Mark Meyer: I appreciate the opportunity to join you today. Give a little bit of background on what we’re doing in the visual resource world and the air resource division. By way of background, I’m a landscape architect. I joined the air resource division three years ago as a visual resource specialist. I spent the last ten to fifteen years prior to that doing natural resource analysis, primarily visual resources, but also recreation, a little bit of work with the wilderness areas and those kinds of things. I am brand new to the National Park Service. We are working on trying to stand up our visual resource process and program. This will be a little bit about that.
Basically what are visual resources?— especially for folks that are out in the parks, you’re in them every day. It’s the whole landscape that you see, the physical features, the cultural resources, the landscape, the vegetation, the land forms, the historic structures. It’s everything in that landscape as a resource that is visible to our visitors. Of course we look at those as ways to connect with our background, and of course it’s right in our organic act to conserve the scenery of natural and historic objects. Its right front and center that these are important resources. Not just in the scenic context of the aesthetic component, we look at all different kinds of landscapes from the wild, wide open landscapes to areas where people recreate.
Of course the really important parts that we are incorporating into this are some of the historic landscapes. We really view some of these landscapes as ways to connect with the history and culture of areas and looking toward those future generations. It’s beyond the things of the natural world that we really want to incorporate into our inventory process. All these different kinds of landscapes become really important in our inventory process. It’s a very visitor-centric kind of inventory that we’re going to talk about here. That is the visual experience. Most visitors engage in any kind of a park setting through that visual experience.
One of the reasons I’m here however is that the visitor is the center piece of it is because our visitors really think that it is an important element. Along with the air quality, the clean, pure air, the scenery has always been a big component of why visitors are coming to parks. However what we’re also finding out is that change is happening in the landscapes in and around parks. These are particular kinds of large scale changes.
A few examples here that are occurring mostly in some big parts of the West, but they’re also starting to encroach in a lot of areas throughout the country as different kinds of projects become installed or developed near parks, near historic sites, and start to potentially impact the views from inside and outside and beyond the boundaries of some of our historic and very scenic park locations. These types of changes are really starting to potentially affect the visitor experience.
What we started to look at is what kinds of things can we do. Here we’re starting at a point where we really want to move beyond what Barbara described as the viewshed analysis, the visible nonvisible. Where we want to get with our inventory process is to understand the why these views are important. Try to get a handle on what’s happening or what potentially could happen in or near beyond the boundaries of the park, what kind of development, who manages the land, what is it slated for, does it have potential resources for solar, wind or something like that? Develop a consistent way that we could get these kinds of information into our planning documents and into our engagement with agencies and partners that we work with so that there’s some consistent methodology in doing this. There really hasn’t been that to date, but it’s not like we haven’t been doing anything.
What we’ve done in the past, Blue Ridge Parkway has been out and a big player in the forefront of the National Park Service, and understanding their visual resources and their view set analysis process is very sophisticated. It works really well for them as far as it’s a very, view-based park unit. It works well for them. Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site worked with local developers in years past and got some conservation easements for the scenic setting of the historic ranch. They’re able to maintain those kinds of historic settings for the ranch while development was allowed to occur and encouraged to occur behind the ridges so to speak that we saw in the little diagram. Where it was out of view so it didn’t disrupt that visitor experience of that historic setting, but the developer was still able to take advantage of developing the private property.
Mississippi River developed a system in the last few years to understand the visual resources and how they might be coordinated and managed with the very multitude of partners that they work with through the Twin Cities area. Appalachian Trail as well is working on viewshed analysis and has 1,500 some odd viewpoints identified. We’re actually going to begin working with them in the next year or so to start to incorporate some of that inventory process. As you can see, all of these are a one-off thing so far. There hasn’t been to date a service-wide approach to doing this much like there has been in other agencies.
You see all of the logos here, a lot of other agencies have been considering and managing visual resources for a long time. US Forest Service and BLM are probably the two most prominent and really large land management agencies that have visual resource management processes in place. Theirs are really are focused on management because they have large tracts of land and their processes are set up to be able to understand and evaluate project impact— how that would affect the landscape? Not necessarily from a particular viewpoint or viewer, but what are those changes going to be in the landscape from the project? Be it a clear cut in the forest or if it’s a pipeline or solar project on BLM land, they have a way in place to assess the impact, they have a baseline inventory that describes what their existing conditions are.
