Blackstone Valley illustrates an arc of the nation’s industrial history stretching from sites of early industrial innovation to environmental exploitation, then abandonment, and finally regeneration. The mission of the Blackstone Valley Commission included both natural and cultural resource conservation. It boldly tackled issues like water quality, local land use and even leadership training for residents and government officials. The commission was recognized as a model for partnership management of a living landscape.

Despite these successes, the community, political leaders and the NPS seem to have taken a new path and are proposing to create a new National Park unit. A recent NPS Special Resource Study (2011)  recommended a more traditional approach – the creation of the Blackstone River Valley Industrial Heritage National Park. The sweeping ideas of the original heritage corridor – partnership management of the valley – have been reduced to NPS staff preserving a collection of industrial heritage sites. And this is not just a study; Congress has introduced legislation to make it a reality. (See SB 1708 and HR 3191).

So why is this happening? One reason is clear just look at the NPS budget for National Heritage Areas. Unlike national park units who have predictable annual funding, the heritage areas funding has been shrinking just as the program has expanded. For the last decade the Blackstone Commission has had to lobby for adequate funding every year, making long-range planning, implementation of multi-year projects, and staff retention very challenging. However, the proposed solution is not necessarily more cost effective.  A comparison between the current Blackstone Heritage Corridor and the proposed new Blackstone park unit make a compelling case for the benefits of collaborative management:

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor encompasses an entire watershed with a broad mandate for the preservation, redevelopment, and interpretation of the regional landscape. The Blackstone Commission has a current annual operating budget of approximately $1 million and 14 full-time employees.

Proposed Blackstone River Valley Industrial Heritage National Park would encompass four historic districts, the Blackstone River and Blackstone Canal with an annual operating cost of $3.5 million not including proposed planning costs, construction, rehabilitation and exhibits at four sites.

With 49 National Heritage Areas from Alaska to Alabama, these numbers are thought provoking. More problematic for the NPS are the implications for management based on partnership, community engagement and working at a landscape scale, rather than the traditional, ownership model.

A 2005 NPS study identified the critical ingredients for the Blackstone River Valley’s’ future success as: (1) strong collaborative leadership to carry forward the vision; (2) an ongoing relationship with the NPS; and (3) secure, sustainable funding. In 2012 two of those critical ingredients may be on the way, but the first and most important one remains uncertain.  Just as the NPS’s most recent strategic plan, calls for scaling up its work and promoting large landscape conservation to support healthy ecosystems and cultural resources, one of the best examples of collaborative lived-in landscape management may be headed for a down sizing.

Is this an overreaction?  Some of the longtime leaders of the Blackstone Corridor see the new legislation as a positive approach. They point out that the new park unit will have grant funding for continued partnership work in the region and they remain hopeful for the future. Let us know what you think.

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NPS Policy & Proposed Legislation: A Breakthrough for Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett May 16, 2012

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

Things are definitely looking up for the US National Heritage Areas.  Bedeviled by years of uncontrolled growth and meager funding, this program has long been a candidate for the most neglected offspring on the National Park Service (NPS) family tree.  However, on March 14, 2012 NPS Director Jon Jarvis issued a policy memo that affirmed NPS support for the National Heritage Areas Program and encouraged NPS managers to help the areas succeed. Jarvis highlighted heritage areas as a critical element in the Agency’s broader effort to connect to the nation’s youth and diverse communities. He emphasized that heritage areas embody a regional approach to conservation, which is critical to understanding lived-in and working landscapes, waterways, battlefields and both the built and natural environment. These are welcome words and go a long way towards addressing the past lack of clarity about how the National Heritage Areas fit into the tight knit NPS culture that has traditionally been focused on parks and protected lands.

Another promising development is the introduction the long awaited National Heritage Areas Act (HR 4099) which would establish a legislative framework for the program within the NPS. The new bill has bipartisan sponsorship from Representative Charles Dent (R PA) and Tonko (D NY) and has already picked up 40 cosponsors from both parties.  Efforts are underway to find a champion to introduce the bill in the Senate.  The legislation contains many of the elements recommended in the 2006 National Park System Advisory Board report Charting a Future for  National Heritage Areas.

More problematic is the future of  twelve of the forty-nine National Heritage Areas whose funding authorization expires in FY 2012. Originally, it was thought that NPS funding for a 10 to 15 year time period would be adequate to launch each new heritage area.  Congress, recognizing the challenge of finding dollars for regional initiatives and the program’s growing popularity, has provided decades of funding extensions for many areas. However, tough budgets times finally have caught up with this strategy.   Although NPS evaluations of the program have shown that stable funding is critical to long-term success, today only five of the twelve areas have pending legislation to reauthorize their federal funding.

Funding has always been a sticking point for the program. While the NPS budget is over $2.4 billion , the heritage areas have struggled to survive on $17.4 million (FY 2012) divided 49 ways. Soon some of them may have even less. No wonder several older heritage areas are proposing more radical alternatives such as becoming units of the NPS. They are following the money and who can blame them?

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Federal Funding – How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett April 1, 2012

When all was said and done, federal funding for landscape scale cultural and natural resource conservation programs fared relatively well in the recent 2012 budget showdown in Washington, D.C.

Historic Preservation funding for state and tribal historic preservation offices saw a slight increase to $47 million and $9 million respectively. Unfortunately, both Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America, two federal historic preservation grant programs, were left unfunded for a second year.

National Heritage Areas managed to almost double the administration’s request, which translated into essentially flat funding of $17.4 million for forty-nine areas across the country. The Land and Water Conservation Fund also received an increase from the 2011 budget with $186.7 million for the Federal side and $45 million for the State grants. However, these numbers did not even come close to the full funding of $900 million for the Land and Water Fund proposed by the Obama administration.

There was good news for some other large landscape initiatives as funding for the Chesapeake Bay Gateways program was restored at almost $2 million dollars and the Everglades received $142 million in restoration dollars.

But, like every year, we are now starting the process all over again with the 2013 budget. In general, the administration is proposing to hold programs at existing funding levels, which may be as good as it gets in this climate. One disappointment was the proposal to again cut 50% of the funds for National Heritage Areas. While in the past, Congress always has restored funding for the program, the Observer is concerned that these landscape scale partners must spend so much time and effort running to stay in the same place.

For more on the ins and outs of the budget process information visit Preservation Action or the Land and Water Coalition.

 

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