This presentation is part of the online document Acknowledging Landscapes: Presentations from the National Register Landscape Initiative.
Gretchen Ward: In this presentation I’ll get to talking about some landscape issues related to National Historic Trails, but first I’d like to share with you a little bit of background, and point out a couple of things. I want to mention the partnership for the National Trails System. It points out that the trail system provides for a wide variety of recreational, preservation, and heritage-related opportunities for the public to interact with national trails. There are 30 Congressionally-designated national trails; 11 of these are national scenic trails, and 19 are national historic trails. The partnership for the National Trails System is really important because it connects us, as federal agencies in many respects, with a partnership community, with non-profit trail organizations and other federal partners as well who are involved, but we couldn’t get much of anything done with the National Trails office, that we are as for the National Parks Service, unless we had partners to work with.
Our office works with nine national historic trails. We also have a corridor preservation program. We’re located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and we also have an office in Salt Lake City, Utah, and we also just recently got office space on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque. So our office is evolving a little bit. But we administer nine out of the nineteen national historic trails in our office. Our office alone, then, covers over 23,000 miles of national historic trail across the country. Just to give you an idea of how that compares, there’s 33,000 miles of national historic trails in the National Trails System, so we have the majority of it in our office that we’re responsible for, administratively.
Our office – the trails that we take care of cross four National Park Service regions and 25 states from Georgia to Oregon and California. That includes 451 counties and 109 Congressional Districts. So you can see we’ve got a lot of moving parts. And in addition, you mentioned Route 66 – we administer the corridor preservation program for Route 66. So we have about, in our office, twenty full time employees, thereabouts. We include cultural resource and planning professionals, as well as interpreters, landscape architects, historians, GIS specialists, which are key and integral to what we do, given the fact that we work so much with mapping, and we also had a tribal liaison up until just recently, but he transferred. I’m hoping desperately that we can refill that position, because it was an important part of our operation. We now currently have a website, if you’d like to look at what we do in our office, it’s www.nps.gov/ntir, and there you can learn more about what we do as we partner with those interested in the recreational and historical potential of national historic trails.
I’ve included a number of slides in the presentation that will display some of the landscapes we work with. Typically the National Parks Service does not own the national historic trails that we administer, except where they happen to cross existing National Park units, such as Scotts Bluff which is pictured here. At Scotts Bluff National Monument, four National Historic Trails intersect. The Oregon, the Mormon Pioneer, California, and Pony Express Trails all pass that location, and for those of you that are familiar with National Park acronyms, these all have their own as well – all of our trails that we administer do.
The photos that I’ve included in my presentation will, in many senses, display what we call “high potential sites and segments.” This is something that the National Trails System Act tells us to pay attention to. And the Act, which is our authorization, says that “high potential sites and segments are the places along or near the trail that have the greatest potential to provide visitors with opportunities to learn about the trail and its historic significance, during the period of primary use,” and “high potential segments do that as well, and have good quality recreation potential, and have greater than average scenic values that provide opportunities for vicarious experience of the trail that the original users of the historic route had.” So while we have this recreational component, we also have this very important historic interest and historic resource aspect as well.
Real quickly, I just want to go through the nine trails and Route 66, kind of orient you and show you where they are.
The Oregon National Historic Trail, established 1978, it’s over 2,000 miles long.
The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, this one also established in 1978. It’s 1,300 miles long.
Santa Fe, this national historic trail from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico, it is 1,200 miles long and established in 1987.
Trail of Tears, this 1987-established national historic trail covers a little over 5,000 miles.
California, our longest of the trails that we administer, it’s over 5, 600 miles long. Established in 1992.
Pony Express, also established in 1992, from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento. Later it was extended on to Sacramento, but the purists think only Sacramento. It’s over 1,900 miles long.
El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the year 2000 it was established, 404 miles. It’s the shortest of the ones that we have in our office.
Old Spanish National Historic Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles, it’s 2,700 miles long, established in 2002.
El Camino de Real de- Oh, back to the Old Spanish. You’ll notice El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, and then the next one, Old Spanish, they have a red banner at the top. That’s how we in our office show you that there’s something different about this trail. The Old Spanish and the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, are administered jointly between the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Land Management. And that’s something a little bit different and something kind of new in National Historic Trails where we have joint administration.
