This presentation is part of the Texas Cultural Landscape Symposium, February 23-26, Waco, Texas.
Cary Dupuy: Thank you so much, Evan, for having us here today and thank you all for such a wonderful discussion today, and learning about how we assess cultural landscapes, how we describe them, and the incredible framework that it offers for historic preservation. So, I’m excited to close out our day of looking at how can we use that cultural landscapes framework to really bring in a wider audience and new voices to historic preservation and help protect these sites that we all love for not only current generations, but future generations as well.
So just a little bit of background for you. The National Parks Conservation Association is a 100 year old nonprofit organization. We are the citizens voice for the National Park Service. Three years after Stephen Mather was the first director of the National Park Service, he recognized that the parks really needed an outside voice to speak up for them.
The parks were created by the people and the parks still needed people after they were created, to address any issues that were affecting them. So now over a century later, we have 1.3 million members and supporters across the country, who use their voice to really support those parks, to speak up for those stories and those iconic landscapes that are preserved within the parks. We work on a very local level at local park sites, from the San Antonio missions to the Guadalupe mountains, and then we also work on a national level to ensure that the parks receive the funding that they need to protect the places, and then also, the staffing that they need to interpret those stories and to really make sure that those sites remain strong. And so NPCA does our work through the support of members and donors and grants.
And there’s many ways that we work to take action from Congress, from communities and from the courts. And one of the things that I think is so relevant today is the work that we do in our communities across the country. The parks are so diverse and what they need is so diverse and the needs of the community are so diverse, and so as we look at cultural landscapes, I think there’s multiple ways that new voices can be brought to preserving the sites, and ensure that those park sites tell the stories of all Americans.
I appreciated Susan Dolan earlier today saying, it really takes a village to protect these sites and everyone has a role in this. And I see two different ways that cultural landscapes can give people a role in preservation of these historic sites, and one is, as you’re going through the process of designating those cultural landscapes, there are so many opportunities to use that framework of the characteristics to really identify who cares about the natural resources? Who cares about the culture? And as you look and access and inventory each of those characteristics, think about who can be partners for you in that preservation world.
I think when I look at how I came to cultural landscapes, it was through the vistas, through the vistas of Guadalupe mountains. We were really looking at how can we engage with the park and with the local community to ensure those Dark Skies remained the state that they were in, in wilderness, in 1972 when that park was created. And then I think another way that cultural landscapes can bring new voices to the table is, once you have that designation, how do you keep those sites protected? How do you engage support for that outside of the communities that are so involved with these sites? As time goes on, maybe some of those people who were involved in the site are not there anymore. You see a lot of development as well. One of the things that, I think Dr. Strett and I talked about yesterday after our tour to go over to the suspension bridge, is that is a National Register site.
How many people, who were running along the river, who were using that in their daily life, really know about that historical significance of it? They may not know about the historical significance of it, but it is so significant to their daily life. So how do we, working in the historic preservation and conservation field, really engage them, so as that development happens, there’s still some protection of that site as well?
So, I’m so excited today to be joined by two panelists, and this presentation will be a little bit different than the ones from earlier today. It will be more of a moderated panel. We just had one slide that really showed our logos and I think where a lot of this started right there with preserving the cultural landscape of McKittrick Canyon. But both of these panelists are working in their role to bring in new voices in kind of what we might think about nontraditional partners to historic preservation.
So, we have Jenny Burden who is a program manager at Texan By Nature, and then Eric Ray, who is a lead interpretive planner for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. We thank you both for being here today and I want to start by asking you both to share a little bit about your organization and the work that you do to bring new audiences to preservation and conservation.
Jenny Burden: Great. Well, thank you so much for having me here today. As Cary said, my name is Jenny Burden and I work for Texan By Nature. Texan By Nature is a nonprofit that was started in 2011, so we’ll be celebrating our 10 year anniversary next year. We were founded by former first lady, Laura Bush, and kind of a group of her friends that, as she returned to Texas after her time in the White House, they got together and thought, how can we take what was her passion for the National Parks and for outdoor spaces and conservation and leave a legacy?
