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Places and People in Trouble

By Brenda Barrett February 7, 2018
Main Street of  Kane Pennsylvania

Main Street of Kane Pennsylvania

Can America’s small cities be saved? I spent quarter of a century managing programs to address this question.  And I am probably just one of thousands of practioners in the fields of historic preservation, parks and recreation, and community development across the country who have tried to tackle this problem.  In Pennsylvania, my home state, small cities are poster children for economic distress.  Over 30 municipalities, almost all of which could be characterized as small cities, have been designated   financially distressed under Act 47 a state law passed in 1987 that was  designed to provide failing municipalities with some relief. All across the commonwealth those small cities not yet designated under Act 47 were and are teetering on the edge. All of them had a similar litany of problems declining population and tax revenue, high pension and health care costs, a large inventory of blighted or tax-exempt properties, and heavy burden of municipal debt.

Once upon a time I administered programs that provided advice and assistance to preserve historic buildings, to revitalize main streets, to revamp park systems, and reimagine former canals and railroad beds as recreational assets. While there were some successes, even an enthusiastic supporter as myself could see that these initiatives and all the good intentions in the world were not going to turn these places around.

Now I have been out of this line of work for quite a few years.  However,  I felt my past frustration and despair rush back when within the space of three days, I was confronted by two opinion pieces concluding that many small cities are probably doomed. Paul Krugman writing in the New York Times (December 30, 2017), posits that while once these places had a clear rationale for being as service centers for the surrounding countryside and later adding on whatever industrial enterprises came along, this is no longer a winning strategy. The modern economic supply chain, one that is cut lose from the landscape as well as the pressures of globalization will inexorable erode the viability of small urban centers. See The Gamblers Ruin of Small Towns .

The other piece was a more in depth article in the Washington Post by Harrisburg native Heather Long titled “America’s Forgotten Towns: Can they be saved or should people just leave? . The article starts out by saying that …. ‘One of the great debates in American politics and economics in 2018 is likely to be how to help the country’s forgotten towns, the former coal-mining and manufacturing hubs with quaint Main Streets that haven’t changed much since the 1950s and ’60s.’ 

Well I thought – I do not hear a great debate going on in Pennsylvania although it would be great, if it were happening. As of now I have not seen the issue receive increased political attention. But if it was to receive attention, there is still no consensus about what strategies might revive small towns and cities or even if it is possible at all. Some economists have concluded that the best solution is for populations to move to where the jobs are located. But according to the census data that is not happening.  The American people are moving at about half the rate that they did in the 1970s and ’80s.

Why are people opting to stay put? Heather Long’s article suggests that one reason may be risk aversion to moving to another place that might also have an uncertain future and face the same problems. Even more importantly, people may have have the rational desire to stick with the trusted and familiar.  A local support system of friends and family has real value that will be lost upon relocation.   So if residents want to stay put and it is unlikely that many of these places are going to completely close down, then what?

Again there are no good answers. A recent report by the Pittsburgh Foundation found that Pennsylvania communities in the state’s Act 47 distressed municipalities program generally performed worse than average despite state assistance that in some cases has stretched for decades. Other programs like Main Street designations and other targeted grant assistance are just not game changers. And if indeed the problems are caused by global shifts in the national economy, local economies are not likely to respond to such small interventions. Heather Long is hopeful that the social capital of people and place will serve as the “Magic Fairy Dust”  to help build a better future. I hope so too, but experience has lead me to believe it will just extend the long goodbye.























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.















The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Offers a Lesson in Conservation History

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2013
Clear Cutting the Hemlock Forests in Pennsylvania  Credit: Pennsylvania State Archives

Clear Cutting the Hemlock Forests in Pennsylvania
Credit: Pennsylvania State Archives

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people  

Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution

It is not everyday that our state courts ponder the lessons of history.  But this is exactly what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did this December (2013) when it issued its opinion on the constitutionality of Act 13. Enacted by the legislature in 2012, the act extensively revised the Commonwealth’s Oil and Gas Act to accommodate the new boom in natural gas drilling.  Among other things the amended legislation required that industrial oil and gas operations be permitted as a “use of right” in every zoning district in the state. It also adopted new setback requirements to protect waterways, but provided a waiver process that was un-appealable by residents or local governments.