Tejas I mentioned… oh, no. 2004 it was established, and it’s 2,500 miles long.
And Route 66. It was established as a corridor preservation program in 1999, it was studied for the possibility of being a national historic trail, but this preservation, kind of a cost-share grant program, was what was established. It’s 2,400 miles long and it’s scheduled to sunset as a program in 2019, unless it’s either renewed as a preservation program, or it’s possibly converted or designated as something else. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but there are lots of rumors. We’ll see what happens.
So, as I go through the presentation further I want to give you a little bit more information on the National Trails System Act. Give you a definition, or how we perceive management versus administration in relation to these trails, and then talk about some of our culture resource preservation issues, related to national historic trails, and then conclude with some thoughts on cultural landscapes as it relates to NHTs.
Here we see the Meek Cutoff. The Meek Cutoff is currently under consideration for possible addition to the National Trail System. The Meek Cutoff is in Oregon, and it’s possibly going to join the Oregon National Historic Trail, kind of obvious, right? But here you see the kind of landscapes that we’re dealing with and the kind of open and extensive vistas that we’re trying to preserve related to the historic settings of the trails. The Meek Cutoff, along with 74 other routes, is currently under consideration for addition to the National Trails System, to either the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer or Pony Express. It’s one of the congressionally-mandated feasibility studies that we’re working on. And if all told, and I don’t think all of these routes will necessarily be added, if they are added, at Congress’s discretion, but it could potentially add another 10,000 miles to the National Trail System, if these are all accepted.
Passed in 1968, the National Trail System Act, initially really only let national scenic trails in because a lot of our national historic trails, they just kind of didn’t pass muster as beautifully scenic. When you think about it, the national scenic trails, to seek out beautiful ridge tops and scenic vistas, to provide these great recreational opportunities, while historic routes were traveled by immigrants and had commercial interest that the users of which were not seeking scenery, they were seeking ease of travel. So a lot of times, these historic routes, when the Act was initially envisioned and thought of, didn’t live up to the criteria that made scenic routes eligible for National Historic Trails, or that made them get designated for national trails. So, in 1978, the Act was amended, and nowadays we have not only national scenic trails but national historic trails, national recreation trails, of which there are about at least a thousand or so of those, as well as others. We’re seeing the water trails, and that’ll be talked about later, a trail that’s water in nature.
So National Historic Trails focus on recreation, historic interest, and commemoration. They must be nationally significant, and the route must be sufficiently known in order to be designated. But for a national historic trail, it doesn’t have to be continuous, the way a National Scenic Trail does, so that’s kind of different. In order to be designated, it goes through a process, and we also use national significance determination using the National Historic Landmark criteria. And meeting any one of the six criteria will make a route eligible for designation as a national historic trail.
I wanted to share with you a little bit about what we deal with in the way of the idea of management and administration. Because we don’t own the trail except where it crosses the National Park Service unit, we see ourselves as administrators. And administrators do trail-wide coordination. I have up here on the slide some examples of some of the kinds of projects that we work on. For instance, at Farewell Bend State Recreation Area in Oregon, on the Oregon Trail, we’ve worked extensively with that particular park unit, a state park, to put kiosks in there, and interpretive waysides and signing, and various projects there.
New Fork River Crossing Historical Park in Sublette County, Wyoming, we worked with the historical society and the museum there to develop a county park, and that was done with mitigation money, off-site mitigation money, from impacts that were going to be felt along the trail at another location. That money was put toward this park as part of that mitigation effort. It’s a nice little landscape there, and quite pristine in its own right.
Another kind of project that we might work with as an administrator, an example of that, you see some of our park staff- I mean, our Park Service staff there in front of a wagon, at Philmont Ranch Boy Scout Camp in New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail. We had a retracement trail construction development opportunity there, where the trail went right through the middle of the camp. A great opportunity to interpret it for the Scouts as well as their visitors and others, and it commemorates the Santa Fe Trail right through the camp.
