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Cultural Parks: What Happened?

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

View of Lowell NHP. Credit:

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

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

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

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

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


San Antonio Missions: Learning from the World Heritage Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






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.


Made in Pennsylvania and the State of Industrial History

By Eleanor Mahoney March 1, 2013


The Bost Building served as headquarters for the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers during the 1892 Homestead Lockout and Strike. Today, it is a visitor’s center for the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Credit: Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.

In 1991, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission published Made in Pennsylvania: An Overview of the Major Historical Industries of the Commonwealth. The text traced the course of the state’s industrial history, providing a succinct overview of major industries and significant historical landscapes, including steel, transportation, lumber and coal.  In addition, Made In Pennsylvania also provided a useful overview of the status of preservation vis-a-vis the Commonwealth’s industrial sites.

Reading the report (for the first time) over 20 years later, I was struck by the impressive work that Pennsylvania has done to both protect industrial sites and begin the process of interpretation and, if necessary, clean-up/restoration. I was also reminded of the important role that the 12 state and 6 national heritage areas have played in this process. Consider, for a moment, a few of the landscapes and themes the Pennsylvania State Areas encompass: the Oil Region in the Northwest region, the Lumber Region in the Northcentral region, the former Coalfields in Lackawanna Heritage Valley, the transportation networks of the Delaware and Lehigh Valley and the steel communities of the Rivers of Steel area in the Southwest. These same regions and the industrial heritage within their boundaries were highlighted in the Made in Pennsylvania report.

As noted above, many of these regions are also National Heritage Areas – a program now under threat. Legislation that links the National Park Service to 12 National Heritage Areas (including Rivers of Steel and Delaware and Lehigh) and allows for funding to flow to the Congressionally designated management entities has not been re-authorized, leaving preservation, recreation and conservation efforts in these regions, rich in industrial heritage, in a precarious position in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In the wake of the positive evaluation findings noted in another post on the Observer, its time that NPS and Congress acted to provide long-term support to the program.

For more information on NHAs significance to American labor history, check out a blog post I recently wrote for



Evaluations of Twelve National Heritage Areas Report Positive Findings

By Brenda Barrett March 1, 2013

A 2013 report summarizing the evaluations of twelve National Heritage Areas (NHA) found very positive outcomes. The evaluators gave the NHAs thumbs up for following their legislative purpose, for accomplishing their management goals, and for creating effective locally driven management structure. The evaluations concluded that every NHA followed responsible financial practices, routinely leveraging the National Park Service funding four-fold for projects and programs in their region.

In 2008, Congress requested that the National Park Service
(NPS) undertake an evaluations of the accomplishments of the nine National Heritage Areas (NHAs) that were reaching the end of areas funding authorization. The studies were done by an outside evaluator, but informed by three earlier research and evaluations by the NPS’s Conservation Study Institute. Taken together, these twelve evaluations are the largest body of research on how landscape scale initiatives can build partnerships and implement their stewardship missions over a big space and over a long time. The reports are hundreds of pages long and are packed with information and recommendations. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to understand how much we all have to learn from the NHAs program and how much we all have to lose if these twelve areas are not reauthorized.

Read the high level findings from the evaluations in the five-page overview report: An Evaluation of Twelve Heritage Areas here.


Liberty of the Community

By Guest Observer March 1, 2013

Cut-over forest destruction in Pennsylvania. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

by Paul Bray

A footnote in a FDR biography by Kenneth Davis led me to find a Franklin D. Roosevelt draft for a luncheon speech the former state senator with a future gave at the People’s Forum in Troy in 1912.

What first caught my curiosity was whether the People’s Forum had any similarity to the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. That quickly slipped my attention after I read the speech that was as provocative and relevant today as it was when delivered.

FDR began his Troy speech by saying there was a “spirit of unrest” wherever you look around the world. The same can be said today. While he mentioned “the tariff”, “oppression of capital” and “the awakening and education of the labor classes”, FDR was primarily making an argument for conservation of natural resources under the notion of “liberty of the community”. He stressed the need for cooperation amongst people. More than a hundred years after FDR’s speech, President Obama articulated a similar theme in his second inaugural address when he brought up the subject of climate change.

FDR called for finding the underlying reasons for the unrest of his day. This led him first to discuss liberty of the individual. As the fruit of a thousand year struggle to obtain individual freedom, FDR declared “as a whole to-day, in Europe and America, the liberty of the individual has been accomplished.” Yet, he pointed out individual freedom has not created “Utopia.”