And so what Texan By Nature does is we work in the space between conservation organizations that are doing great work out there for a myriad of different issues, and the businesses and the people of Texas who want to be involved in that kind of space, but may not either be aware of what is going on or not sure what to support or aren’t fully aware of the spectrum of issues. And we kind of act as not only an aggregate of information on what conservation issues are out there, but a connector between those two realms.
We work very much in the space of bringing those nontraditional voices into conservation, not so much preservation. I have a slight background in that and that my MA is in public history from Texas State, so I’m really familiar with this space and passionate about it, but we work pretty strictly in sort of the environmental conservation. But I think that’s what made our voice coming into the McKittrick Canyon project very unique and sort of a microcosm for the issue that this panel is going to be talking about, is that we look for stakeholders who may not be being addressed.
We look for issues that people may have not connected the dots on yet, that make people natural partners where that view may have not been held before. So bringing in oil and gas, whose companies that are passionate about the history of a site like that, being oil and gas originated, or that they want to be doing good work out there to help invest in the communities. Because in the end, everyone working for these corporations and working for conservation, we’re all Texans. And so we usually have the same end goal in mind of making sure that these landscapes are still there in the future. So Texan By Nature’s mission is leaving that legacy of conservation.
Eric Ray: My name is Eric Ray. I work for Texas State Parks. I’m the lead interpretive planner, and what we do at state parks is protect and preserve our recreational, cultural and natural opportunity or natural resources across the state. And that recreational bit is, I think, often ignored by preservationists, by resource experts. But I think it’s so important to have that recreational entree and the sort of breadcrumb trail that leads people onto the land, leads people to say, “I’m enjoying this magnificent vista, I’m fishing and boating, I’m rock climbing, I’m hiking, I’m birdwatching, I’m mountain biking, I’m ATVing, all the things you can do. What’s this old cabin?” or, “Gosh, I’m really glad that there’s this long straight trail way and there’s a sign that says this used to be a railroad bed.”
And so we can’t exist, and I’m using the large we here, without the support and the continued support of people who feel a strong ownership over those natural and cultural resources, over those landscapes. Texas state parks was just really put to the test this past November when 88% of Texans, or 88% of voters, said, “Yes, we think Prop 5 is a good thing. We want to have some of our existing tax revenue go towards the park system.” Now we didn’t just say, well, only people who are really into history can vote. Only people who really, really like endangered species are allowed to vote Prop 5. Otherwise, please stay away.
It’s everybody and I think that’s a really public setting for that kind of referendum. But I think all of our sites, whether they’re on private land, whether they’re on public land, whether they’re owned by some amalgam, they’re all put to that test eventually. It’s how much does the community care? Does it care enough to not sell to a developer? Does it care enough to say, “Okay, we want to put this land in public trust?” Its interpretation is a business necessity.
Otherwise, you’re only talking to the people who already know, who already care. They already read that book. They probably wrote that book. And so the people who are coming for the first time, the people who are coming and saying, “Well, I don’t really know anything about whatever president owned this ranch, but it’s got a cool bike trail.” That’s so necessary. That’s so important. I’ve heard this echoed throughout and throughout, and talking about how these landscapes have changed is so important. Every single state park is a cultural landscape. Even our one site that doesn’t have any recorded archeological sites is a cultural landscape by virtue of it being a current state park. The trails are changing the landscape, the lakes are changing the landscape, all of that. Our current visitors are having an impact on the landscape and the more we can have them realize that, the more they buy into their ownership, their shared stewardship of these public lands and these really important sites.
Cary Dupuy: Great. And so we’ve definitely talked about why it’s important and the benefit of bringing the wide variety of voices to the table. And I appreciate that perspective of everybody is voting for these parks based on what makes it relevant to them. And one of the things that we are looking at with the National Park Service is how do we continue to make those sites relevant to future generations, knowing that future generations will be the ones that will need to be advocating for that funding, that will need to be saying, “We want this site in our backyard. It’s important to us.”
