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Labor History Makes Headway in NPS

By Eleanor Mahoney February 26, 2015
Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Pullman strikers in Chicago. The Illinois National Guard is visible protecting the building.

Roughly a week ago, President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate Pullman, a former company town in Illinois, as a National Monument. The effort was a long time in the making, with many organizations and partners involved in the designation campaign.

Pullman first came to prominence in the 1880’s when George M. Pullman decided to build a model town to house workers employed at his rail car factories. While the accommodations and landscaping of the new community were fairly comfortable, the strict controls exercised by Pullman over the lives and political activities of his employees proved far less agreeable. Residents chafed at his strict behavioral standards and inflexible rents, which became especially onerous during the Panic of 1893, an economic depression like none the nation had ever seen (or would again until the stock market crash of 1929).

As a result of the crisis, Pullman workers saw their incomes drop, but not their rents, precipitating a strike in 1894 that would ultimately last for 2 months. The American Railway Union (only a year or so old at the time), then headed by Eugene V. Debs, sought arbitration, and when that failed, authorized union members to cease work on any trains that carried Pullman Palace cars. The strike – now national in scope and affecting some 250,000 workers – ground much of the country’s rail transport to a halt, with little traffic moving in and out of Chicago, the system’s largest hub. Ultimately, it took intervention on the part of the federal government, including both an injunction and the use of soldiers (both unprecedented at the time), to bring the action to a violent halt. Though the workers lost the strike, they did succeed in gaining widespread sympathy among the public. This support, however, did not translate into improved pay or working conditions. The 1894 events in Pullman demonstrated not only what solidarity among workers could achieve, but also the lengths to which some within the government and business establishment would go to prevent collective action among labor.

In later decades, the Pullman Company would continue to play an important role in labor and African American history. In 1937, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an African American union founded by civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, won a contract for Pullman porters – an exclusively African American workforce. Coming amidst the Great Depression, the agreement was truly groundbreaking, marking the first major contract between a union led by Black workers and a large corporation. Indeed, at the time, Pullman was the largest single employer of African Americans in the United States, though the town of Pullman itself remained racially segregated and largely off-limits to Black residents. Significantly, Randolph also played a key role in pressuring President Roosevelt – via his (Randolph’s) calls for a 1941 March on Washington – to issue Executive Order 8802 (1941), which prohibited discrimination in defense industries and created the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

Reading such stories, it is hard to believe that it took until 2015 for Pullman to become a part of the National Park system. Even more troubling, Pullman remains one of only a handful of sites that focus on telling stories of industrial work, especially in the context of union organizing, collective bargaining and civil rights movements.* It is important to note that unions, while advocating and organizing for economic change, often practiced racial, ethnic and gender-based discrimination, an important part of the labor story and one that adds much needed complexity to the potential interpretation at a site like Pullman.

Given the undeniable and ongoing impact of industrialization and later de-industrialization on the American landscape, it is well past time for places connected to key industries such as coal, steel, automobiles, aerospace, retail or petroleum to gain the attention (and yes, the debate and national dialogue) that comes with NPS designation. At a moment when income and wealth inequality is growing, reflecting on the role of unions in shaping late 19th and 20th century life seems all the more pressing.

To learn more about some of the labor history sites considered for both National Historic Landmark designation and unit designation, see the 2003 National Labor Theme Study (draft).

* Other sites (please let me know if I have missed any) that interpret these stories include: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (RI), Lowell National Historical Park (MA), Keweenaw National Historical Park ( MI), Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park (NJ), César E. Chávez National Monument (CA) and Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park (CA). The Kate Mullany National Historic Site, an affiliated area, also has a strong labor focus.

A large number of National Heritage Areas also interpret and protect sites associated with late 19th and 20th century labor and industrial history including: Augusta Canal National Heritage Area; Baltimore National Heritage Area, Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor; Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Essex National Heritage Area; Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area; Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor; John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor; Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area; MotorCities National Heritage Area; National Coal Heritage Area; Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canal Way; Oil Region National Heritage Area; Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area; Schuylkill River National and State Heritage Area; and Wheeling National Heritage Area.


World Heritage Sites in the United States

By Brenda Barrett January 29, 2015
Credit: National Park Service

Papahanaumokuakea World Heritage Site. Credit: NPS

Quickly now, how many World Heritage Sites are in the United States? Well, there are twenty-two most administered by the National Park Service (NPS). The others are managed by various other interests – states, private foundations, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and an Indian tribe. The United States and Canada jointly nominated two World Heritage Sites: Waterton-Glacier and Wrangell-St.Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek/Kluane. The most recent World Heritage inscription was for Poverty Point in Louisiana, which was voted on in the fall of 2014 in Doha Qatar. For more information on all the U.S. World Heritage Sites visit the National Park Service’s web site.

Why is recognition as a World Heritage site important? The motivations vary from country to country, but include such factors as national pride and of course the economic value of increased attention and tourism. In the past, the U.S. involvement the program has not been touted. A site’s World Heritage status was only recognized in the fine print in a brochure or by a small plaque. However, this is changing. Along with the updated web site on World Heritage, the NPS has recently developed a new travel itinerary for the World Heritage Sites in the United States. The itinerary provides a description of the heritage values of each of the properties and offers information on how to plan your visit. And for younger visitors, they can become a ” World Heritage in the United State  Junior Ranger.

Credit: Susan Guice

The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. Photo by Susan Guice, courtesy NPS Office of International Affairs

Today there is growing interest in achieving World Heritage designation for more places in the United States. And we can certainly ask for more, after all, Mexico has 32 sites and even Cuba has 9! So how do properties advance through the process and what sites will be next? Well one way to see what might be coming up is to look at the tentative list, see World Heritage in the United States: The U.S. Tentative List 2008. This report presents the tentative list as of that date and describes the criteria and process for inscription of potential new sites. As for the future, the NPS has announced that it is in the process of developing the next tentative list with a target date of 2016. This is a great opportunity for the public to be engaged in identifying what they think is worthy of World Heritage designation and to build greater knowledge of the program.

And awareness of World Heritage is very important as the program is at a critical juncture in the United States, but that is another story. Read more about this in US World Heritage Program at Risk.  In the meantime many thanks to the NPS for running a great promotional campaign and special Junior Ranger badges to all who support this effort!


National Heritage Areas Receive Holiday and Anniversary Gifts

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2014
Credit: Laurie Helling

“Snow on the Roof”
American Farmscapes Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area, one of 15 NHAs with extended federal funding. Credit: Laurie Helling

Congress wrapped up the 2014 session with two big Christmas tree bills with lots of presents for the National Heritage Areas (NHA). The first was the National Defense Authorization Act, which extended National Park funding for fifteen of the National Heritage Areas. The authorization for funding these NHAs had been set to expire in 2015. The areas are now reauthorized all the way to 2021. Then a couple days later along came the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for 2015, which increased funding for the program from the administration’s original 2015 request of $9.2 to $20.3 million dollars. This was done with the proviso that at least $300, 000 in base funding be made available to all NHAs with completed management plans. There was the additional directive that the agency not redistribute any of the funds of the “longstanding” NHAs. The legislation also restored the administrative funding for the National Park Service that was not included in the 2014 appropriations bill.