Conservation was identified as the primary example of liberty of the community.

Roosevelt did not believe if a man owns lands he should be permitted to do what he likes with it. His explanation was: “The most striking example of what happens in such a case, that I know of, was a picture showed me by Mr. Gifford Pinchot last week. It was a photograph of a walled city in northern China. Four or five hundred years ago this City had been the center of a populous and prosperous district, a district whose mountains and ridges were covered with significant trees. Its streams flowed without interruption and its crops in the valleys prospering. It was known as one of the most prosperous provinces in China, both as a lumbering exporting center and as an agricultural community. To-day, the picture shows the walled town, almost as it stood 500 years ago. There is not a human being within the walls. There are but few human beings in the whole region. Rows upon rows of bare ridges and mountains stretch back from the City without a vestige of tree life, without a vestige of flowing streams and with the bare rocks reflecting the glare of the sun. Below the plains the little soils which remains is parched and unable to yield more than a tiny fraction of its former crops.”

Today Roosevelt could point to the destruction in the northeast from Irene, Lee and Sandy as well as floods, droughts and storms in places around the world as caused by lack of liberty of the community.

Conservationist Bill McKibben is spot on when he says there are a “whole range of avoidance options” to control the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but “we don’t want to deal with it because it’s painful and it’s going to hurt the economy, so we’re going to stick our fingers in our ears and hope it goes away.”

The threats are known. In the late 1990s I saw a presentation by Columbia University’s Earth Institute on how vulnerable New York City was to hurricanes. Yet, the international, national and local responses ranging from controlling emissions of greenhouse gas to adaptations along coast lines and elsewhere to the effects of rising sea levels and storms have been pitifully small. Community interests are being denied.

Let us continue the conversation about liberty of the community articulated by FDR in Troy and by President Obama at his inaugural address until we are as passionate about liberty of the community as the Tea Party and NRA is about liberty of the individual.



Partners in Caring for Land

By Paul Bray January 31, 2013

Partnership for stewardship is happening between upper Hudson River communities in Saratoga and Washington counties. Under a new state law, it will include the Hoosic River communities in Rensselaer County.

A few years ago, I stopped to talk with Long Island Assemblyman Steven Englebright in the Assembly chamber. He told me he was doing something exciting in Saratoga County with then-Assemblyman Roy McDonald and that I had to talk with him.

I had participated in the Rockefeller Institute initiative on regionalism in the 1990s when McDonald, now about to depart as a state senator, was supervisor of the town of Wilton. McDonald and others from Saratoga County had little interest in regional efforts, especially those that included tax-sharing with distressed communities.

I later wrote about this parochialism. I told Englebright that I didn’t think McDonald would want to talk with me. Nonetheless, Englebright led me to McDonald, who smiled when he saw me.


McDonald told me he wanted me to draft a bill for him like the intermunicipal Albany Pine Bush Commission and the Long Island Pine Barrens Commission laws that I had drafted. That was music to my ears.

First, McDonald established his environmental bona fides with me. He told me that when he was Wilton supervisor, a delegation from The Nature Conservancy came to see him to ask his support for the preservation of 40 acres in Wilton. It has blue lupine habitat for the endangered Karner blue butterfly. McDonald said he needed to think about what The Nature Conservancy wanted and they could come back in a week to meet with him.

When they met again, McDonald said he would establish a 3,000-acre preserve that included the blue lupine so long as The Nature Conservancy would manage it. McDonald told me Saratoga County had secured its economy and it was time to protect its natural and historic assets.

Gen. John Burgoyne’s sword surrender site near the Saratoga Battlefield brought Englebright and McDonald together. Englebright was driving in that area when he saw a property with an old house, a for sale sign and an Education Department historic sign saying this property was where Burgoyne surrendered his sword to American Major Gen. Horatio Gates, marking the end of the Battles of Saratoga. It was the turning point of the American Revolution.

Englebright reached out to McDonald to help preserve the sword surrender site. With the support of former Sen. Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, funds were obtained for the acquisition of the surrender site by the Open Space Institute. Englebright and McDonald successfully sponsored legislation to establish the Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson River Partnership, made up of nine towns and villages represented by their supervisors and mayors. This year, 15 towns and villages in Rensselaer and Washington Counties were added to the partnership.

Its mission “is to preserve, enhance and develop the historic, agricultural, scenic, natural and recreational resources and significant waterways within the partnership region.”