And here’s another project that we’ve done- undertaken along the Santa Fe Trail in southeast Colorado, where we’ve partnered with universities and colleges to do an archaeological reconnaissance and survey, visual resource inventory, as well as prepared ten National Register nominations out of this particular project. So that’s what we do as administrators. Now, we make a distinction, because trail managers, in our mind, are the folks that own the land. They’re the ones that do some of the same things that we do as administrators, but they have on-site jurisdiction. And these are various government and private entities that own or manage each national trail.
So, some of our issues that we deal with, we have preservation issues in that our trails and their landscapes are in many senses threatened by energy development. Now, I’m not against renewable energy, nor is our office, but there’s a cost to that in the respect that there are impacts to natural and cultural resources from large-scale wind farms, solar arrays, pipelines. They cross these historic, linear resources, these long distance trails, scenic trails, too, and they do impact the view shed. There’s also unregulated recreational use. Our public lands are used for recreation. They’re multiple-use entities. And a lot of times, folks don’t even know that they’re trucking on down this route, this trail off in the middle of nowhere, and it’s actually a national historic trail. And we try to work with the managing agency to lessen or control the amount of impact that these trails do experience.
Of course, there’s issues related to artifact collecting along our national historic trails. There’s what we call a “throw-zone,” to either side of the center line of a national historic trail. The presence of which helps us define the trail, so we struggle with how to balance public use and knowledge of where the trail is, versus the risk that ensues from that knowledge and the use of- and people doing illegal artifact collection on public and private land. Recently, we were made aware of a video that someone had posted on YouTube, showing their exploits collecting and metal-detecting along segments of the Oregon Trail on Forest Service land. So, it’s an ongoing issue, and it’s something that we work with the managing entity to try to mitigate through education and then the managing agency or entity has to patrol that trail.
Here we see kind of the remote nature of some of our sites along national historic trails, especially out west. Here you see Simpson Springs Station in Utah, located on BLM land, where there’s a campground in proximity to this site, where there are other interpretive sites along what BLM manages as part of their Back Country Byway program. Simpson Springs, this Pony Express station, was also the site of a significant Civilian Conservation Corp camp during the 1930s and 40s. So I think this slide in some ways illustrates the issues that we deal with inherent to remote areas. We can’t be there 24/7, so the places are subject to infrequent patrols and potential impacts from use. But, that’s true of a national park unit, too, so it’s something that we work with on a regular basis.
So, we also have some issues related to preservation of national historic trails from urban development. By their very nature, national historic trails are archaeological. They’re ruts and swells and setting, in some cases often goes unrecognized, even though to the trained eye they’re very apparent. But here, we’ve got a photo of a bulldozer, should be self-explanatory, we’re potentially losing something. And they don’t always check, especially if it’s on private land, because there’s no obligation for these folks who own these lands privately to try to preserve the national historic trail. So we try to make it attractive if they will, and sometimes they do. They might easily overlook these resources, though, especially on private land. Historic trail resources can be very subtle on the landscape, in some cases.
A photo of the playground, though, is another case in point. This particular one is called Old Spanish Trail Park, in Las Vegas, Nevada, and it’s a portion of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail that crosses this small, urban neighborhood park. But, in developing the park, the developers actually destroyed an original piece of the trail. In the construction of the pathway, through the area and alongside this playground, you see that kind of funky-looking dinosaur-spine-looking piece of equipment there. The picture’s taken, actually, from standing right there on the national historic trail, which is now a nice little pathway through the park, but there was, at one point, trace there, not that long ago. But we lost it.
Here we see the Bidwell Pass. It’s part of the California National Historic Trail. And this was where the Bidwell-Bartleson party, the first immigrant party, traveled across this trail in 1841. Again, this gives you a sense of the resources we work with, especially in the western states. And I could just as easily probably even included some slides of our national historic trails in urban areas, but we have very different issues there. Mostly the trails were covered up by concrete and asphalt, there we try to let the people know about the history of the trail that passed by their homes and businesses, and there, we’re more focused on recreation and interpretation. Not that we don’t do this out here, but here in the western states, we have real opportunities to try to preserve these historic landscapes and their cultural resources.