What a a great 30th Anniversary present for the NHAs and even though these were small additions to two big bills, people who care about parks and protected areas should pay close attention. What other park programs have such bi-partisan support? What other programs more than doubled their proposed line item? Food for thought…

Now for the rest of the News:

On the 12th day of December our Congress gave us all!

7 new national parks:

  • Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, RI/MA
  • Tule Springs National Monument, NV
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve, NM
  • WW I Memorial – the redesignation of Pershing Park DC
  • Coltsville National Historical Park, CT
  • Harriet Tubman National Historical Park , NY
  • Manhattan Project National Historical Park, WA/NM/TN
Credit: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

Christmas at the Biltmore. Credit: Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

8 new studies for potential units

8 boundary adjustments or increased protection

2 new memorials

2 new scenic rivers

14 studies for wild and scenic rivers

1 new commission for a museum of National Women’s History

15 Extended federal funding for 15 Heritage areas


1 Centennial Coin!

Read more details on these gifts here…


Special Update: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park next step up for National Heritage Areas?

By Brenda Barrett December 30, 2014
Credit: National Park Service

Map of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Interested in the future of the heritage movement? Concerned that the program has had to invest so much of its political capital on re-authorization and just hanging on to a flat line budget? Then the recent legislation establishing the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park might be one way forward – offering stability and just possibly a new kind of partnership to conserve landscape scale resources.

A little background, the Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor has always been a special case. Created in 1986 as the second of a new kind of National Park Service (NPS) designation, the area was the poster child for this new approach to managing a living landscape. However, in recent years the NPS seemed to retreat from this bold strategy. A special resource study for the Blackstone Valley recommended creating a traditional park around a cluster of historic sites – a very reduced footprint indeed! See Blackstone River Valley: Sounding a Retreat from Landscape Scale Work?

So it is very good news that as part of the recent National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, Congress authorized the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park with some very expansive language.

The park was created with a dual purpose to preserve, protect and interpret the industrial heritage as well as its urban, rural and agricultural landscape that provides the overarching context for the region. Along with individual industrial sites, the park boundaries include the Blackstone Canal and the Blackstone River and its tributaries. The legislation also recognizes the role of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. It authorizes the park to enter into cooperative agreements with the heritage corridor and to offer a range of technical assistance to resources outside the official park boundary.

Credit: NPS

A former textile mill along the Blackstone River in the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor. Credit: NPS

The new park along with the re-authorization of the heritage corridor to the year 2021 in the recent Omnibus Budget Bill provides a new opportunity to conserve the Blackstone Valley on a landscape scale. Charlene Perkins Cutler, the executive director of the Blackstone River Valley Heritage Corridor certainly sees the new designation this way, saying “This gives recognition to the importance of the entire watershed and the heritage corridor as the birthplace of the industrial revolution,”

Many people have worked hard to pass legislation that ensures that the tools for landscape scale work are at the ready. The next three years will be critical. Will the new national park fashion a management plan that takes advantage of these sweeping authorities? Will the heritage corridor be made a full partner in preserving and interpreting the larger landscape? Can the permanent presence and sustainable funding of a park unit serve as home base to continue the innovative holistic approach to the Blackstone Valley? Only time and more hard work will tell if this is the new model for heritage development.


Reading the Tea Leaves: What can we learn from Australia and Canada?

By Brenda Barrett November 30, 2014

Do the recent midterm elections in the United States signal a change in the nation’s heritage policies? To read the tea leaves, we might look to the fate of parks and heritage conservation programs in Australia and Canada – where conservative governments have recently been in power. In the past, both countries had a track record of innovative heritage programs – developing world class historic sites, new approaches to the recognition of indigenous cultural values and strong interpretation of history and nature. So what has been the impact of the fiscal belt tightening of Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada?

Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. Photograph courtesy of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

In Australia, there has been a wholesale retreat by the national government from heritage programs. Heritage professionals bemoan the lack of leadership, dwindling resources (funding and staff) and less rigorous planning and guidance for the conservation of cultural and natural resources. Environmental organizations are concerned about the devolution of planning controls over heritage sites from the national government to the states. This has raised questions about the protection of World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef. One heritage leader has described the Abbott government’s abandonment of support for the Australian National Heritage List (formerly the Register of the National Estate) in 2007 as “a body blow for the nation’s heritage”.

In Canada the once preeminent cultural and natural resource agency, Parks Canada, struggles under a maintenance backlog estimated by a recent consultant report as $2.77 billion. A continual pattern of budget reductions – in 2014 alone there was a $27 million reduction in operational funding out of a total budget of $650 million – has left parks reeling and struggling to keep the doors open. A decade ago, the agency had a staff of well-respected architects, historians and planners. These services were privatized and then with reduced funding disbanded. Programs such as recognition for National Historic Landmarks have been put on hold indefinitely.

Photograph Brenda Barrett

Prince Edward Island National Park Canada. Photo Brenda Barrett.

Overall not a very happy prospect, but could this happen in the United States (US)? While politically we are close cousins to these two countries, there are some significant differences. For one thing we have a much stronger Federal system. In Australia and Canada their states or provinces always had a more dominant role in heritage conservation and all other government services. For example, in Australia many of the states have their own national park system. The results for heritage have been that wealthy and well-populated areas have been able to pick up the slack and continue heritage programing at the regional level. For poorer, less populated areas like Tasmania and the Yukon not so much.

Another important difference is the US’s long tradition of political advocacy. The National Parks Conservation Association was created one year after the US National Park Service to be a watch dog over park programs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Action and now the Coalition of National Park Retirees play a similar role. While the picture is not uniformly rosy, as the NPS heads towards its centennial in 2016 and the National Historic Preservation Act turns fifty, the future of parks and heritage programs are in a better position than other parts of the world.

The take away from all this is, whether you like your tea with lemon or milk —- it pays to be vigilant.


National Heritage Areas at Thirty: Help tell the Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


National Conference Celebrates Innovative Large Landscapes Programs

By Brenda Barrett November 4, 2014
(BB no need to credit)

Happy 30th Anniversary National Heritage Areas at the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation.

The National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation October 23-24 was a sold out success. Almost 600 leaders and practitioners gathered to develop strategies for addressing the nation’s significant land and water challenges on a landscape scale. The conference also took the opportunity to celebrate the anniversaries of two of the more ground-breaking large landscape projects – National Heritage Areas and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

These landmark efforts blazed the trail – demonstrating that large landscape conservation is possible with collaboration, hard work and big dreams.

Steve Guertin, Deputy Director for Policy at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, recognized the two anniversary milestones – 30 years the for National Heritage Area program and 20 for the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. He offered both his “congratulations and sincere thanks to those leaders who have shown us that it is possible to make the visions that inspire our work a reality on the ground.”

The national workshop also featured keynotes from high-powered conservation leaders such as Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, Mike Boots of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. Presenters shared research and insights that show how large landscape efforts are an integral part of our response to challenges such as wildlife habitat degradation, threats to water quality and quantity, losses of working farms and forests, and limited public access to urban, rural, and wild open spaces.

“Large landscape conservation initiatives are actually working to provide solutions for some of our nation’s most complex environmental challenges, while at the same time enhancing economic prosperity and energy security,” said James Levitt, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy fellow and NWLLC co-chair.