Stating that drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation does violence to the landscape of the state, the court went on to consider various constitutional challenges to Act 13. Some of the most powerful parts of the decision delve into the Commonwealth’s Environmental Rights Amendment (See above).  In announcing the judgment of the court, Chief Justice Ronald Castille noted that to date the state’s environmental rights jurisprudence is not well developed.  This decision helps remedy this deficiency. The Chief Justice began by laying the following foundation.

It is not a historical accident that the Pennsylvania Constitution now places citizens’ environmental rights on par with their political rights. Approximately three and a half centuries ago, white pine, Eastern hemlock, and mixed hardwood forests covered about 90 percent of the Commonwealth’s surface of over 20 million acres. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum, History, online at Two centuries later, the state experienced a lumber harvesting industry boom that, by 1920, had left much of Pennsylvania barren. “Loggers moved to West Virginia and to the lake states, leaving behind thousands of devastated treeless acres,” abandoning sawmills and sounding the death knell for once vibrant towns. Regeneration of our forests (less the diversity of species) has taken decades. See id

 The opinion also proffers a sweeping statement about the scope of the environmental values considered by the amendment.

The terms “clean air” and “pure water” leave no doubt as to the importance of these specific qualities of the environment for the proponents of the constitutional amendment and for the ratifying voters. Moreover, the constitutional provision directs the “preservation” of broadly defined values of the environment, a construct that necessarily emphasizes the importance of each value separately, but also implicates a holistic analytical approach to ensure both the protection from harm or damage and to ensure the maintenance and perpetuation of an environment of quality for the benefit of future generations

This is a long and complex decision with multiple appellees and cross appellants. It deserves and I am sure will receive expert legal analysis – not just a few selective quotations.  However, is it is invigorating to read an opinion that provides a historical context for the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment and makes such a sweeping statement of the landscape scale nature of amendment’s constitutionally protected values.  As Pennsylvania confronts the next massive wave of resource extraction – natural gas drilling, its citizens now have a primer on the lessons from their past as well as some strong language on the commonwealth’s duty to conserve these values for the present and the future.

The forests may not be primordial, but they have returned and are beautiful nonetheless; the mountains and valleys remain; the riverways remain, too, not as pure as when William Penn first laid eyes upon his colonial charter, but cleaner and better than they were in a relatively recent past, when the citizenry was less attuned to the environmental effects of the exploitation of subsurface natural resources. But, the landscape bears visible scars, too, as reminders of the past efforts of man to exploit Pennsylvania’s natural assets. Pennsylvania’s past is the necessary prologue here: the reserved rights, and the concomitant duties and constraints, embraced by the Environmental Rights Amendment, are a product of our unique history.

And all of this language comes before Chief Justice Castille even turned to the merits in the case.  To read the decision in its entirety goes to: Robinson Township, et al v. Pa. Public Utility Commission and Attorney General


Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: A Landscape of Hope

By Brenda Barrett September 2, 2013
Credit: Larry Knutson Penn Trails

Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: Work Day Lincoln Colored Cemetery, Mechanicsburg, PA

I like to think that once upon a time our cemeteries were inviolate landscapes cared for by the communities who created them. They did not have to be not classified as historic preservation projects or land conservation initiatives or tourism opportunities. But I have learned that many burial sites fall between the cracks of all such efforts both incremental and intentional. Rural cemeteries are abandoned as populations shift and families move on to new opportunities. Urban cemeteries fall victim to changing land use and financial downturns.

African-American cemeteries are particularly vulnerable.  Recent experiences in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania illustrate the challenges. In the run up to the 150th Anniversary of the Battle Of Gettysburg, Lenwood Sloan, then Director of Heritage and Cultural Tourism, kicked off a series of innovative projects to tell a more inclusive story of the state’s Civil War history. The work started by conserving and researching the 97 United States Colored Troops (USCT) military muster rolls that were located in the Pennsylvania Archives. Of the eight thousand USCT who served in Pennsylvania regiments, the muster rolls documented those who survived. The tourism office then selected 100 African American Civil War veterans who were from Pennsylvania for further research and interpretation. The research tracked down and documented forty-two cemeteries across the commonwealth where USCT veterans were interred.