If y’all haven’t met Dallas Kelly-Kerr on my team, she is right there. She has been really a leader in our team of making those sites relevant, and especially in San Antonio when you have the missions, where many of the students that we work with at East Central ISD actually go to church there, but they have no idea that that is actually a National Park site and the needs that it has as well. So a lot of the work that Dallas and our team is doing is really taking that education and then also teaching them how to use their voice for the National Park. So I’m curious from each of y’alls perspective of what are ways that you and your organization really help educate or bring people to the table? Or, kind of what are those skills that you use, specific examples of how do you make it relevant to them?
Eric Ray: One thing we try to do is decolonize the story. So many of the parks have a history that is pretty exclusionary, especially as you get further into East Texas. These parks started out as segregated sites. In fact, not even segregated sites. There was only one, Tyler, that was officially segregated. The rest were just whites only. And so we started out kind of behind in the race already, with saying, okay, well for the first however many decades we’re going to say this whole group of people can’t even come. One of the things we’ve really got to do, and I think are starting to succeed at, is recognize that we have to get beyond the people who are already coming. And that comes in a lot of ways.
We have a whole outdoor education and outreach program that, through the Buffalo Soldiers, through Texas Outdoor family, bring new people in and say, “Hey, it’s okay if you don’t know how to camp. We’ll teach you. Just bring you and your family and some food and we’ll get everything else. And it’s okay if you’re afraid, it’s okay if you need somebody there all night. We’ve got that, and it’s affordable.” Same thing with Buffalo Soldiers. Let’s send them out into the schools. Let’s say, “Hey, you are welcome in state parks. You are welcome at these sites.” And at the same time, recognize and even publicize, yes, we recognize that we haven’t always done a good job, and we’ve done a really bad job at some points in the past. We recognize that and y’all are welcome. All y’all are welcome.
Jenny Burden: That was a good proper use of the plural of y’all there. So Texan By Nature, we like to say that we’re working not only for the natural resources of Texas but also for the people and the prosperity of Texas. Often in the conservation space, environmental conservation, the view kind of gets separated in two groups, which are the conservationists who are the biologists and the nature people and the tree huggers and that collective voice, and then it’s the businesses and corporations who are out there just to make a profit and don’t care about the resources. There’s that space in between.
We work with both and we’ve found that’s just not true. And so it’s approaching both groups with the idea that, let’s find where we connect on these issues, and often that’s approaching businesses with, how can being involved in environmental conservation help you with your prosperity and with the people that you have within this corporation, whether that’s employee recruitment, because the younger generation is impressed with the environmental commitments that you’re making, or your bottom line, because practicing Dark Skies is actually cheaper and safer for your employees.
And so getting them to look at the idea of conservation from a different angle, instead of thinking that it’s going to be a conflict, seeing how it can be a partnership, and just really focusing in on those partnerships and finding those common grounds has been a really big area of success for us. We’ve brought in and connected a lot of people who never thought they’d be working together and we’ve been told, especially from the business side, that it’s so appreciated to be coming from that kind of non-combative standpoint and coming to the table as equal stakeholders in this overall goal of conserving Texas’ resources, that they want to conserve just as much, gets us a lot farther, a lot faster. We’ve had a lot of success and are really kind of trying to build on that model and bringing in new voices. Anyone who wants to see the success of making sure that that space is there in the future is welcome to the table with us.
Cary Dupuy: It sounds like there’s several broad examples of the importance of connecting people, meeting them where they are, and providing that opportunity within cultural landscapes, in sharing all of the pieces of that complex landscape, I think gives people more of an opportunity to find their voice and see where they are in there, and I think that’s really important from an engagement perspective. I think it’s also, when I look at it from an advocacy organization, who is really focused on how do we help protect those parks towards the future? I think identifying and very clearly spending the time to go through and looking at all those characteristics that make that place special is so, so, so important. Because if it’s identified, this is what makes this place special, then that puts a place holder that says, this is something that we need to protect. This is something that we need to bring people in specifically.