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

By Brenda Barrett September 29, 2014

Fair warning: Insider discussion coming up…

Charting a Future for National Heritage Areas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Brenda Barrett

Roger Williams National Memorial. Credit: Brenda Barrett

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



World Heritage Committee Match Up in Doha Qatar

By Brenda Barrett July 1, 2014
Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

Map of the Earthworks at Poverty Point. Credit: Maximilian Dornhecker (Cartographer)

While not as closely watched as the World Cup in Brazil, for those who care about international heritage the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar (June 15-25, 2014)  was an important event. Among the highlights were the inscriptions of the 1,000th World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Myanmar’s first property on the World Heritage List. During its ten-day meet up, the Committee added a total of 26 new sites the List to bring the number of World Heritage Sites to 1007, in 161 countries.

Representatives from the United States (US) were there to follow the voting on the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point. This was country’s first  World Heritage nomination since the US   withdrew the its support for UNESCO. See US World Heritage Program at Risk  Score one for team US.  On June 22, 2014, the nomination for Poverty Point was inscribed as the 1,001st property on the World Heritage List.

(However, see the comment below – it turns out it was a very close game!)

Listed under Criteria iii, the site was determined to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared. The monumental prehistoric earthwork complex is located in Louisiana’s Lower Mississippi Valley. It was part of a trading network 3,000 years ago that stretched hundreds of miles across the North American continent. Poverty Point is a remarkable system of monumental mounds and ridges that were built into the landscape for residential and ceremonial use by a sophisticated society of hunter-fisher-gatherers. It is a masterpiece of engineering from its time as the major political, trading, and ceremonial center of North America.

Not scoring so well was Australia; although the committee deferred for 12 months a decision on whether to place Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Committee expressed concerns over planned coastal developments, including development of ports and liquefied natural gas facilities. It asked Australia to submit an updated report on the state of conservation of the reef by 1 February 2015. In addition the World Heritage Committee rejected the Australian Government ‘s proposal to delist 74,000 of hectares from the boundaries of the Tasmanian Wilderness. It was reported that the current government of Australia lobbied the delegates in Doha unsuccessfully to get more flexibility in the management of these iconic resources.

Scoring points for good deeds was the host state of Qatar. The Prime Minister of Qatar opened the meeting by announcing a donation to the World Heritage Center of $10 million to establish a new fund to assist World Heritage sites affected by conflict or natural disaster. He called on “all of the states in the big World Heritage family” to contribute to this fund. To see some the challenges view Culture under Attack: A Photo Exhibition on Cultural Heritage and Armed Conflict.


Watching Over Our National Historic Landmarks

By Brenda Barrett June 1, 2014
Credit: William D. Reilly

Shack Mountain National Historic Landmark. Credit: William D. Reilly

The real estate brochure was almost breathless. The property it noted “is a rare jewel joining Monticello, the Rotunda and University of Virginia’s Academical Village as the only National Historic Landmarks in Charlottesville and Albemarle. Of the over 80,000 properties on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States, less than 2,500 qualify for Landmark status.”

The property in question, Shack Mountain in Charlottesville VA, is indeed a special place. Fiske Kimball, a scholar of Thomas Jefferson’s work who served as the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art for over thirty years, designed the house. Like Jefferson’s Monticello, it has commanding views of nearby Charlottesville and Albemarle County. It is a strong statement of the Classical style, executed with exquisite detailing and proportion. Kimball designed the house to serve as his mountain top retreat and retirement home. At his death he willed the property to the Philadelphia Museum of Art who then sold the property subject to restrictions to protect both the building and the viewshed. Today the property is protected by a conservation easement held by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources.

The protection offered by the easement on Shack Mountain is a very good thing for the future of the resource. Recognition as a National Historic Landmark (NHL) is just that – recognition. At the time of designation, an owner of a NHL – or stewards as they are known – will receive a certificate from the National Park Service and be invited to accept a plaque attesting to the significance of the property (36 CFR 65.6). Under the National Historic Sites Act of 1935, the authorizing legislation for the NHL program, the NPS also has the responsibility to maintain contact with the owner and to monitor the condition of the property. Further, the agency is to prepare regular reports to Congress identifying both known or anticipated damage or threats to the integrity of the NHL. By regulation, this report is to be prepared by the park service’s regional offices (65.7). But let’s be clear, while these reports allow the park service to offer advice, the NHL owners give up none of the rights and privileges of ownership or use of the property.

So does just monitoring the condition of a landmark without the ability to take action add any value? I think it might. In Pennsylvania, the NPS placed the landmark listed Delaware Canal on the 2000-2001 watch list after it suffered from devastating flooding. This attention was one of the contributing factors in allocating scarce state capitol dollars and FEMA funds to repair the washed out locks and spillways.

In 2013 the National Park Service staff had planned to conduct an overdue survey of NHLs, but ran into a glitch. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, Federal agencies must receive approval from the Office of Management and Budget prior to collecting information from ten or more members of the public. Receiving approval for the agency to do the survey directly proved challenging. So the Southeast Regional Office came up with another idea. They sent out a letter addressed to “Fellow Preservationist” to help identify NHLs that might be at risk or threatened in their region. They also asked for success stories, noting that the agency wanted to recognize good stewardship.

For this I want to applaud the resourcefulness of the park service staff. To conserve our NHLs the first step is to know that they are out there and to feel personally engaged in their future preservation. Having many eyes on these important places can only be a positive development.

So what about Shack Mountain? In 2006 the National Park Service reported that the landmark was in good condition. The threat level was Satisfactory and there are no changes since the last reporting period. However, while the property is still in good condition in 2014, it has been on the market since 2011. If I was in Virginia, I might want to keep Fiske Kimball’s jewel box on my watch list or even better start looking for a preservation minded buyer.

Want to help? Check out the National Historic Landmark, in your state and see how they are faring. Go to:


NHA@30: Program Legislation for National Heritage Areas

By Brenda Barrett March 30, 2014

Today there are 49 National Heritage Areas (NHA) stretching from Florida to Alaska and each area has its own individual legislative authorization.  But authorizing legislation for the overall program has been an unattainable goal.  Beginning in 1993* comprehensive program bills have been drafted and re-drafted, then introduced, only to fall flat on their face in one Congressional session after another. The current NHA program bill, the National Heritage Areas Act of 2013 (H.R.445), was introduced in the house with bipartisan support; there is no Senate companion bill.

Over the last thirty years the lack of NHA program legislation has n been a barrier to the growth of the program. However, it has been raised as a hurdle to its legitimacy. It has been used to justify cutting the NHA budget and opposing any and all recent NHA proposals.  One could argue that program legislation is not needed. After all the NPS has the organic act and Congress has designated each National Heritage Area just as they have designated each unit of the National Park Service. In addition the language in the recent NHA designation bills is almost identical so the issue of setting a standard of practice is of less concern.

What is of concern is the connection between the National Park Service and the National Heritage Areas.  There are so many good reasons for the NPS to embrace the NHAs: to tell diverse stories from the perspective of the people who own the narrative, to build a stewardship ethic in large landscapes, and to provide a living context for national park units. Director Jarvis enumerated these reason and more in a 2012 Policy Memorandum. And yet despite these mutual benefits this connection is at risk. If a legislative foundation for the program will help bridge this gap, then this legislation should be a high priority.