Partnerships have become epidemic as the superintendent of the Saratoga National Historical Park, nonprofit organizations like the Saratoga P.L.A.N., Agricultural Stewardship Association, Lakes to Locks and Friends of the Battlefield, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and too many others to mention have contributed to a common stewardship effort.

A site development and cultural landscape plan for the sword surrender site, an overall stewardship plan and steps to develop a gateway visitor center in Schuylerville are among the Hudson River Partnership’s key achievements. Englebright’s chief of staff and historian Devin Lander coordinates the work of the partnership.

Regionalist David Rusk calls small cities, towns and villages like those that make up the partnership “little boxes” unable to solve the large social, economic and environmental challenges we have today. I agree with Rusk, but I am delighted that the Hudson River Partnership shows that little boxes can at times collaboratively find ways and means from the bottom up to achieve large goals.

This article was originally published in the Albany Times Union on December 13, 2012.



Predictions for the Coming Year

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2012

So what will 2013 bring for the field of living landscapes? The editors of the Living Landscape Observer have a few predictions. We will follow these issues in the coming year and check back in December 2013!

1.     The large landscape movement will continue to expand. With no big change in course at the national level the landscape scale programs at the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management will continue to grow and prosper. The America Great Outdoors initiative will frame the work of the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service will issue guidance on how to “Scale Up” efforts around National Park Units. On the private side, conservation organizations will come together around the new Large Landscape Practitioners Network.

2.     National Heritage Areas will be pulled back from the brink. One of the country’s premier large landscape programs, National Heritage Areas, are in a precarious position. The twelve original areas are facing a loss of funding and most of the newer areas are severely underfunded. We predict the program will be rescued, but remain unsure on whether much needed program legislation will be passed.

3.     The concept of cultural landscapes will be revitalized.  New ideas about cultural landscapes including Indigenous Cultural Landscapes and Historic Urban Landscapes are attracting new and diverse audiences, including the conservation community, regional planners and urban developers.  Look for these approaches to proliferate and shake up traditional concepts of cultural significance.  Just one example of new ways to think about landscape is what’s happening at the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge.

4.     The Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor will be in the spotlight.  This is a given – after all the Commission has been honored by an invitation to march in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade on January 21, 2013. With a newly completed Management Action Plan, this should be an important year for the preservation of this national treasure. See our post on the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor.

Have a Happy New Year!


2013: Let’s Meet Up on Living Landscapes

By Brenda Barrett December 29, 2012

As you start planning for the New Year, take a look at the Living Landscape Observer events calendar.

Over the next six months, there are lots of opportunities to advance all of our understandings of large landscapes and living places.

  • January 14-15 – First up is the Conservation Landscapes Summit Naturally Connecting People and Places in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This conference was rescheduled from its original date in October and features two nationally known experts on large landscapes – Lynn Scarlett, co-director of the Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth, and Rob Pirani of the Regional Plan Association.  Also inspirational will be panels featuring grassroots leaders who have tackled land conservation, recreation and trails, and heritage tourism. It is not too late to register and it is worth the drive to Harrisburg to hear Ta Brant talk about her work in the Pennsylvania Wilds.
  • March 11-15 – The George Wright Society holds its conference every other year and it is the place to catch up on the latest trends in protected areas management.  The 2013 conference Protected Areas in a Changing World will be held in Denver, Colorado. Look for sessions on federal landscape scale policy initiatives, a report on international cultural landscape efforts, and the emerging concept of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes.
  • April 12-13 – The Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning is only held every three years and this is the year! Planned for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the event brings together experts who are influencing landscape planning, policy making and greenway planning from the local to international level. A special session is scheduled on state and national heritage areas from the foundation of the movement to predictions on its future.
  • May 2-4 – US ICOMOS 16th Annual Conference titled The Historic Center and the Next City: Envisioning Urban Heritage Evolution will be held in Savannah, Georgia.  The conference will join in the discussion of the recent UNESCO  ‘Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape’ encouraging a landscape approach to the study and conservation of cities within their broader urban contexts and their geographical settings.
  • May 30-June 2 – The Society for Industrial Archaeology will be holding its annual meeting in the twin cites of Minneapolis/ St. Paul.  Admirers of big stuff will gather to tour the industrial landscapes of the twin cities and to share their expertise on industrial places across the nation.

So pull out your planners and I predict that 2013 could be a landmark year for the living landscape movement.


