Management of Resources at Mesa Verde and Other Parks


November 5, 2011

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today at this oversight hearing on issues affecting management of archeological, cultural, and historic resources at Mesa Verde National Park and other units of the National Park System.

Over half of the units of the National Park System were established by Congress specifically to protect cultural resources, and almost all of the units contain cultural resources in the form of prehistoric and historic sites and structures. Many of these resources are at risk of destruction from lack of attention, intentional looting, and vandalism.Recently, more intense fire regimes and changes in precipitation and temperature patterns have begun to affect the stability and integrity of cultural resources as well.The National Park Service (NPS) manages over 72,000 known archeological sites, of which only 50% are in good condition; 27,000 historic structures, of which only 41% are in good condition; and 2,200 cultural landscapes, of which only 29% have been adequately documented.The NPS also manages 42 million objects in collections and 52,000 linear feet of records that requires maintenance and protection.

A management approach that protects cultural resources in national parks should emphasize identifying resources – their significance, location, condition, and threats to their integrity –and uses that information to make management decisions to prioritize efforts and allocate scarce financial and human resources to protect the highest priority resources.The NPS furthers the important work of caring for cultural resources through national and regional initiatives, park-based programs, and a wide range of partnerships.

Nationally, the NPS is working on coordinating and redirecting cultural resource efforts in a way that aligns with NPS Director Jon Jarvis' emphasis on stewardship, relevancy, education, and the workforce, and that supports both the NPS A Call to Action and the President's America's Great Outdoors Initiative.Current efforts are focused on using available resources to address our most critical needs, providing renewed coherence to our efforts, and identifying critical areas where additional support is needed.

The NPS has already started to address these goals by increasing management efficiencies. The bureau has adopted a set of standards developed by the Cultural Resources GIS Program for cultural resource locational data.Cultural resource locational data reported in the same format, be it a landscape or an object, is required of all 14 cultural resources databases. Standardization of the locational data allows cross-referencing and integration of multiple data bases, facilitating compilation of information about cultural resources.By querying databases linked through locational data reported in a standardized format, managers can more quickly comprehend the full importance of each cultural resource, and the effects of management actions.It also allows managers to link cultural information to interactive GIS-based maps.Consequently, a more sensitive and effective management of NPS cultural resources can be realized.

One of the NPS's most successful responses to the challenge of caring for cultural resources in recent years is through the development of a region-wide initiative, the Vanishing Treasures Program. Vanishing Treasures is an internal NPS program whose goals address both the devastating destruction of irreplaceable historic and prehistoric structures, as well as the potential loss of traditional building and preservation expertise.

Mesa Verde and 44 other national parks in the Intermountain and Pacific West Regions benefit from the NPS Vanishing Treasures Program. States that contain Vanishing Treasure parks include California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The programs goals include documenting the rate of deterioration of cultural resources; repairing structures in imminent danger and, in the process, developing new techniques and materials toward that end. In the last decade, the program was provided with over $1 million annually to help protect and preserve cultural resources in parks.In 2011, the program funded 12 projects in western parks that helped to preserve and/or assess conditions of 160 archeological and historic sites.

The Vanishing Treasures program also focuses on training young people, through mentorship, so they can replace our aging craftspeople when they retire. Since the first year of funding, in 1998, more than 60 cultural preservation-related positions have been funded by the program.It is a testament to the importance of these preservation positions that the majority of the original 60 positions remain filled in parks and some of the individuals trained in Vanishing Treasures positions have moved on to continue preservation efforts in other agencies or in the private workforce.

Vanishing Treasures Projects - Mesa Verde National Park

We acknowledge that a number of recent reports have documented that cultural resource stewardship is under tremendous pressure, but Mesa Verde National Park is a good example of a park that identified and prioritized cultural resources and took concrete steps to preserve and protect the most significant resources. Mesa Verde is one of our oldest national parks and contains over 586 cliff dwellings sites that represent a significant challenge to monitor and manage.Since 1998, the Vanishing Treasures initiative has provided $786,800 for cultural resource projects and $493,000 added to the park's budget to support eight positions for cultural resource staff.Vanishing Treasures project funding was used as a cash match for other state and federal grants, which helped the park leverage additional funds to complete multi-year documentation projects.