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Pennsylvania Hallowed Ground: Memorial Day Midland Cemetery Steelton PA

This is where the story of the Pennsylvania (PA) Hallowed Ground begins. In seeking out these cemeteries, the tourism office found that some had become overgrown and forgotten; others were being cared for by stewards who were growing older and were seeking the next generation of caretakers. In an effort to help, the office sent out teams to assess the conditions of the burial sites and began to link the community of caretakers. They offered genealogical workshops and specialty tours and voluntourism programs. However, just as the program began to pick up steam a change in the Governor’s office in 2010 brought changes to the tourism office’s priorities. The state’s Visit PA web site still list some of these sites like the Lincoln Cemetery in Penbrook near the State’s Capitol of Harrisburg as places to visit. But today, there is no state program to help coordinate visitation or support the site’s caretakers. Many of the web links are now just dead ends.

Credit: Larry Knutson Penn Trails

Volunteers at the Lincoln Colored Cemetery, Mechanicsburg, PA

But for the cemetery caretakers the work goes on. Leaders such Barbara Barksdale at the Midland Cemetery in Steelton continues her over two decades of regular site maintenance with helpers as disparate as the work release crew from the county prison to the wrestling team at a local college. The VFW Post in Mechanicsburg still holds work parties at the Lincoln Colored Cemetery in a farm field in Lower Allen Township. The local United Way’s provides volunteers for cemtery clean ups through the annual Day of Caring. Recently a small group of volunteers, who have dubbed themselves the PA Hallowed Ground project, have received a modest grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for an annual gathering for the caretakers and a few hands on workshops. They continue to seek opportunities to keep the community together.

There is so much still to learn from PA’s Hallowed Ground. The fact that the USCT veterans were laid to rest in segregated burial grounds in the state where they served, that such cemeteries were often unincorporated places where even today ownership is unclear, that there are veterans from many conflicts honored at these sites, and that there are still places to discover and protect. However, the most important lesson is this – dedicated and caring people are still hard at work tending some of the nation’s most sacred places. And doing so, as Lenwood Sloane says  “with their hands in the earth and their hands on their hearts’.

Despite all odds this is a landscapes of hope.


First State, Lasting Impacts

By Guest Observer April 1, 2013

Post and photo courtesy Cherilyn Widell

Under bright blue skies on a cool spring day on the Green in New Castle, Delaware, an excited group of Delawareans and some Pennsylvanians gathered to celebrate the designation, on March 25, of the First State National Monument by President Obama.  Native son, Vice President Biden, Delaware Senator Carper, Interior Secretary Salazar and NPS Director Jarvis clearly were brimming with enthusiasm for the National Monument Proclamation, which brings a National Park Service presence to Delaware for the very first time.

Vice President Biden dedicates a new National Monument in his State

Vice President Biden dedicates a new National Monument in his State

According to the NPS Brochure for the Monument entitled,” The Promise of a Better Life” which was prepared, just in time for the program,” Delaware’s small size belies its influence in events that shaped the nation. It was the “ First State” to ratify the United States Constitution, Delaware also played key roles in early colonization and European Settlement, religious freedom, the Declaration of Independence, the Underground Railroad, school desegregation, and pioneering efforts in conservation and open space.” The 1100 acre Woodlawn Property which straddles the Delaware and Pennsylvania line, was acquired by the National Park Service through a gift from the Conservation Fund with 21 million dollars donated by Delaware’s Mount Cuba.  In addition to the Woodlawn Property, the First State National Monument includes, the Dover Green, the New Castle Court House, the Sherriff’s House in New Castle and the New Castle Green. A highlight of the ceremony was a recitation by the entire audience of the Preamble of the Constitution.

More on the Woodlawn Property

Situated in the heart of the Brandywine River Valley of Delaware and Pennsylvania, the Rockford Woodlawn Property, acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682 and surveyed in 1701, reveals aspects of our country’s earliest origins and development—specifically Penn’s vision for settling Quakers in the region. The property straddles and contains the demarcation line known as “the 12 mile arc” originally drawn in a circle from the New Castle courthouse and marked by merestones located on Woodlawn, which first established the boundaries of the colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware. The heritage of the Lenni Lenape is found in the Beaver Valley Rock Shelter, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, eighteenth century Quaker settlement patterns have survived over two hundred years, while the area around it has rapidly developed, and are intact as a collection of farmsteads and milling properties which dot this vernacular cultural landscape.