So what are the odds that NHA program legislation will move this Congress? Not very likely according to sources on both the Senate and House committees.  The house bill is not scheduled for a hearing and there is no bill in the Senate. The NPS has repeatedly stated the agency’s support for the concept, but has not taken a position on HR 445.  And in fairness to all, this is a very hard time to get any NPS bills beyond a no cost park name change moving in Congress.

So what would it take to make a difference? Here are a few ideas:

  • Advocate for a hearing in the Committee on HR 445.  Yes this is a tough environment, but the bill has articulate and committed cosponsors in Congressman Dent (R-PA) and Congressman Tonko (D-NY). Overall NHAs have bipartisan support in the house with 35 sponsors signed on to HR 445.
  •  Find a powerful champion. The last time a NHA program bill made real progress was in in 2006 when with the leadership of Senator Thomas (R-WY), then chair of the subcommittee on National Parks, legislation was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.  The new chair of the committee is familiar with the issue with two NHA in her home state.
  • Harness the political power of all NHAs. With the  delegations from the existing  49 areas and the supporters of the eight ** proposed NHA bills introduced in this congressional session that is a lot of horsepower.
  • The Centennial is coming! Take advantage of the upcoming NPS commemoration. How about program legislation as a NPS priority to celebrate this major milestone?

A recent article in the National Park and Conservation Association’s magazine (Spring 2014) called national heritage areas “the next generation of national parks”.  Perhaps now is the time to officially welcome them into the family.


*  The first NHA program bills were introduced in 1993 in the 103rd Congress. (1993-1994) The American Heritage Areas Partnership Program Act of 1993 (Introduced in House the then chair of chair of the Natural resources Committee– Rep Bruce Vento and another version the National Partnership System of Heritage Areas Act (Introduced in House by Rep Hinchey of New York.  No surprise, given the sponsor’s home state, the Hinchey bill grandfathered in all existing NHAs as well as the whole New York State Urban Cultural Park System.  Neither bill gained much traction or passed the house or senate.

** NHA legislative proposals  awaiting action  are the  Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area Act, Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Study Act, Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area Act, Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area Act, St. Croix National Heritage Area, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act, and Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area Act.


Letter from Woodstock: The Presidio Matters

By Guest Observer March 2, 2014

by Rolf Diamant

(Originally printed in the George Wright Forum, Volume 30, N0. 13, 2013)

A few years ago, I suggested at a regional superintendents’ meeting that US national parks were facing a paradoxical future. This was, I said, an era of unprecedented changes and challenges but also, in many ways, a golden age for the National Park Service (NPS)—as it was an organization becoming more sophisticated, focused, and better trained than it has ever been in the past.  More than a few of my colleagues in the room did not agree with this assessment or at least objected to my choice of words as they complained about their operating budget shortfalls, staffing vacancies, various bureaucratic obstacles, and workloads. I couldn’t disagree with any of that—as a superintendent, I was working through similar problems in my own park—but I thought we should recognize that the park system was still growing in many positive directions.  Park superintendents, overall, were becoming more emotionally intelligent and adept at dealing with complexity. New, more inclusive, and successful community engagement strategies were being developed.  Partners were increasingly more nimble and capable and across the park system pockets of useful experimentation and innovation were able to flourish.

Credit: Dan Stern

The Inn at the Presidio, a 22-room restored property

In my sixth “Letter from Woodstock,” I will take a closer look at one of those nodes of useful experimentation and innovation, the Presidio of San Francisco. The 1,500-acre former military post is national parkland managed jointly by the federally chartered Presidio Trust and NPS, nested within the much larger Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  The trust manages about 80% of the Presidio (most historic buildings); NPS is responsible for the other 20% (mostly shoreline property around Crissy Field) and has legislative authorization to provide interpretive services, visitor orientation, and educational programs throughout the Presidio in cooperation with the trust.  (For the record, I worked for Golden Gate about 35 years ago on its first general management plan and I still keep up a membership in the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the nonprofit partner that supports and assists the Golden Gate National Parks.)

Congress established the trust in 1996 as an independent government corporation with a mandate to manage the Presidio, find new uses for its nearly 800 structures (5.9 million square feet of useable space), and become financially self-sufficient within 15 years—a milestone that the trust reports it has now achieved.  By any measure the Presidio represents one of the most ambitious experiments in public park-making, urban design, and multi-sector cooperation anywhere in the world.  There have been base closures and transitions in other places, but given the distinctive nature of the Presidio, with its vast number of historic structures (over 400), its storied cultural landscape, and the immense urban infrastructure associated with it all, the scale of this undertaking is profoundly different and consequential.

The metrics of Presidio’s ongoing transformation are impressive by any measure. Today much of the residential and non-residential property in the Presidio has been renovated, leased, or rented, and 7,000 people live or work in a spectacular national park setting that attracts, according to the trust, approximately 5 million visitors annually. Three hundred-fifty historic buildings have been renovated, housing thousands of residents and some 225 organizations. The Presidio has been called the largest historic preservation project in the country and it probably is.

On a recent visit to the Presidio, I also saw stream restoration and reforestation projects, a newly built system of pedestrian and bike trails, an urban campground, and several spectacular scenic overlooks.  The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has been the trust’s principal nonprofit partner for much of this impressive park development. I think it is safe to say that the scale and pace of this transformation is without precedent in the modern national park system.

So what can be learned from the Presidio at this point in time?  While many of Presidio Trust’s circumstances and authorities are unique and cannot be easily replicated or adapted, I would direct attention to at least three developments that may have broader application:

  • The Presidio is demonstrating approaches to sustainable city living and sustainable park design, and the two can be merged to offer new ideas for adaptation and resiliency.  One noteworthy example is the revitalization of the 36-acre Presidio Public Health Service District, including the rehabilitation of a derelict six-story hospital and adjacent campus buildings for rental housing, office space, and a school.  Through environmental remediation and by adding new walking trails and overlooks, the Public Health Service District has also further enhanced the national park values of the Presidio. This neighborhood has come back to life with help of NPS-administered preservation tax credits and is the first historic landmark property to be certified by the US Green Building Council as “LEED for Neighborhood Development” for “smart growth, urbanism and green building.”
  • There is an opportunity at the Presidio to evaluate the reciprocal benefits of private and public investments. Repopulating the Presidio with people who live and work there along with shared neighborhood amenities (such as landscaping, public seating, cafés, and shops) encourages expanded recreational use as the public perceives the Presidio as a lively, attractive, and safe environment.  Similarly, the public projects (such as natural area restoration, bikeways, and overlooks) enhance the Presidio as a desirable place to live and work.
  • The governance model of the Presidio Trust has both strengths and weaknesses.  While much can be learned from how the trust carries out its work, particular attention needs to be focused on its relationship with NPS, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.  In the absence of a more structured partnership codified by statute (such as having Golden Gate National Recreation Area formally represented on the trust’s board of directors,) the partnership’s success depends a great deal on leadership, personality, and good will.  It would be instructive to better understand what confidence-building measures and other tools can be used to strengthen and periodically refresh the level of trust, cooperation, and shared vision essential to the health and robustness of the partnership.