New York State Parks Agency Dropped the Ball

By Paul Bray December 29, 2012

A great thing about America is its parks, their diversity and their endurance. Communities proudly have parks, as do states and the nation. Those parks preserve natural and cultural assets for future generations, offer places for recreation and foster civic identity.

New York’s state parks and historic preservation system began with acquisition of Gen. George Washington’s Revolutionary War headquarters in 1850 and the preservation of natural and historic treasures like Niagara Falls.

Later came the Robert Moses era, which was intended to assure outdoor recreational opportunities within reasonable distance for all New Yorkers. Urban and regional state heritage areas broaden that mission explicitly to include sustainable economic development.

Creativity and pride go into the protection of natural and historic treasures as parks. New York courts have protected parks with the public trust doctrine that requires legislative approval before discontinuing or compromising a municipal or state park.

Sadly, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is walking away from responsibility for heritage areas.

These parks, created in our time, were put in jeopardy by former state parks Commissioner Carol Ash during the Paterson administration. In 2008, her deputy commissioner wrote to the state heritage area directors declaring that the “agency’s approved Financial Management Plan for this year includes the end of agency staff support and technical assistance for the Heritage Area program.”

The new parks commissioner, Rose Harvey, has publicly expressed support for heritage areas and has done the bare minimal responsibilities under the law relating to heritage areas. But she has not found a way to the leadership called for in the law creating the state heritage area system.

With strong support from state legislators, local officials and many other public and private leaders, state heritage areas have managed to survive in hard times that have been made harder by the state parks agency. The Susquehanna Heritage Area, for example, recently expanded from 2 cities and village to include more than 35 towns and villages in Broome and Tioga counties. New heritage areas in the concord grape region and the city of Niagara Falls have been established by having their locally prepared management plans approved by the state.

In the early 1980s when the state heritage area law was enacted and the early 1990s there were recessions and cutbacks in state and federal funding. But in both times, state participation in the heritage area partnership continued. Former state parks Commissioner Orin Lehman stated in the face of cutbacks in 1981 that the heritage area concept “will remain valid and achievable”. He did not walk away from it as Carol Ash did.

When the National Park Service held a conference on “Partnerships in Parks & Preservation” in Albany in 1991, these heritage areas were celebrated as “partnership parks.” New York has 18 state heritage areas and 4 of the 49 national heritage areas, including the Erie Canalway, the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and Champlain Partnership. A portion of each of these 3 national heritage areas is within the Capital Region.

At that 1991 conference, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo said “government – be it state, federal or local – cannot by itself assure that our most precious historic and natural resources will survive.”

He went on to say, “we now recognize that an entire area or region, like our Hudson River Valley, the Adirondacks or what we now know as the Hudson-Mohawk Urban Cultural Park (also known as the Riverspark heritage area) can constitute in its totality a resource of pre-eminent importance.”

The state heritage area program is codified in the state parks law. The state parks agency was to be the leader of a heritage area system with local governments and private organizations playing significant roles in organizing and managing their heritage areas. State agencies were to assist heritage areas as they pursued their integrated goals of conservation, recreation, education and sustainable development pursuant to management plans approved by the state parks commissioner. Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and the Riverspark including Troy, Cohoes and five neighboring communities) are state heritage areas.

Throughout New York history, the ball has not been dropped by withholding support and jeopardizing the continuance of an important type of park as our state park agency did with the state heritage program. It should not get away with this dereliction of duty and tradition.

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


New Featured Area

By Brenda Barrett December 28, 2012

Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Silos and Smokestacks

Silos and Smokestacks NHA

Located in the heart of America’s tall grass prairie, northeastern Iowa includes some of the world’s most fertile soil. Across a gently undulating terrain, the landscape breaks into hills, valleys and bluffs as it approaches the Mississippi River at its eastern border. Diverse Native peoples farmed the valleys and managed the upland prairie with fire to improve habitat for game. Europeans arriving in the 1850s divided up the lands into individual farms. Many of these new settlers were immigrants from all corners of Europe. In the twentieth century, technological changes such as seed hybridization, food processing and preservation, and widespread mechanization expanded agricultural production. The region’s increased productivity helped supply world markets with food and grain. Local universities further developed the area as a center of agribusiness innovation. Urban centers supported packinghouses, farm equipment factories, and transportation links to support an agricultural economy.

As in all agriculturally-based economies, the region was buffeted by fluctuations in climate, the national economy and world markets. By the end of the twentieth century, it also faced other difficulties. This part of Iowa struggled with the loss of established food processing facilities, which impacted the vitality of the urban centers. The farming population was aging, some prime agricultural land was falling out of production, and there was farm consolidation that changed both appearance of the landscape and community vitality. More positively, the region still had a strong tradition of family farming and was known for its work ethic and traditional values.