The Woodlawn Property embodies a story, an American story of the Brandywine River, a cotton mill, a philanthropist and parklands. It is an extraordinary story because it developed so quietly. It is an extraordinary story because the ending was ensured over one hundred years ago through the generosity of a Quaker Industrialist named William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928) with funds generated from the power of the Brandywine, the same river he sought to preserve.

Bancroft’s family owned one of the most prosperous mills in Wilmington, Delaware, a cotton mill known as the Bancroft Mills, which during the Civil War began generating huge profits. At age 50, Bancroft began “giving back” to his beloved City of Wilmington and his neighbors by donating land for parks and engaging the best landscape architect in the U.S.- Frederick Law Olmstead, within the City limits. These projects paled in comparison to the vision Bancroft had in store for his neighbors in the coming decades.

The 1880’s and 1890’s were a time of early town planning efforts, ”social engineering”, welfare work and industrial experiments between management and labor in England and the United States.  In England, the place where the Industrial Revolution began, industrialists named William Lever, a soap manufacturer and Joseph Rowntree, and George Cadbury, chocolate manufacturers, were creating real communities, not just company towns. These communities had houses and roads and parks and trees designed to provide an uplifting environment for the common working laborer. By 1898, international publications were featuring the most celebrated of all, the model village known as the “Bournville Experiment” of the Cadbury Bros. The well-read and knowledgeable Bancroft was a frequent traveler to England who arranged to be introduced to Cadbury and see this famous place. He must have liked what he saw.

Bournville was not just a new type of company housing or working-class housing scheme nor was it to be a pretty suburb for professional retired people. Cadbury visualized a home for workers of many types—employers and employees, managers and operatives, tradesmen and clerks. He built his houses in varied groups of two, three and four, gave them gardens, planted trees along the roads and laid out open spaces. Between 1895 and 1900, George Cadbury had built 300 houses.. Parkways and open spaces linked the different neighborhoods and schools, shops, libraries, recreational facilities and churches were constructed as well. The protection of open space was also part of the plan; the Bournville Village Trust had en early role in protecting an agricultural landscape by managing 1300 acreson behalf of the British National Trust.

By 1901, Bancroft had decided to give much of his time, most of his land, all of his ingenuity and a vast portion of his fortune to developing his own version of Bournville which became known as Woodlawn. It was not a separate town like Cadbury’s, but an experiment of affordable housing, wise planning and open space and parks that was integrated into the fabric of Wilmington. It was intended to benefit the people of Wilmington by providing housing for people of modest means, parks and open space accessible to all, and careful development of land in order to preserve open space while providing income for the work of the Woodlawn Trustees. The result was a foundation for modern community planning which is precedent setting in the United States.

To make sure that his “objects” continued well beyond his lifetime, the industrialist created the Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. (first called the Woodlawn Company), a not-for-profit corporation, patterned after Cadbury’s Bournville Village Trust. Bancroft and his Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. are the only example in the United States of a community planning experiment which put in place an entity to insure its goals were achieved long term. The goals of the Woodlawn Trustees, Inc. were to make money through the sale and wise planning of land to continue the work which Bancroft himself had outlined for the corporation- affordable housing, wise planning and the assemblage of parklands and open space.

Before the Garden City movement arrived in the United States, Bancroft had built 270 brick houses, with affordable rents, open to all workers. Each house had a garden and private entrance and was located along a parkway.

Before there was community planning in the United States, Bancroft worked with landscape architect Charles Leavitt to “ secure a subdivision of property as will be economically valuable, designed to meet the demands of all grades of wealth, including that of the day laborer.” Today, a drive along Bancroft Parkway is a drive through neighborhoods of all grades of wealth.

Before anyone but Bancroft saw that Wilmington and Philadelphia might one day meet, Bancroft began amassing more than 1300 acres for parklands beyond the boundaries of Wilmington. In a speech he made before the Brandywine Grange in 1909, Bancroft reasoned, land in the Brandywine Hundreds would someday be needed for its environmental and aesthetic value.

Bancroft and the directors, later Woodlawn Trustees, following the Bournville Experiment model, successfully implemented a community planning experiment which constructed flats for the common working laborer, planned residential areas and parks, created a parkway, and acquired land beyond the city limits for a future park for the region- all of which still retain integrity and have remained under the control of the Trustees until now.