Other things to be aware of when we’re working with these trails, is that sometimes CRM firms, they don’t have the expertise necessary to document trails, just because they haven’t had experience with it. It’s not something that we, as archaeologists, are trained to know about. I had to learn how to recognize these very, in some cases, subtle resources. Sometimes they jump right out at you. Other times, you really have to kind of look at the landscape and see, ah, there’s really something there. We also have issues related to coordinating our activities with private land owners. We have to coordinate sometimes with ranchers and with farmers, and we want to be sure that we don’t interfere with their activities on their land. We’re very grateful when they want to work with us, because there are some landowners out there that just absolutely do not want anything to do with the federal government.
Because that’s one of the first questions we get asked when we say, “There’s a feasibility study to establish a new trail,” Is that they’re really afraid that we’re going to condemn their land and take it, but that’s not the case. In all the years that this program, the National Trails System, has been in place, and we’ve worked with National Historic Trails, we’ve never once condemned or taken any land. But you really have to reassure people about that. And then, we also struggle with how we reflect the actual location of the trail resources and in what scale, on maps, and how we do our field documentation and ground truthing. Because when the feasibility studies are done for these trails, we’re typically working at a much higher scale and higher level, like we’re flying at 30,000 feet looking down at it, and then eventually we have to get around to ground truthing it. And as an example, the Oregon Trail, which was designated in 1978, we’re still adjusting and refining where our understanding of that route is.
I mentioned National Register work. We hope to do more of that on all of our trails, and I’m sure that some of those multiple property designations that you talked about earlier, Barbara, these are some of them, probably.
Trail of Tears, we have four listed in Oklahoma. We have two properties listed in- and these may be multiple properties- listed for the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. We have ten nominated currently for De Los Tejas. We have six nominated for Old Spanish, ten already listed for Santa Fe in New Mexico, twenty-one in Kansas, two in Missouri, and then we have some nominated for Kansas and Colorado.
Register Cliff, here, another one of our important sites, a high potential site on our trails. It was a key navigational landmark listed in 19th century guidebooks for the Oregon Trail. This is where people made sure that they were on the right pathway before they headed up to South Pass in Wyoming.
So cultural landscapes. My colleague and my office here, Susan Boyle, you may be familiar with her work, I don’t know. She’s written pretty extensively about cultural landscapes as they relate to National Historic Trails and linear resources. We frequently talk about this in the office; the difficulty that’s related to helping our partners and other non-partners to understand the importance of setting a cultural view sheds. For example, the Old Spanish Trail. There’s not a whole lot on the ground there because it was a pack-mule route that dated to the 1820’s through the 1840’s. So there’s not a whole lot there, and there’s really no throw-zone to speak of. So in the case of that particular trail, the setting is extraordinarily important. And we have all sorts of potential impacts to it from energy development and other things as time goes by.
From Susan’s work and our discussions as well as my own interest and research into cultural landscapes, I want to share with you a few thoughts about these. They’re excellent examples of vernacular landscapes. Natural components do predominate, and in many cases, though, it’s difficult to apply traditional historic preservation standards to these kinds of resources – and not all federal agencies approach the definition of a trail cultural landscape from the same perspective. When we deal with view sheds, they may approach from a visual resource management perspective instead of a cultural landscape idea. Like what the Bureau of Land Management, they evaluate view shed, and they do a wonderful job of inventorying scenic values, and establishing management objectives for those values through their resource management planning process. But the BLM’s view shed analysis focuses on scenic values, not historic values. And so, if you have historic things, or man-made things in the landscape, they potentially downgrade it. It doesn’t get as high of a rating. And so, they might say, “Oh, it’s okay to put an energy development here, because it didn’t get as high of a scenic value rating.” But we would argue that it’s got historic value, that we may want to think twice about where you put that energy development, because of the historic travel corridor. So, for National Historic Trails, it’s the setting, and the visitor’s vicarious trail experience that’s the most important for us.
I love this one. I wanted to put this in here. This is on a Free Immigrant Road, another study route that’s possibly going to be added to the Oregon Trail. Here you see a trail blaze, A culturally modified tree on the landscape that if you’re not trained to recognize these things as a trail blaze along the way, you might miss it. And this is an important part of our cultural landscape out there, for national historic trails, and just historic trails generally.