In 1991, a new nonprofit, Silos and Smokestacks, surveyed one of the region’s depressed urban centers as part of an economic revitalization scheme. The survey found that the city’s heritage and economic well-being was inextricably linked to the larger rural landscape. Following on this work, the NPS was asked to study the potential national significance of the region. The resulting NPS Special Resource Study determined that northeast Iowa had made significant contributions to the story of national and international agriculture and proposed designation of a 17-county area as a new entity to be called a heritage partnership to tell this story.

One year later Congress designated a substantially larger region, 37 counties in all, as America’s Agricultural Heritage Partnership. This legislation also authorized a new a local management entity made up of representatives from volunteer associations, private businesses and state and local political subdivisions to interpret and promote the natural and cultural resources that contributed to the region’s significance. Similar to a National Heritage Area, the partnership was a large lived in landscape, which was to be managed locally with the federal government’s role limited to financial and technical assistance .

In the beginning, the new America’s Agricultural Heritage Partnership, which became known by the name of Silos and Smokestacks, faced many challenges. These included the scale of the initiative, which was over 20,000 square miles. Another was the rural agrarian culture, which places a high premium on individual action and on self-reliance. To overcome community concerns about the role of the national government in this new heritage designation, the original legislation authorized the Department of Agriculture to serve as the lead federal agency, given that this department was the traditional federal agency liaison to the farm community (NPS 2004). However, the project stalled when the Department could not envision itself in this new and unfamiliar role as a provider of heritage assistance.

Despite these setbacks, the nonprofit management entity, authorized in the legislation, persevered and built a strong partnership network. In 2000, the NPS was designated as the lead federal partner and the region became part of the agency’s National Heritage Area program. This program now has 49 Congressionally designated areas that receive assistance from the NPS (NPS National Heritage Areas, n.d.; National Park System Advisory Board 2006; Barrett and Mitchell 2003; Barrett and Wood 2003). The heritage area focused on interpretation of the agricultural story in order to implement the partnership network in a way that respected the area’s traditional values of independence and voluntarism. The primary goals were to add economic value through increased heritage tourism and to share the story with residents and visitors.

Over the last ten years, this focus on telling the story and adding economic value has been well received within the 37 counties. The area has 108 formal partnerships built on existing, valued community assets that strengthen the sense of regional identity. It has connected these partner sites around a series of broader interpretive themes and built the capacity of the organizations with targeted grants, workshops and technical assistance. Linking the areas’ identity to the NPS brand, regional signage programs, and multiple social media campaigns have helped promote the heritage value of this very large landscape. A recent evaluation documented that over 3 million people visit heritage sites a year. It also found that the heritage area responded to demand for youth programming, by adding a substantial educational component with a focus on history of farming, reading the landscape, and the impact of agricultural programs and policies. There have been 1,000 participants in training programs and 500,000 visits to the award winning web-based ‘Camp Silos’.

In conclusion, the Americas Agricultural Heritage Partnership has lived up its name and developed a collaborative approach where partners work together toward common goals. It is also able to tackle emerging issues through new partnerships, for example, flood assessment studies with Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, tours to introduce wine-making in the region, and supporting food security through heritage plants and breeds exchanges (Silos and Smokestacks NHA n.d.). This strategy has overcome the initial concerns of residents about governmental designation and outside control of agricultural resources. For National Heritage Areas, the NPS’s role is to be one of the partners offering guidance, limited funding and strong brand recognition. The nationally significant cultural landscape is still managed by the people that live in it, but with a much greater appreciation of the place they call home.


Efforts Underway to Protect Lackawanna (NY) Industrial History

By Eleanor Mahoney December 8, 2012

Some interesting links/news on efforts to preserve the historic Bethlehem Steel Administration Building in Lackawanna, New York near Buffalo. Read the stories below to learn more about this grassroots effort to protect an integral part of the city’s labor history, spearheaded by the Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group.–a-celebration-of-beth-steels-administration-building.html


What are the Components of Creative Conservation?

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2012

Many thanks to Bob Bendick, Director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C., for sharing his recent article Creative Conservation: Reflections on a Way to the Future published in the October 2012 of Land Lines, the quarterly magazine of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. He makes an excellent point that the most hopeful and innovative strategies for landscape conservation are emerging at the ground level within individual landscapes like the Blackfoot Valley in Montana, the Flint Hills in Kansas, and the Hudson Valley on the east coast.