The relationship has not always been an easy one between the trust and NPS, particularly in the early years. NPS and park advocates were unhappy with the 1996 Presidio Trust Act that had the trust report to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. NPS would be consulted, but would have no direct oversight. There were further worries that the congressional mandate for the Presidio to be financially self-sustaining in 15 years might later be applied to other parks in the system.  And finally, there was the fear of an even more troubling potential precedent: the reversion section in the act (which would only be invoked if the trust failed) would transfer trust-managed property, not to NPS, but to the General Services Administration, to be withdrawn from Golden Gate National Recreation Area and sold. Beyond misgivings about the legislation, NPS may have been uneasy about the broad authorities granted to the trust by Congress and the trust’s early focus on the real-estate side of its mission. Even today the Presidio is featured on the NPS home page, but curiously there is no mention of the Presidio Trust or link to its programs. For its part, the trust had plenty of trouble finding its own footing in the relationship. Looking at the trust’s annual report released ten years ago, the only collaborative projects with NPS and the conservancy appear to have been water monitoring and songbird inventories. Not so now: this year’s annual report credits the Presidio’s success to  “a strong collaboration” with NPS and the conservancy, the “principal organizational partners” of the trust.

This shift in tone reflects a maturing partnership.  But I suspect that the conservancy has also played an outsized role in facilitating more mutually beneficial cooperation.  Serving as the non-profit partner and cooperating association for both the Presidio Trust and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the conservancy has raised and invested substantial resources in a seamless network of new trails, overlooks, and other world-class visitor and educational facilities shared by both.  Both NPS and the trust had a major stake in the outcome of the conservancy’s hugely successful rescue and revitalization of Crissy Field, and likewise both will share in the many benefits to be derived from the recent gift of $25 million from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr., Foundation to the conservancy. These funds will create 10 acres of parkland over a newly buried roadway, connecting the Presidio’s historic Main Post with Crissy Field’s marsh and waterfront. The gift will also expand the activities of the Crissy Field Center serving both the park and Presidio as “a nationally recognized program hub for youth engagement in environmental learning and community betterment.”  Reflecting the spirit of this cooperation, more and more signs are appearing bearing the logo of all three organizations—perhaps a modest but symbolic indicator of a new willingness to co-brand and share credit for the enormous transformation that is occurring.

The ultimate success of the Presidio, however, will be largely determined by attaining and holding on to what I call the “sweet spot” in the Presidio Trust’s delicate balancing act of maintaining financial health while continuing to make the Presidio accessible and welcoming to the public, including people from diverse and underserved communities around the Bay Area. Success will also be determined by the trust’s commitment to building a new kind of national park that has, as stated in its mission, “broad relevance” to the larger world and invests in such purposes as “environmental learning and community betterment.”  The “sweet spot” is realized when there is a clear alignment of goals and where the enactment of each part of the Presidio’s mission strengthens and adds value to the other parts. However, this is never going to be easy or non-controversial.

A case in point is the trust’s request for proposals (RFP) for the “Mid-Crissy” area of the Presidio to establish a “cultural institution of international distinction.”  The project would repurpose the former post commissary site and utilize the newly created parkland connecting the Main Post to Crissy Field.  The site, with its commanding views of the Golden Gate, is the Presidio’s keystone. Whatever is built, according to the RFP’s guidelines, must “integrate well with plans for Crissy Field and the Main Post” and “welcome a broad cross-section of the community in a manner that reflects and reaffirms the public nature of the Presidio.”

One of the two leading contenders in the RFP process has been film director George Lucas, who is proposing to construct the “Lucas Cultural Arts Museum,” a 93,000-square-foot building “highlighting populist art from some of the great illustrators of the last 150 years through today’s digital art.”  In an interim review of the proposals, the trust praised the generosity of George Lucas, who has offered to pay for and endow the museum with his own funds, and noted the broad appeal of the museum’s educational opportunities. The trust raised serious concerns, however, over the proposed Lucas museum’s “massing and height and its architectural style design” which the urban design critic of the San Francisco Chronicle has described as “boilerplate Beaux Arts, ornamentation without imagination.”  The trust also questioned the degree to which the Lucas museum would stand apart from its national park environment, not creating the “programmatic connections that would add value to other park programs throughout the Presidio.”

The other leading RFP contender is the trust’s own partner, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. The conservancy has proposed building a “Presidio Exchange,” a  “park-based cultural center that creates, curates, and hosts unique public experiences at the Presidio … that are Presidio-themed, participatory, and cross-disciplinary.”  The Exchange is designed as a highly versatile performance and learning venue, taking cues from some of the nation’s newest and most successful cultural spaces, such as New York City’s Highline Park and Chicago’s Millennium Park.

In their interim review, the trust recognized the conservancy’s exceptional contributions to the Presidio and throughout Golden Gate National Recreation Area and especially its “ethos of partnership in the public interest.”  The trust commended the conservancy’s approach to the Exchange as “varied, flexible and relevant” but asked for a clearer “master narrative” and more information on public programming.

When all is said and done, the conservancy is offering the Presidio a remarkable opportunity.  There are many parts that make up the new Presidio—emerging neighborhoods, distinctive campuses, and newly preserved landscapes. The Exchange would significantly enhance the Presidio’s overall visibility and coherence as a great public park. Building on all the good work that has already been accomplished, the Exchange has the potential, as well, to position the Presidio in the vanguard of a 21st-century national park system that is working to become more inclusive, more collaborative, and more relevant.

The decision on this RFP will not be the first time the Presidio Trust has had to seek out that “sweet spot” under intense scrutiny and political pressure, nor will it be the last.  With the challenge of self-sufficiency now met, however, it will be a bell weather test of Trust’s fidelity to its public mission and will do much to shape the ultimate contours of the Presidio’s character as a national park.

Given the magnitude and breath of this remarkable 15-year transition from “post to park,” and the many important choices still to be made, I think it is time to give the Presidio greater recognition as a valuable part of our national park system.

A great urban national park laboratory has been created at the Presidio for perfecting sustainable practices in environmental remediation and recovery, historic preservation and park design. Just as importantly, the Presidio is also an opportunity to experiment with new approaches to partnership, community building and civic stewardship.  We should take advantage of all that can be learned – particularly the positive interaction of what we have too often chosen to segregate – nature and culture, public and private, recreation and work, urban and open spaces.

It is time to pay more attention.


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

By Brenda Barrett March 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

Read More:

March 2013 – Another Close Call for National Heritage Areas 

September 2012 – National Heritage Areas on the Brink


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

By Brenda Barrett January 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Journey Through Hallowed Ground Begins Living Legacy Project

By Brenda Barrett December 2, 2013
Brenda Barrett

New Apple Tree in the Bliss Orchard Gettysburg National Military Park: Planted by the Journey through Hallowed Ground

On November 19, the 150th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership in collaboration with the Gettysburg National Military Park dedicated 248 trees (167 newly planted trees and 81 existing trees) on Bliss Farm as part of the Living Legacy Project.  This effort is helping to restore the orchard that existed on the property at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg.  The ceremony included remarks by National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent Bob Kirby, Acting Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Ellen Ferretti, Senior Director Brock Bierman, and Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership President Cate Magennis Wyatt.

In commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the Living Legacy Project is a simple yet eloquent plan to plant one tree for each of the 620,000 soldiers who died, as a living memorial for their individual and combined sacrifices. Trees planted, as part of the Living Legacy Project will stretch along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, a 180-mile swath of land that runs from Gettysburg, PA to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.

Upon completion, the Living Legacy Project will be the first 180-mile landscaped allée in the world and the only allée dedicated to honoring the most defining moment in American history.  The project will create a unified color palette that reminds visitors that they are, indeed, on hallowed ground.  A signature palette of seasonal trees and plantings, including redbuds, red oaks, red maple, and red cedar have been selected to represent the courage and valor of the individuals being honored with this project.  The native selection is appropriate to the diverse landscapes along this historic corridor, and remains sensitive to the local ecology, scenic views, and development patterns.

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership is actively engaged in raising the necessary funds to complete this $65 million initiative.

Brenda Barrett

Bliss Farm ,Gettysburg National Military Park

Donors may select a soldier to honor, as the trees will be geo-tagged to allow Smart Phone users to learn the story of the soldier, providing a strong educational component to engage interest in the region’s historical heritage and literally bring the tree to life.  For more information on the Living Legacy Project, visit


The Value of a Backward Glance

By Brenda Barrett September 30, 2013
Credit: NPS

Yellowstone National Park Fires 1988. Photo: NPS

I came upon the Retro Report while doing a little review of news stories on the ups and downs of federal fire policy. Launched this year (2013) as a nonprofit news organization, the Retro Report revisits headline stories from the past from the perspective of today. Their mission statement notes that: “With journalistic success increasingly measured in page views, retweets and Facebook likes, there is dwindling interest or ability among news organizations to follow up on the stories they cover. Complicating matters, the first draft of history can be wrong. When news organizations fail to invest the time and money required to correct the record or provide context around what really happened, myth can replace truth. The results are policy decisions and cultural trends built on error, misunderstanding or flat-out lies.”

This is strong stuff and the report has already produced multiple attention grabbing stories from the past in a 10 to 20 minute video format. It interviews the experts, reviews outcomes and changes in national policy, and looks at the long-term consequences. “Summer of Fire” follows the story and the aftermath of the massive fires in Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 1988. It is not quite as riveting as some of the Retro Reports work on social issues, but it does a good job of contrasting the alarmist news coverage at the time with the calm iteration of National Park’s policy by then Superintendent Bob Barbee among others. Also, it tracks the head snapping change in tone as  news reporters marveled at nature’s regenerative power the next spring.

Recent events have reinforced the fact that that the role of fire in creating our landscape is still not well understood. Wildfires and fire management are certainly not something that can be condensed into a nightly news headline. So congratulations to the Retro Report – the nation deserves more of this kind of thoughtful coverage.

It also got me to thinking. With the centennial of the National Park Service (NPS) on the horizon, how can we share more stories on the complexity of caring for our cultural landscapes and treasured protected areas with the people that pay the tab? The George Wright Society has done an in depth job of examining the issues facing the NPS in their Centennial Essay.  How can we take some of these important ideas and air them on a larger stage? Interpreting climate change in parks, the difficulty of engaging audiences that look like America, the role of communities and public lands, and the agency’s changing philosophy on park management, all could be gist for a Retro Report type of analysis.

Clearly, there is a public appetite for going beyond simple celebratory sound bites…we need to help set that table.


Wanted: Ideas for the Next 100 Years

By Brenda Barrett August 31, 2013

Centennials are rather a big deal. The National Park Service (NPS) hopes to take advantage of their 100th birthday in 2016 to spark interest in the future direction of the agency.  They have created a new web site to begin the discussion and are asking the public to submit their ideas by October 20th. To share your thoughts on how to mark this important anniversary go to The Next 100 Years for America’s National Parks.

The site also provides an opportunity to create your own discussion groups and post your own comments. The National Heritage Areas already have a number of topics on the site such as examples of educational programs  and some updates on the areas. Large landscape practitioners may want to jump in and in share their thoughts on existing park partnerships and where this movement should be headed in the future.

While many of the proposals for the centennial will be celebratory in nature, this is also a time for reflection. As always the George Wright Society is out in front on this issue. Starting in 2007, the journal The George Wright Forum began publishing a series of Centennial Essays by the leading thinkers on the both NPS today and tomorrow.  Thanks to the society for gathering all these essays in one easy to use location. You can read them here.

The year 2016 will be here before we know it!



The World Heritage Convention and the National Park Service

By Guest Observer June 28, 2013

Peter Stott wrote the following commentary as the conclusion to a series of three essays on the role of the National Park Service in the World Heritage Convention.  The essays were published in successive issues of the George Wright Forum 28:3 (2011), pp.279-290; 29:1 (2012) , pp.148-175; and 30:1 (2013) pp.18-44. This epilogue provides a strong case for the value of the United State’s (US) participation in the World Heritage Convention. It is reprinted with the permission and support of the George Wright Society.

The World Heritage Convention and the National Park Service

Epilogue: Into the next half-century

As the last of this series of essays comes to an end, it seems fitting to restate the original intention of the United States in proposing the convention. Conservation was the original goal, as first articulated by the convention’s US proponents; identification of sites with outstanding universal value was the means to that end, not the goal. The emphasis on conservation must remain the convention’s true aim and the US implementation of it. Based on the foregoing review of the Park Service’s role in the convention, the writer offers some thoughts on the US role in the convention in the next half century.

The 2011 admission of Palestine as a member state of UNESCO (and a state party to the convention) has triggered two US laws from the 1990s prohibiting the US payment of dues to UNESCO or to the World Heritage Fund. While the non-payment of dues may not affect the ability of the US to vote in the General Assembly, it would limit the effectiveness of any moral leadership the US might try to exercise. The international suggestions below assume that this state of affairs is of no long duration.

View of Yosemite National Park, a world heritage site in the United States. Photo by Dan Stern.

View of Yosemite National Park, a world heritage site in the United States. Photo by Dan Stern.

Concerning the World Heritage Committee: Since its most recent service on the com­mittee ended in 2009, the US has remained an active participant in World Heritage meetings. A fully engaged US delegation can continue to help guide the convention’s development, whether as observer or as a member of the committee. In the absence of a strong chair, or articulate members, it takes very little to prevent the committee from taking a “course of least resistance” in making its decisions, often adopting politically motivated decisions in opposition to advisory body recommendations, its Operational Guidelines, or even its own Rules of Procedure. But as this history has shown, any display of intellectual rigor or institutional memory by a committee member (or in some cases by an observer delegation) is often picked up by other members and can change the direction of discussion. The US and other delegations that care about the conservation goals and the integrity of the convention must be vigilant.

The biennial election of committee members at the General Assembly could be more effectively used to ensure that candidates are focused on conservation rather than on the national self-interest. While the US never announces in advance its voting decisions, it can, with like-minded states, announce that it will only vote for those candidates that publicly pledge to put forward no nominations of sites in their own territories during their mandates (the US itself made this pledge when it ran for election to the committee in 2005). The US could also make it clear that states which pledge to give a role to heritage experts (as required by the convention) would be favored. Both expectations were recommendations of the 2011 audit discussed above.54

World Heritage expert meetings in the United States: Over the years, many countries have sponsored expert meetings to foster exchanges on specific technical subjects. An occasional expert meeting hosted at a relevant US World Heritage site would not only be a significant contribution to the World Heritage community, it could also give US site managers and their staffs a role in, and the experience of, international meetings. Possible topics might include those the US and Canada have already expressed an interest in, at the time of the 2005 Periodic Report: how to recognize the importance of local populations residing within and/or adjacent to natural World Heritage sites; or a discussion of guidelines for evaluating visual impacts on World Heritage properties.