The Rockford Woodlawn property now under consideration as a  national monument was acquired in its entirety over one hundred years ago, primarily for conservation as a park by the Quaker Industrialist William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928) to provide open space and parklands for the City of Wilmington for the time “100 years hence” when it would become “a city of a hundred thousand or more.”

Since that time, the Woodlawn property has been held in trust largely as it was when Bancroft acquired it in the early years of the twentieth century:  farm fields and forests predominate, sprinkled with old farmsteads, bridges, and a few roads and trails.  It has been off the market for 100 years !! Although the land and its development includes several eighteenth century houses (as well as later buildings) and may reflect the nineteenth century cultural landscape that lent it form, it is not considered nationally significant for this context.  Instead, its national significance is derived from its legacy as a part of William Bancroft’s vision for Wilmington and for the preservation of a portion of the Brandywine River valley for posterity.

Bancroft speculated in 1909 that this would take 100 years and it has.

Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that “ The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”  Mr. Bancroft surely had a beautiful dream for his neighbors in the protection of this land for posterity.

And now, at last, it seems that Mr. Bancroft’s vision will succeed., one hundred years later as he predicted.

And the Brandywine Hundreds land, just as William Bancroft had worked so hard before his death in 1928 to insure is now likely to become a National Park and a gift to us all.

Thank you to Cherilyn Widell for submitting this post.




End of Country?

By Brenda Barrett October 30, 2012

North Branch of Suquehanna River at Sunset. Photo by David Bucks.

Recently, I helped arrange a tour of unconventional gas drilling in Pennsylvania for Dr. Jane Lennon, a visiting scholar from Australia. Her interest is in the impact of energy extraction on the landscape. Eastern Australia is facing similar pressures from coal seam gas drilling. The press and web are filled with articles and studies on the potential impact of natural gas extraction using fracking technology on environmental values. These stories offer widely different perspectives – from doomsday prognosticators to statements that the process is no more toxic than items found in every household. Jane Lennon noted that in Australia as in the United States (US) the major concern is the impact of drilling on the country’s underground water supplies, the aquifer of the Great Artesian Basin. There is one key difference: in Australia the government owns the mineral rights not the surface owner.

Much less has been written on the impact on the surface of the land, on forest fragmentation and on farmland. To experience these impacts on the ground, we traveled to Bradford County the current center of the most intense gas drilling in the state. Lennon commented on the splendid fall foliage, the beauty of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, and the seeming regenerative capacity of the ecosystem and noted that “The deciduous forest in Pennsylvania makes it more difficult to see the impacts of drilling, while drilling in the rich farmland of Australia is all so obvious.” Of most interest was the presentation from the Director of the Bradford County Conservation District. He gave a rough estimate that the total acreage disturbed by recent drilling including well pads, water access sites, gas transmission, new access roads and staging area was approximately 12,000 -16,000 acres.* This amount of disturbance equals the total of all the developed land in the county before the drilling began in the mid 2000s. This is not an insignificant amount of landscape fragmentation.

Wyalusing Rocks view. Photo by David Bucks.


What about the impact on the people who live in the region? Is the community as fragmented as the land? For insight on this, I strongly recommend that you pick up a copy of The End of Country by Seamus McGraw (2011). The book is part memoir, part ethnography, and part investigative reporting. Talk about being a participant observer…the author began his research to help advise his mother on leasing their farm. But don’t just read the book; why not check it out for yourself. Drive up to Bradford County, ride along historic Route 6 and stop at the Wyalusing Rocks Overlook and judge for yourself.





Funding Conservation: Is this the End of a Legacy?

By Brenda Barrett September 12, 2012

WITF Public Television

 In these tough financial times, state and federal governments are all scrambling to balance their budgets. This has placed environmental and natural resource programs at risk in part because of past decisions to set up special funding streams for our publicly owned resources. Today, dollars that were once dedicated to state and local parks, open space conservation, and recreational infrastructure have been redirected to other uses. What in the past would have been called wise use of funds has now become a tempting target for appropriators and politicians looking for quick solutions to financial shortfalls.

Pennsylvania, my home state, is no exception. Claiming fiscal necessity, recent governors both Democrat and Republican have raided the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund, reduced operating support to state parks, and proposed eliminating funding for the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.  The Pennsylvania legislature also has used budget maneuvers to redistribute conservation dollars to fund other programs.  In less than five years, over fifty years of conservation minded laws have been tossed aside or threatened with extinction. Conservation and environmental advocates have pushed back against these funding cuts with some success.  However, fiscal projections for continued state revenue shortfalls are still looming on the horizon.  Our contemporary political rhetoric depicts government spending as profligate and popular opinion is running against taxes or anything perceived as taxes. Funding for parks, open space, and conservation projects is painted as a luxury that the people cannot afford or even as a drain on the state coffers.