And one example I think is interesting to look at, we’ve talked some about the Dark Skies and the vistas at McKittrick Canyon, but also one of the things that I looked at, at McKittrick Canyon was, you have that canyon because of the springs that are there, so that water source is important as well, and that needs to be part of that cultural landscape. If in the future there is increased drilling or pumping or something that is impacting that water availability, then that’s something that you can get all the advocates and the people who care about that cultural landscape to really help work on as well. I think there’s multiple examples of why cultural landscapes could really help in that further protection. Could y’all share any other specific examples of community or industry partnerships that you’ve seen have been really successful in bringing new voices, to help make a difference in preservation or conservation?
Jenny Burden: Yeah, sure. Actually just… Oh my gosh, was it only last week. We had a meeting in Midland and normally, with Texan By Nature, when we convene round tables or have events, it’s cross industry. We’re trying to bring as many voices to the table as possible. This one was specifically focused on oil and gas in the Permian Basin, and we had representatives from, I think, 14 different operators that are out there and we talked to them about Dark Skies, but we also talked to them about water conservation and educated them on what playas are, and that could be a whole other 30 minute discussion just explaining that, but as well as native pollinator habitat restoration. And so the goal of that meeting was really just to educate them on what those initiatives were, let them know how that could benefit their prosperity and their bottom line, as well as their public relations, how it could improve the investor outlook on Wall Street.
There’s a whole spectrum of ways getting involved in this these kinds of initiatives can help them out. And at the end of the meeting, we had three new oil and gas organizations that had fully committed to Dark Skies. They said, “Wow, this is great.” They saw the case study and how easy it is to kind of implement to operations. And it was really just, “We never knew about this, but now that we know about it, of course it makes perfect sense. It’s cheaper, it’s safer and it’s a positive impact on the environment and where we live and we want to see the stars too.” And so it was just really uplifting to kind of see that making those steps and just that outreach and the conversation had such a big impact right away. And so we’re continuing kind of those efforts, where really just making that information available and telling those stories is helping bring in those new voices.
Eric Ray: One thing that comes to mind right away is a project we’re working on in Fort Bend County in Brazos Bend State Park, not a national park. Brazos Bend State Park. The community is hugely diverse in the Southwest part of Houston and the Houston metropolitan area. It’s not uncommon. How many of you have been to Brazos Bend? It’s a really cool place. One of the things you notice if you go, is how many languages you hear, and how on the day-use fields, you’ll see cricket being played by recent immigrants and descendants of those immigrants and that’s really cool.
But one of the things we’re trying to do there, we’re renovating their nature center right now, is we’re bringing content, interpretive content in five languages, with the possibility of adding more down the road. It becomes a space issue after a certain amount of time. But bringing content to some of these families to say, hey, the reason you’re having a good time here, the same things that brought you here are the same things that have been bringing people to this landscape for 10,000 years and you are part of the same tapestry.
Even if you maybe just came to Texas a few years ago, you’re part of that same cultural tapestry that has been happening here for thousands and thousands of years. It was a good place to camp then too. Here’s how we know that. And the things that brought the birds and the alligators here, they’re the same things that brought you here too, and they’re all connected to each other. One of our core sort of interpretive themes at state parks is everything is connected, and we’re finding the more we reach out into these communities, even simple things like bilingual at the border or multi-multi-multilingual in the Houston metropolitan area, the more people even who are not native Texans and we don’t have that sort of, hey, it’s Texas, right? We all love Texas. Help us protect it. We don’t have that natural strength. Just reminding people, pointing out like, hey, this is really fun, right? This is a really comfy place. Well, it’s always been like that. Here’s some of the people who have come before you, doing some of the same things. We found it to be really effective.