Concerning bilateral partnerships: In creating the Office of International Affairs in 1961, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall explicitly recognized the role that the National Park Service should play in sharing its expertise with other countries. “We must,” he said, invoking the European phrase of the moment, “establish a Common Market of conservation knowledge and endeavor.”55 Nearly a half century later, this commitment was reiterated in the final report of the National Parks Second Century Commission, the blue-ribbon panel commissioned for the upcoming National Park Service centennial in 2016.56 As the National Park Service embarks on its second half-century in international cooperation, it must continue to renew its bilateral relationships, which are mutually beneficial both to NPS and to its resource management partners in other countries.

One of the founding programs in bilateral relations was the International Short Course in the Administration of National Parks and Equivalent Reserves. “That was one tangible element of leadership,” former Assistant NPS Director for Natural Resources Mike Soukup recalled, “that was unmistakably successful. Throughout my career whenever I met with foreign Park people, they would say to me, ‘You need to put that back together. That was so important to my career . .. to my country .. . to the world, that you had that course available and funded’ … That’s the one thing we could do internationally,” Soukup said, “that would restore a healthy leadership position for the Park Service and for the nation, in the eyes of a tremendous amount of people around the world.”57

The second program that should be restarted is the cooperative program with the Peace Corps. For over a quarter of a century, between 1972 and 2000, the National Park Service had an active partnership with the Peace Corps to assist other nations in developing national parks, providing training to Peace Corps volunteers in park planning, management, and interpretation. In an era of disengagement, the program was allowed to expire in 2001. With the support of USAID, it should be renewed.

Concerning US World Heritage sites: The network of World Heritage sites in the US needs to be reinforced. Site managers attending the 1992 Santa Fe meeting have repeatedly stressed how important the meeting was to them, and how beneficial the subsequent meetings. Both Dick Ring, former superintendent of Everglades, and Dave Mihalic, former superintendent of Glacier, recalled the loss of institutional knowledge that was inherent in the movement of site managers around the park system. “The best thing about [the Santa Fe] meeting,” Mihalic said, “was the fact that all the mangers were able to get in one place, including the non-Park Service sites—the Cahokia Mounds, Monticello managers—and not just to understand things all at the same time. But it was a great way to start thinking in a bigger picture, more strategic manner.”58 “It would be enormously valuable,” Ring said, “to see some resources set aside to support the convening of the US World Heritage site managers.” These network activities, Ring added, could also reinforce the international goals of the Park Service: “It would be very easy to make sure that whenever there is a convening of US managers, that there is an invitation extended to the hemisphere or thematically to similar sites around the world to make a focus, and to invite those folks in, and help support bringing them there.”59

Concerning nomination of future World Heritage sites in the United States. Recalling the original goals of the convention, and its emphasis on outstanding universal value and conservation, the US must decide its own course, regardless of the decisions taken by other countries, concerning the composition of the List of World Heritage sites in the United States. The US should seriously consider what a potentially finite number of World Heritage sites in the US would look like. The list of natural World Heritage sites in the US seems well on its way toward fully representing natural biogeographic provinces, but what cultural heritage sites uniquely represent US history and pre-history? (If natural sites represent important biogeographic provinces, what analogous cultural themes should be represented by cultural properties?) Will it simply be a more rarified list of thousands of national historic landmarks? Or does “outstanding universal value” have a more substantive meaning? This is not a process that lends itself to volunteer, grassroots proposals. A rigorous discussion and analysis should identify defining historical themes, and only then examine how those themes might be best represented. The US already has management and legal provisions that set the country apart from the way all others manage World Heritage nominations; policies that adhere to a unified and substantive interpretation of outstanding universal value is a logical extension of those management requirements. But there is no inherent urgency to the inscription of World Heritage sites: a good candidate will always be eligible, whether its nomination comes one year, twenty years, or fifty years from now.


54. Recommendations 11 and 12, “Final Report of the Audit of the Global Strategy and the PACT Initiative,” (2011), UNESCO Working Document WHC-11/18.GA/INF.8.

55. Stewart L. Udall, “Nature Islands for the World,” keynote address to the First World Conference on National Parks, in First World Conference on National Parks, Alexander B. Adams, ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1962), pp. 1-10.

56. National Parks Second Century Commission. Advancing the National Park Idea: Na­tional Parks Second Century Commission Report (Washington, DC: National Parks Con­servation Association, 2009), p. 24.

57. Mike Soukup interview, 27 July 2009.

58. Dave Mihalic interview, 18 February 2010.

59. Dick Ring interview, 10 July 2009.

Peter Stott was formerly (1996-2006) a staff member of the World Heritage Committee’s secretariat, the World Heritage Centre at UNESCO in Paris. Prior to his time at the Centre, between 1992 and 1995, he attended the World Heritage Committee sessions and wrote a nightly e-mail “blog” (before the term existed), as an observer affiliated with ICOMOS, He is currently a preservation planner at the Massachusetts Historical Commission.


Sapelo Island: Still a Living Landscape

By Brenda Barrett May 31, 2013

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

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

The Wallows Lodge, Sapelo Island

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

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

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

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

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

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



US World Heritage Program at Risk

By Brenda Barrett May 30, 2013

Statue of LibertyOnce upon a time the United States was a leader in establishing the World Heritage Convention for the preservation of natural and cultural heritage. The U.S. was the first signatory in 1973.  In 1978, the US hosted the first session of the World Heritage Committee at which sites were inscribed on the World Heritage List. Today, virtually all the countries of the world have signed on, making it the most universal of international legal instruments. As of May 2013, there are 936 World Heritage Sites  in 150 countries: 21 are in the U.S. Read about the history of World Heritage in a recent article in the George Wright Forum.

In October of 2011, the United States halted payment of its dues to UNESCO, following its admission of Palestine as a member state.  Under U.S. law, the government is required to withhold funding to any international body that recognizes Palestine.  This affects our country’s ability to cooperate in scientific and technological matters, and to participate in educational and cultural opportunities with other nations. One of the most visible UNESCO benefits to the U.S. is our participation in the World Heritage program.

Efforts are underway to seek a legislative remedy that will allow the U.S. to resume making contributions to UNESCO, but time is running out.  This fall the U.S. will lose its vote in UNESCO’s General Conference, the organization’s main governing body. Once that happens continued US involvement in UNESCO will be brought into question. There are concerns that if the U.S. submits World Heritage nominations, vote-less in the main body and in arrears, they may not receive fair consideration.  At this time the U.S. has nominated one site for consideration, Poverty Point , an archeological site in northeastern Louisiana built 3,500 years ago by a hunter-gatherer culture, and two for nomination: the Buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright (10 of the master architects key buildings in 6 states), and the Franciscan Missions of San Antonio, including the Alamo, in Texas. See the Living Landscape Observers post Let’s Shout Out for World Heritage.

