This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

Presentation Video and Transcript

By Brenda Williams, ASLA


The rustic design style set forth principles aimed at development of structures that were subordinated to their settings and expressing a quality of ‘nativeness’ that emphasized natural aspects of the landscape. Local materials, forms and worksmanship were used to create unity with the surrounding environment according to a world view that did not consider people as part of ecosystems. During the initial decades of the NPS, indigenous culture was often seen as an interruption of the natural environment as attempts were made to present the landscape as wilderness untrammeled by man. Removal of signs of human intervention in the landscape was a common occurrence undertaken to enhance the ‘natural’ beauty and scenic value of parks.

National Park Service lands were utilized or inhabited by American Indians long before their establishment as national parks. Many are specifically dedicated to preserving and interpreting significant features created by American Indians. Yet inclusion of indigenous people in the planning, management and use of these places has been greatly limited until recently. During the early years of the NPS indigenous people were removed or excluded from the land either prior to, or as part of the development of the parks for visitor use. The exception was Yosemite until legislative mandates established beginning in the 1970s provided for the continued use of NPS lands by indigenous people.

Over twenty years ago Benita Howell noted that the establishment of new policies held great promise for improving integration of management for cultural and natural resources in the NPS. Recent work on a Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) for Effigy Mounds National Monument provides an example of progress in this area. Representatives of tribal nations are part of the CLR process and are influencing consideration of new management approaches that reflect their cultural traditions and concerns. The results will affect the ways that the Monument resources are interpreted and used in the future (especially by American Indians). The approach used to develop the Monument in the 1940s, and manage it in the following decades, will be compared to the current process that strives to incorporate guidance from American Indian Nations. Examples of designs for trails, buildings, overlooks, interpretive materials, and vegetation will be used to illustrate the changes that inclusion of American Indians has initiated.


Brenda Williams, ASLA, is a Senior Associate at Quinn Evans Architects. Ms. Williams’ career has focused on the conservation of cultural landscapes, particularly those in the public arena. She facilitates a collaborative approach to the planning and management of cultural landscapes, a process that educates stakeholders about the significance of historic landscapes and integrates multiple viewpoints. Her design solutions integrate natural and cultural elements of sites to develop environments that are engaging and inspirational. She has a BSLA from the University of Kentucky and a Master of Arts from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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