Cary Dupuy: Those are wonderful examples and I appreciate hearing about how the connectiveness in making them a part of this story is so important, and I think when we look at cultural landscapes, it is also showing that connectiveness between all of the different pieces of that landscape as well. One last question for y’all. It sounds like there’s been a lot of progress being made in bringing more people to the table, but as Texas is increasing in population, or other things that are out there, what kind of trends or challenges do you think are ahead of you or be aware of? As all of us are looking at making some more connections for preservation.
Eric Ray: Well we can’t stop. We can’t ever sit back and say, okay, we’re doing it right. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing. Texas is changing so fast. Texas is changing in its demographic city by city. Texas is changing county by county. The population centers are moving, the type of people who are living in the cities, in the country, going to those places, it’s changing all the time and we can’t ever just say, okay, the strategy we’ve got right now, that’s working, let’s just keep doing that, let’s hit cruise control and just keep doing the same thing, because that’s not going to work five or 10 years from now.
So keeping in mind, just like we’ve been talking about all day, that all these landscapes are continually changing. The context for those landscapes continues to change as well. Making people a part of the site, I can’t emphasize enough how important that is, especially because you only have a couple minutes or a maybe a couple hundred words, maybe, to tell people why this is important. Freeman Tilden, one of the fathers of interpretation said that the chief aim of interpretation is not education but provocation. And if we can continue to provoke people by hitting those universal human truths that bring them all together and bind us all to this land, the more successful we’re going to be.
Jenny Burden: Yeah, I think you hit it on the head with the fact that Texas is all going to be changing. We’re growing at a faster rate than most states and we have all these different populations moving here for very good reason. It’s a great place to come and live, and so rather than kind of panicking or throwing our hands up or being worried, it’s working with all of those different types of communities, all the different types of people who are here for very different reasons, to find ways that we can meet all of our goals together.
Sometimes that is the sort of purest, strictest sense of conservation where we’re setting things aside. Sometimes it’s finding ways to meet both goals and working together without that set aside, nobody touch it, mentality. And so constantly staying on our toes and thinking of creative ways to work together with that diverse group of stakeholders is incredibly important, and just always being there with that open mind. And the two way communication and finding out what’s important to the people that you’re working with who may not be traditionally interested in what you’re interested in, and meeting in the middle with it is very critical.
Cary Dupuy: Wonderful. I think we’re all about done with time. I know it’s been a long day, but I hope y’all all take away from this panel that it’s so important for us to use our voices as conservationists and preservationists for the landscapes and the sites that we’re designating, so we can uplift and help other people raise their voices as well. And all of our voices collectively together can help preserve these sites for the future.
Jenny Burden received her BA from the University of Texas at Austin and her MA from Texas State University in Public History. She joined Texan by Nature in February of 2018 and is thrilled to be working to create a legacy of conservation as big as the Lone Star State. She has been working in the nonprofit field since 2011 as a project coordinator and fundraiser and has also worked as a Park Ranger at both the federal and municipal levels. She is a volunteer board member for the Austin Ridge Riders, a Central Texas trail building and advocacy organization, which includes the Ride Like a Girl Women’s mountain biking program. She is also a mentor for Little Bellas, a nonprofit program that encourages confidence in young girls through mountain biking.
Cary Dupuy is the Texas Regional Director for the National Parks Conservation Association, Cary works to engage new advocates for national parks and grow initiatives to support the 18 national park sites in Texas and Oklahoma. Based in Austin, Cary travels across the state from the Big Thicket National Preserve to Big Bend National Park connecting people, communities and businesses with their parks and facilitating opportunities to protect and enhance these parks for current and future generations. Prior to joining NPCA, Cary served in policy advisor roles for state-wide elected officials in Texas, working on the state and federal level on natural resource and economic development issues impacting private landowners, rural economies and the agriculture industry. Before moving to Austin, Cary received a Bachelor’s degree in History and a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Texas Tech University. A native Texan, Cary and her husband, Will, spend time with their two kids exploring the rivers and trails in the Hill Country and across the state.