I know this is true, as I have seen the success of the Pennsylvania Wilds or the Lower Susquehanna in my home state of Pennsylvania. Bendick identifies a number of critical ingredients for these efforts such as working at a landscape scale, recognizing the human benefits, involving the people who live in the region, and mentoring a new generation of local conservation leaders. Government is assigned the role of maintaining a fair and consistent regulatory process and providing economic incentives for the right things to happen.

But can our government do more? With the election behind us, it is time to revisit the vision sketched out by the America’s Great Outdoors and other landscape scale programs initiated over the past four years. Call it what you will, these big ideas can help support local efforts and fire the imagination of what might be possible. I have seen it happen with the Conservation Landscape work in Pennsylvania and the many governmental partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Theodore Roosevelt’s vision of government as the protector of the common good should still be an important part of the mix.

Do read the article Creative Conservation. It is a great summary of some of our biggest challenges and best opportunities.




Reading Recommendation

By Eleanor Mahoney September 28, 2012

Looking for an interesting read on conservation, preservation, community development, cultural resources – or all of the above? So are we – and we want to hear from you. Let us know what you are reading so we can include it on our Research and Writing page.

In the meantime, here’s one quick recommendation (look for more from time to time) – Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation. In this book, author Karl Jacoby explores the lesser-known stories behind of some of the United States’ most iconic protected landscapes: the Adirondack Park, Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park.

In contrast to an at-times romanticized narrative of environmentalists fighting heroically against corporate interests, Jacoby chooses to introduce his readers to individuals and rural and indigenous communities ignored, displaced and, indeed, even criminalized, by the designation of public lands. In framing his analysis, Jacoby never goes so far as to say that land conservation is bad or unnecessary; rather, he emphasizes that the creation of parks rarely proceeds in a “clean” or even fashion, creating diverse sets of winners and losers along the way. Though a work of history, this book’s insights should be of interest to contemporary conservationists as well.


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:






Conserving a Peopled Landscape: How are we doing?

By Brenda Barrett July 25, 2012
New York City in a Landscape of Water

New York City in a Landscape of Water

A recent conference (June 19, 2012) Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion brought together over 125 practitioners and state and federal officials to share insights on successful practices and build a network between comparable efforts. Hosted by the Regional Plan Association and America 2050, the event built on the organizations’ research on large landscape efforts in the Northeast and the principles in their February publication Landscapes reported in earlier Observer post.

The meeting was held in New York City and attendees who came early were treated to a tour of Governor’s Island and a different perspective on the city as a place rising from a landscape of water.  Maybe it was the location. Among many large landscape topics touched on through the daylong conference, the importance of people, community, and telling the story on a landscape scale came up over and over.  A poll taken at the end of the conference showed that 94% of the participants voted that to improve landscape practice and policy in the Northeast it was important to  “[c]reate a narrative of the region that motivates the people who live there.”

Why all this talk about the importance of people and populated areas? Mark Anderson, Director of Conservation Science at the Nature Conservancy, presented the conferees a compelling reason. His work has shown that species diversity is highly correlated with a diversity of landscapes – rivers, forests, coastlines and a variety of soil and underlying geology.  It seems that conservationists are delivering solid results preserving upland forests, but not the rich soils and riverine landscapes where people have flocked to settle for thousands of years. In other words, we have done okay on the easy stuff. Now to achieve real gains, particularly in the Northeast United States, we have to take conservation to where people live.

For more conference updates and information on some upcoming pilot projects, see Ron Pirani’s article Going Regional with Landscape Conservation on the Regional Plan web site.



Landscapes: Improving Conservation Practice in the Northeast Megaregion

By Brenda Barrett July 9, 2012

The conservation movement recognizes the limitations of just of saving individual parcels and creating parks and protected areas to address the big issues of protecting watersheds and habitat. The solution is to work towards landscape scale conservation. However, as the recent February 2002 report by the Regional Plan Association notes “There is little published information on the science and management of landscapes.” The Regional Plan report, which is aimed at practioners who are working at this larger scale, is an important contribution to the field.

With a focus on the densely populated Northeast region of the United States, the report summarizes information from an inventory of over 165 landscape scale initiatives.  It provides a comprehensive examination of their conservation priorities and identifies their conservation challenges. But on the critical issues of improving the practice, the report only begins that conservation. Read the full report here.


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.