So are we really mortgaging our children’s future to pay the bill for natural resource conservation? A little Pennsylvania history might be in order to better understand the how conservation funding programs of today originated as a strategy for the thrifty and sustainable management of public resources. There is a way to balance the books in favor of conservation and preserve our rich natural heritage.   It is found in the wisdom of a man who would be 100 years old this month, Maurice K. Goddard.  From 1955 to 1979In an unprecedented bipartisan career, he served five Pennsylvania governors.  Through his good work, he left the Pennsylvania of today with an unparalleled legacy: 2.2 million acres of certified sustainably managed forests, 120 award-winning state parks, and the dedicated funding to help pay for them.

Perhaps it was Maurice Goddard’s training as a forester with its emphasis on sustainable management and multiple uses of public land that that led to one of his most innovative ideas for conservation funding, the Oil and Gas Lease Fund Act.  Prior to 1955, natural gas revenues from drilling on the state’s public forestlands were deposited in the general fund. Goddard gained bipartisan support for legislation to dedicate these rents and royalties to his department to be used solely “for conservation, recreation, dams, or flood control.”  It was a great success. In the Goddard era and for years afterwards, almost all of the money was used to fund his vision of a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian and a professionally managed system of state forests.  Goddard had found a way to pay for conservation by investing the money generated by the depletion of one natural resource and in enhancing the value of another.

Goddard’s idea of using revenue from activities that deplete or have an impact on non-renewable natural resources to reinvest in conservation infrastructure has had far-reaching policy impacts. He was well known on the national scene having chaired a committee at the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty.  His concept of capturing revenue in the Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Lease fund is widely credited as the model for the federal government’s Land and Water Conservation Fund. First passed in 1964, the act was later amended in 1971 to dedicate revenues from off shore oil drilling to open space conservation and recreational purposes.

Parks, open space, conservation, preservation and resource stewardship are not politically loaded concepts, unless we let them become so. Their value – in dollars, in health, in beauty and in history – cuts across all political and social lines.  Maurice Goddard showed us how our state government – without additional taxes, without taking from Peter to pay Paul, and without rancor, can effectively promote economy and environment.

So tomorrow, as we commemorate Maurice Goddard’s one-hundredth birthday, let’s learn from the lessons of history and rededicate these dollars to their intended purpose.  If our elected officials across the nation will take a bold step and pick up the torch of conservation leadership, they too may be honored and celebrated by future generations.

An edited version of this article appeared as the lead editorial in the Sunday Harrisburg Patriot September 9, 2012.

For more information on Maurice Goddard and the upcoming commemoration of his conservation legacy see:






Landscape of Loss: Defending the Appalachian Trail

By Brenda Barrett August 23, 2012

For many of us folks on the eastern seaboard the Appalachian Trail (AT)  is our National Park.  The trail links communities from Maine to Georgia along its 2184 mile length. It is an unparalleled example of a large landscape conservation effort. It is also the National Park Service’s most successful long-term partnership effort. Since 1925 the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy has managed  this resource for the park service raising millions of dollars, harnessing the energy of thousands of volunteers  (206,000 volunteers hours in 2011), and partnering with hundreds of landowners.  Today the NPS claims that over 99% of the trail is preserved for the benefit of the over 2 million people who use the trail every year and  for the generations who will be hitting the trail in years to come.

But is it really protected?  Every once awhile the social contract that connects this landscape breaks down. Trails are an inherently fragile resource; they are only as strong as the weakest link. So it is important that we react to what is happening along the AT on the Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania.  Recently the Appalachian Trail Conservancy found out that Berks County officials were proposing to build a cell tower next to Pulpit Rock an iconic site on the AT.  The conservancy contacted the local government owner, Hamburg Borough. Since the property had been deeded to the borough with provisions to protect the AT, the conservancy hoped the issue could be quickly resolved. This did not happen.