The majority of Vanishing Treasures project funds for Mesa Verde National Park supported the Backcountry Condition Assessment Program.Site condition assessments aid in the development of baseline information regarding deterioration factors and thereby provide archeologists and park managers with a foundation for determining the need and urgency for preservation treatments. As a result of Vanishing Treasures funding, 106 cliff dwelling sites in back country areas have been assessed and prioritized for further documentation and necessary preservation treatments.

The Vanishing Treasures initiative also provided funds to help complete architectural documentation at two large cliff dwelling sites. Spring House contains well-preserved and spectacular architecture that is being threatened by erosion from the spring that gave the dwelling its current name. The site consists of at least 70 rooms and 6 kivas and a 3-story tower that is nearly 25 feet high. Vanishing Treasures funding allowed park staff to document Spruce Tree House, stabilize structures, and monitor the effects of erosion. It is the third largest cliff dwelling in the park, and was constructed between A.D. 1211 and 1278. The dwelling contains about 130 rooms built into a natural alcove.

In 2005, Vanishing Treasures funding was used to assess the conditions of 24 back country cliff dwellings totaling about 142 rooms that had been affected by wild fires.An increase in wildfire activity and changes in precipitation and runoff patterns has the potential to accelerate destruction of these magnificent monuments of the first people to live in this land.

We would like to share with the committee additional examples of successful cultural resource programs that echo the successes of the Vanishing Treasures Program in training young people in traditional technologies and strengthening relationships between parks and local communities through project involvement and public education.

Cultural Site Stewardship Program - Southern Nevada Agency Partnership

One of the most important ways to protect cultural resources from vandalism is through public education, and the NPS has been very active in community involvement in site stewardship programs to monitor archeological and other kinds of sites to protect them from vandalism. The Southern Nevada Agency Partnership Cultural Site Stewardship Program is one such program. This partnership between the NPS, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service has provided the framework for a site stewardship program that engages communities in protecting archeological sites on lands managed by these agencies.

Since the program's inception in 2004, over 450 community-based volunteers have logged more than 14,000 hours monitoring cultural sites at risk from vandalism and looting. Site stewards learn about cultural resource preservation laws, desert safety, and archeological site and artifact identification and discovery protocols. This training imparts and reinforces a site preservation and protection ethic, which is the best kind of site protection. The Cultural Site Stewardship Program received the Department of the Interior Cooperative Conservation Service Award in 2007.

Heiau Repair - Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

One of the lessons the NPS has learned from the Vanishing Treasures Program is the need to build strong partnerships and engage the younger generation in learning traditional technologies. The repair of two temples provided Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, on Hawaii Island (Big Island), with an opportunity to engage local communities in traditional masonry. In 2006, an earthquake caused significant damage to the Mailekini Heiau and the Pu'ukohola Heiau. Approximately 1,000 cubic meters of the walls and faces of the two temples required repair. The damage, involving 15 major collapses of the terrace, main foundation, and walls, was estimated to cost over $6.5 million to repair using mechanical equipment and, in the repair process, would have excluded participation of the descendents of the people who originally built the heiaus.

A community partner organization, Na Papa Kanaka o Pu'ukohola Heiau, volunteered to assist the park to repair the earthquake damage. Beginning in 2007, around 600 volunteers have been working to repair damage to these massive 16th century and 18th century temples using the same technologies that were used to build them. The temples were repaired using traditional methods of manual dry-stacking of stone masonry and traditional tools following traditional Hawaiian protocols appropriate to a sacred space.

Master and journeyman stone masons led the volunteers, who worked alongside NPS archeologists, safety officers, and project crew. Twenty workshops involving 12 to more than 400 volunteers were conducted over this four year span, resulting in substantial savings to the NPS ($3.5 million saved) to preserve significant architecture and to continue the commitment of the descendant peoples, successfully transferring the skills of traditional dry stacking masonry and hand lashing of wooden ladders, used in place of scaffolding, to the next generation of Native Hawaiians. In the process, people who had personally put their hard work into the stabilization efforts built and reaffirmed personal and perpetual connection to the temples. For their work, the traditional organization was awarded a Partners in Conservation Award in 2011 from Secretary Salazar.