What’s at stake?  In San Antonio jobs are at the top of the list. In addition to the prestige of being recognized by the international community, the World Heritage label draws tourism and economic development to surrounding communities.  “San Antonio faces an incredible opportunity to achieve World Heritage Site designation for its beloved Missions, while significantly increasing economic benefits for the region,” said National Parks and Conservation Association Texas Regional Director Suzanne Dixon. “Unfortunately, that opportunity is in jeopardy as the United States is currently withholding payment of its UNESCO dues. We absolutely cannot let politics derail this for the city and our country as a whole. This designation means over 1,000 additional jobs and over $100 million in additional economic activity – a legislative remedy must be sought.”

In most parts of the world, an inscription on the World Heritage List is viewed as akin to winning an Olympic Medal or the Nobel Prize. It is in our national and economic interests to have our sites in the running and one cannot compete sitting on the sidelines.

(The author would like to thank the National Park Service and Susan Dixon from NPCA for contributing information to this article)



Fabos Conference: Building a Movement

By Brenda Barrett April 30, 2013

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

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

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

Read all the conference proceedings here.


Finding a fit for cultural landscapes: Is it “preservation” or “conservation”?

By Guest Observer April 30, 2013

By Paulette Wallace

As an offshore visitor attending the recent George Wright Society conference: “Protected areas in a changing world,” in Denver in March, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sessions focus sing on the cultural elements of protected areas management. What made the presentations all the more exciting was that the concept of “cultural landscapes” was a frequent topic of discussion. On at least three occasions, (and despite the sequester), I heard of the United States National Park Service’s efforts to revitalize the toolkit it employs for the identification and management of cultural landscapes. As part of how this “revitalization” might be enacted, US Park staff were working to have cultural landscapes included as a distinct property type within the National Register of Historic Places criteria. It was also conveyed that staff were working to enable greater recognition of National Heritage Areas for cultural landscape management.

Yet, while these initiatives were widely supported, Hugh Miller, a stalwart of the cultural landscape movement in the United States, drew attention to the view that any innovation for the identification and management of cultural landscapes is impeded by the existence of “preservation” at the heart of the US Park Service’s system of cultural resource management. My interpretation of preservation recognises that the term has traditionally been concerned with properties and districts of architectural and/or historical significance. The term is fabric focused and suggestive of minimising change to the original configuration, arresting the tangible to a certain point in time, and closing the heritage item off to all external forces. People’s feelings and ideas of connection to place do not automatically associate with my ideas of what preservation encompasses. This kind of understanding of preservation does not lend itself to the concept of cultural landscapes where change is inherent, and where cultural landscapes look to the future with an eye to the past, rather than capturing a date, or era from that past.

In contrast, “conservation” is the guiding term that I am familiar with in my part of the world. In Australia and New Zealand our heritage management systems are led by “conservation” – “conservation” is not the same thing as “preservation”. Rather than focusing on arresting change, conservation connotes a more processual approach to caring for heritage for the future. Conservation also seems to be more open and connected to cultural significance – people’s feelings and connections to place. To conserve is to accept that change and progress may be necessary. It is perhaps also a term that sits more easily across the natural and the cultural, and one which might also be more aligned with indigenous heritage perspectives.

Therefore, if our understandings of what heritage involves in today’s “changing world” are growing exponentially to mirror the mounting complexity and diversity of surrounding social and economic forces, then the ways and means for managing that heritage also necessitates a more open and inclusive approach. Cultural landscape provides a useful tool, yet at the same time it is restricted by falling under the direction of preservation. If the US Park Service is serious about cultural landscapes to support the management of the vernacular, ethnographic, and the indigenous, in addition to the more standard historically designed landscapes, than perhaps cultural landscapes needs to function as a management category that sits between “Natural Resource Management” and “Cultural Resource Management”. Then if this could be achieved, there needs to a further adjustment of the terminology to support “Bio-Cultural Landscapes” as the section heading.

Paulette Wallace is a PhD Candidate at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is investigating how the major parks agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States of America are engaging with the concept of cultural landscapes for heritage management. Paulette worked as a historic ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation before moving to full-time study in March 2011.


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.




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.


Five New National Monuments – Four at Landscape Scale

By Brenda Barrett March 28, 2013
A new National Monument on the Eastern Shore of Maryland recognizes Harriet Tubman's contributions to freedom struggles for African Americans and women.

A new National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore recognizes Harriet Tubman’s contributions to freedom struggles for African Americans and women.

On Monday March 25, 2013 President Obama exercised one of the coolest powers of the presidency. He designated five new national monuments. Unlike designation of units of the National Park system, which require congressional action, the 1906 Antiquities Act authorizes the President to set aside public land, or land offered to the government, on his own initiative to ensure the future conservation of historic treasures and natural values. See press release.

Of these five new national monuments all but one, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio, preserve large swaths of landscape that offer multiple opportunities to connect to other preserved lands.

The First State National Monument in Delaware includes Dover Green, the New Castle Court House complex, and the large Woodlawn Trust property in the in the iconic Brandywine Valley. The Woodlawn property is 1,100 acres of protected land stretching along the Brandywine Creek in Delaware and into Pennsylvania. For more than a century, the land has been managed as a wildlife preserve and as open space for public recreation. The new monument connects the Hagley Industrial Site (235 acres) and Winterthur property (almost 1,000 acres) both legacies of the DuPont family with conserved land in Pennsylvania. There a mix of parks and scenic easements (40,000 acres) protect the landscape that inspired three generations of the Wyeth family as well as the terrain of the 1777 Battle of the Brandywine.

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument is on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and includes landscapes in Dorchester County that are significant to Tubman’s early life and places that evokes her life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad. According to the Presidential Proclamation, the monument boundaries encompass 11,750 acres, which includes lands that are part of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The monument will partner with the State of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park Visitor Center, which is to be open to the public in 2015.

Río Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico is located northwest of Taos. It contains stretches of the Río Grande Gorge and extinct volcanoes that rise from the Taos Plateau. The monument will permanently protect 240,000 acres. The area is known for its spectacular landscapes, cultural resources, and recreational opportunities. The area is already part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Conservation Landscape program and will continue to be managed by that agency.

San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington is a chain of 450 islands, rocks and pinnacles located in Washington State’s Puget Sound. The region is home to bald eagles, orca whales, harbor seals and other rare species. The designation will protect more than 1,000 acres of undeveloped land on the individual islands containing American Indian sites and a maritime heritage marked by lighthouses.

Besides enriching nation’s portfolio of diverse cultural sites and spectacular natural places, these designations protect over 30,000 acres of land with the potential to connect to thousands more. All of the new national monuments received enthusiastic local backing and bi-partisan Congressional support. They offer great opportunities for future partnership at the local, state and national level.

Finally, let’s not forget the small national monument in Ohio that will preserve the home of Col. Charles Young (1864–1922). A distinguished officer in the United States Army, he was the third African American to graduate from West Point and the first to achieve the rank of Colonel. He also served as an army superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks before the National Parks Service establishment in 1916. In effect, he was one of the first to protect our great landscapes and is a worthy role model to help sustain our work in the future.