Berks County insisted on moving forward with the tower and the matter ended up in county court. Not wanting to wait even for even a judicial resolution, the county recently filed an eminent domain action to take the property owned by Hamburg Borough for the purpose of extinguishing the deed restriction that protects the trail. This act places the whole structure of the AT at risk.  The great thing about the conservancy is its partnership approach to land conservation. The organization saves us all money by caring for the trail with volunteers from 30 trail organizations and by preserving the trail on public land through easements and deed restrictions.  Because of their work, the federal government has  not had to purchase of every foot of the trail.

Everyone including the National Park Service had thought the trail in Berks County was protected. While most of the AT is owned in fee, easements or similar deed restrictions have been considered adequate protection. However,  if local government partners can erase the deed restrictions on this property, it will send shock waves through the length of the trail. It calls into question a cooperative strategy that has worked for decades.

Hopefully, the Berks County Commissioners will rethink condemning one of our national treasures and seek alternative locations for their tower.





Fall Meetings and Networking

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012

This Fall Meet Up on Large Landscapes

Summer is the time to plan for  the upcoming conference season. Until recently there have been limited opportunities for folks on the ground to learn and share their best ideas on the large landscapes movement. However, this fall has produced a good crop of chances to get together. On the east coast, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is hosting the Conservation Landscape Summit: Naturally Connecting People and Places October 29-30, 2012 in Harrisburg PA.  This gathering will include elected officials, local organizations, and business owners who are working in seven conservation landscapes across the commonwealth to use natural assets for conservation and economic revitalization efforts.

Meanwhile for those on the west coast, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is holdings its annual conference for the first time in Spokane, Washington. On Friday November 1, 2012, there will be two sessions of interest. The Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: New Ideas on Place will look at defining larger landscapes from the perspectives and lifestyles of pre-Colonial Native peoples. A second session, Conservation on a Grand Scale: Large Landscape Approach, will provide an opportunity for the cultural community to shape the new landscape movement and develop working partnerships with environmental organizations. The speakers at both sessions are leaders in this new field and welcome your questions and participation.

This is all part of a trend to adapt the large landscape movement to encompass community sustainability and cultural heritage.  Oh, one more reminder from the Living Landscape Observer. If you are interested in cultural landscapes at a global scale consider attending the October 12-13 Cultural Landscapes Challenges in the 21st Century, Rutgers University, NJ . Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention and the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on Cultural Landscapes, the conference will bring together scholars and professionals from around the world.



The Lower Susquehanna: A Landscape of Loss?

By Brenda Barrett July 20, 2012


Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

Pot from the Washington Boro site. Photo Courtesy State Musem of Pennsylvania.

How are significant large landscapes eroded away? It usually does not happen overnight – the landscape character and heritage are lost acre by acre. But of some these losses are just more painful than others. Consider a recent example in the Lower Susquehanna Valley.

Although not yet well known, the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania is one of the great iconic landscapes in America.  Those who care about its cultural and natural resource values have recognized the region as the Susquehanna Gateway State Heritage Area and as the Lower Susquehanna Conservation Landscape. It was also recently designated as part of the connector trail for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

Today much of the Lower Susquehanna River landscape looks rural and scenic with scattered small towns, farms and summer cabins.  However, it is also a landscape of power with three large hydroelectric dams harnessing the river flow. Much of the land along the river and many of the river islands, approximately 13,000 acres, is owned by utility companies.

This valley also has a nationally important story to tell. Before European contact, it was one of the most densely populated Indian settlements on the eastern seaboard. Over 3,000 people are estimated to have lived in just one the region’s  large palisaded town known as the Washington Boro site.  The natural environment supported intensive farming, hunting and fishing.  Today a blue and gold state historical marker remembers the Washington Boro Archaeological Sites noting that  This area contains one of the highest concentrations of archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. The sites range from small camps to large villages and cover 11,000 years of Native American culture. 

Until recently land use change came slowly to this region. Then on July 1, 2012 an article appeared in the Lancaster paper that Safe Harbor Power Company was “quietly” selling land containing some of the most significant archeological resources in the country. They were selling what were essentially the front yards of the great Indian settlement of Washington Boro and selling its burial grounds.  Caught off guard, conservation groups have scrambled to respond.

It does not have to be like this.  The significance of the archaeological resources was well known and the power companies have been working with partners to save open land in the region. Hopefully, this story will have a positive ending and all parties will become more aware of the need to save this rich heritage.