Mason Apprenticeship Program - San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

To foster interest and opportunity for a new generation of skilled historic preservation professionals, the National Park Service promotes training opportunities for young people.San Antonio Missions National Historical Park has facilitated a partnership between its friends group, Los Compadres, and the Environmental Corps of American Youthworks to establish an apprenticeship program in masonry repair. American Youthworks engages youth and young adults in conservation work with a community focus and Los Compadres provides financial investment for the apprentice program.

Beginning in 2008, the program hosted four apprentices. Since then, nearly two dozen individuals have moved through the program, working with NPS experts to repair limestone and sandstone walls. The apprentices have contributed more than 2,000 hours of work on walls in the four mission compounds, the nation's only functioning Spanish colonial aqueduct, a grist mill, and two historic dams. The program inspired one of the students to return to graduate school in historical architecture. Another student turned his experience in the apprenticeship program into a highly qualified applicant rating, and gained seasonal work with the NPS.The preservations skills and knowledge that young people gain while assisting the San Antonio Mission staff with cultural resource preservation will provide benefits both to the resources and the apprentices in years to come, by building good foundations for future work.

First Jobs Youth Program -Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Another example of the NPS's commitment to training cultural resource stewards for the 21st century is the First Jobs Program at Salem Maritime National Historic Site.Since 2009, the park has worked with the Massachusetts North Shore Youth Career Center to reach out to disadvantaged youth, a segment of the general population usually not attracted to national parks.The park approached the North Shore Workforce Investment Board (Department of Labor) to obtain funds to pay the young people, and the Essex National Heritage Area managed the program's administration.

The program began with 10 students, and has since grown to 25. The park's goals are to provide students with employment skills, and to place the best students in positions in parks in the Boston area. The students learned prepping and painting, and the park further invested in them by teaching the specialized skill of gold leafing. The group made impressive contributions to the maintenance of historic buildings in the park.They repainted the trim on one historic structure, the Customs House, built in 1819; painted the entire exterior of the 1675 Narbonne House; and refurbished a portion of the site's fencing that contributed to the historic 1938 landscape plan.

For many students, this was their first employment experience. They learned important life skills, such as writing resumes, correctly completing job applications, dressing appropriately, and interacting with the public, which will stand them in good stead in the future.The project manager, NPS woodcrafter Douglas Law, was given the NPS Director's 2010 Appleman-Judd-Lewis Award for Facility Maintenance. By combining the needs of the park cultural resource management program with a willingness to help disadvantaged youth, he was not only able to complete much-needed work but was able to instill in the youth an appreciation for cultural resources, which will pay dividends in the future for the NPS.

Good Neighbors: Landscape Design & Community Building – Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site

The NPS is committed reaching very young audiences, as well, with cultural resource educational messages.In Massachusetts, the Frederick Law Olmstead National Historic Site is growing citizens with an appreciation for cultural resources, and cultural landscapes in particular, through a program that targets third graders in the community of Brookline. Begun in 2007, this unique program draws on children's skills and creativity and encourages them to plan parks and cultural landscapes. Good Neighbors takes place at Fairsted, the historic Brookline home and office of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, and uses the grounds, restored office, archival collection, and model workshop to explore landscape design and park stewardship.

To date, a thousand third graders from the Boston and Brookline public schools have participated in the Good Neighbors program. In 2011, alone, the park hosted 18 classes consisting of 440 students, totaling more than 2,350 visitor hours. The Brookline public schools system has embedded the program in its grade three curriculum, ensuring that every student who moves through the school system will be exposed to the Good Neighbors program. The park received the prestigious Award of Excellence in Communication from the Boston Society of Landscape Architects for their work on Good Neighbors.

This is the first program to introduce young learners to cultural landscapes and to the community-building power of public parks as part of an integrated elementary level curriculum.It has greatly raised the visibility of the NPS in this region as a source of teaching and learning, successes that can be translated to other parks. In 2012-2013, Olmstead National Historic Site will begin a national roll-out of the Good Neighbors programming model in collaboration with the National Association for Olmstead Parks.

Mr. Chairman, we appreciate having the opportunity to discuss our efforts to meet our cultural resource challenges.This concludes my prepared statement.I would be pleased to answer any questions.

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