The other thing to realize about cultural landscapes and national historic trails is that these trails have been used for centuries, often they have several periods of significance, they represent multiple uses and multiple cultural values. They’re possibly part of an ethnographic landscape, and they’re possibly subject to mixed management. So they’ve got federal, state, local, and private individuals that own them. Legal property limits, seldom match those of the landscape. It’s difficult to establish when one landscape ends and the next one begins. And the horizon is often the only clear boundary that can be seen in any direction.
So, historic documentation for these segments of historic trail are hard to find sometimes. Several landscape characteristics that we use, typically, to gather and organize information such as patterns and spatial organizations, or boundary limits, vegetation related to land use, buildings, structures and objects, those kinds of concepts may be extraordinarily irrelevant or even very difficult to apply to a linear long distance trail like we deal with. And the major landscape characteristics are often a function of environmental factors, such as vegetation, climate, topography and soils. Resource corridors may include narrow canyons or extensive view sheds along many miles. They traverse a variety of regions that create many landscapes of varying length and width. And it’s not possible to freeze or restore them as they once were during their period of significance in some cases, or to keep them from changing in very unpredictable ways.
So, as I conclude this, I’d like to share with you some of what we document when we’ve done some recent work on visual analysis. The two photos I have here split in half actually was part of one panoramic, one complete photo. But the triangular DAR marker to the right in the upper photo is the same as what you see in the lower photo there, I just kind of split them apart so you could see it. But all of these features in the foreground and in the background, they’re all important for analyzing the cultural landscape and what you see there. So, what did the immigrant or traveler see along this route? Is this the cultural landscape, or do we limit our preservation efforts to a designated corridor that may be established in working with the land manager, to either side of the center line? So, is it one mile to either side, five miles to either side, a hundred feet to either side? Depending on which manager you’re talking with, you’re going to get a possibly different perspective on what the corridor is that they should manage, and we’d like to see the whole cultural landscape, the whole landscape view shed, what you can see, preserved. But that’s not always possible.
So the National Parks Service, we don’t have a standardized way of making these determinations, and it’s up to the land manager. So, as trail administrators, we don’t tell the manager what to do. We work cooperatively and collaboratively to try and preserve the trail, while they try to meet their management objectives and follow preservation laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act and NEPA as appropriate.
So, I’ll conclude here with a final photo of Fort Bridger, which was a 19th century fur trading post in Wyoming. It’s definitely a high potential site, established in 1842 on the Blacks Fork of the Green River and it functioned as an important resupply point for wagon trains along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails. So, that concludes what I had to share with you about cultural landscapes, some of our cultural resource issues, and kind of an overview of National Historic Trails as we know them.
Barbara Wyatt: Does anybody have any burning question? We usually defer all of them to the end, but if somebody had something to ask now, please feel free to.
Linda McClellan: I’d like the speaker to maybe explain what the approach to boundaries has been. This whole dilemma of, they have this broad panorama of landscapes, it’s so important to the significance and the integrity. How has that been dealt with in the National Register nomination?
Gretchen: Oh, goodness. Typically we haven’t- at least in my experience- we haven’t gone for broad landscape designations at this point yet, at least in my experience. Most of our National Register nominations have been focused on, like, multiple properties on kind of a small scale. Nobody’s done like a really good cultural landscape inventory or cultural landscape report on really long distance trail issues that I’m aware of. Unless someone else has something else to offer.
Linda: How about the concept of historic districts, in terms of the length of the segments.
Gretchen: We have done some historic district work, like on the Trail of Tears. There have been historic districts nominated and listed. But they’re typically not like more than a few miles long, maybe like twenty miles or less, but there are some areas that we deal with, though, like some of these desert landscapes, where you can see thirty miles or further. And we haven’t really gone to that extent into that kind of detail with the particular nominations that might be made. And who I defer to, and I wish I’d pulled him on this call, would be Mike Taylor in our office, who has done most of our multiple property nominations.
Linda: I guess the question is how can the National Register be used as a tool, then, to protect the larger setting, to protect the view sheds? And I don’t expect you to answer that.
Gretchen: I’d love to see it developed as a tool to let us do that, and I’ve heard that there’s going to be some possible revisions to the cultural landscapes National Register bulletin. That might be something that gets talked about as time goes by, because I think, as you say, I don’t have an answer for it, but I think it could be an important part of our toolkit for protecting these vernacular settings and vicarious experiences that we wish to promote.