Other agencies as well have developed project specific approaches to doing this. I think that’s where we really want to get with our program is develop something that has that consistency on a service slide basis so that we can really engage with other agencies and partners over a long period of time in a very consistent way.
As we talk about a visual resource program, we spent most of the time today talking about the oval here, the inventory and evaluation process. As we started to look at the different components, we realized that a big part of what I do within the visual resource world is provide technical assistance to parks for project assessment, developing comments, analyzing technical reports that are supplied as part of an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] and those kinds of things.
Where we also are going right now in working with parks in their planning documents and trying to incorporate getting some scenic conversation goals or some scenic inventory work into foundation documents and state of the park reports. We’re trying to work within the new park planning framework to get some of these things into planning documents so that they are there for the long-term management and conversation efforts with the parks over the long-term. At the same time we’re also in the process of making this a service-wide process, developing a guidance document as well as we’re in the beginning stages of working on a director’s order that’s going to stand up to visual resource program as an official, I guess program, or whatever it becomes called. There is going to be some kind of status so that there is a tool there. That’s what we’re building is a toolbox for parks to be able to use in assessing their visual resources.
As we look at what we want to do and looked at protecting scenic resources that are valued by us and our visitors, we looked at a couple of key concepts. We needed an inventory process and an evaluation process that’s going to work across all different types of units. This isn’t going to be something that we’re developing that is only to be used in large natural boundary parks such as a Yellowstone or a Grand Canyon type of thing, we really want to be able to impart the importance of the historic and cultural values and they are just as important as scenic views and that there are aesthetic qualities to those historic cultural values.
They may not be part of the nomination and the rationale for the National Register process, but there is an aesthetic component that the visitor appreciates as part of that visitor experience. When we are looking at evaluating, we’re looking at evaluating the scenic qualities, the aesthetic components, but then we have an importance factor that we’ve defined as how it relates to the visitors and how it relates to the historic and cultural resources that are within the viewed landscape or at the viewpoint. The last bullet is evaluating views in context. We’re always looking at doing an inventory in the context of where the park is located. We’re not comparing across landscapes and we’re not comparing across parks so that we’re not comparing Monocacy Battlefield to the Grand Canyon. Those are totally different kinds of units in their intent and their meaning. They have their own value, so we evaluate them in context.
In developing this process we’ve had a long-term partnership program now for several years with Argonne National Laboratory, —there is a very good visual resource specialist there that we work very closely with. Then as we’ve been developing this process we’ve also been working with informal advisory groups that represent different kinds of parks and NPS units. One group was a traditional boundary park, the large western boundaries if you will. Cultural landscape had a group that’s been involved, very helpful in putting this process together as representing the cultural landscape. Wild and scenic rivers, sea and lake shores, and then the last one is national trails. We have the national trails group that has also participated in this in trying to make this work across all these different kinds of park units.
Of course like any process— this may or may not be readable depending on the size of your screen—ff course we have to have a flowchart. This is our flowchart for how the process is generally envisioned working. Like I said, we’re going to talk mostly now about this green box, the inventory element. You could see there we have that scenic quality piece and the view importance rating. We’re going to talk a little bit about the inventory process and what those specific elements are.
Okay, one thing that does set us apart in this inventory process from the general approach that Forest Service and BLM and some of the others use is that instead of defining polygons on the landscape and saying that this one has a certain character and the one next to it and another piece of landscape has a certain piece of character, and then consider how a project might affect a certain part of that landscape, our inventory unit is the view. This is from the viewer’s perspective. This is what they see. Looking out across the landscape, they might be looking at several different polygons if you will under a BLM or Forest Service system because of the broad views that are available from a lot of different park units.
We look at that unit of inventory as having three components of where the view is from‑the viewpoint, what you’re looking at in that landscape, then the perspective of the viewer. We’re only evaluating what you can see from that viewpoint much like the view shed analysis where only those visible elements, but we’re not breaking down that landscape into its component parts. We’re considering that entire composition or scene that the visitor takes in as the unit that to be inventoried.
It’s a two-step process, and I alluded to that in the initial flowchart. We have the scenic quality rating, and this is a field-based assessment where we’re going to identify the scenic quality factors, and we’ll talk about what they are here in just a second. Inside each of those there are three components. Then we have a parallel process for the view importance. This gets to the NPS and visitor value element of a particular view. Again, three primary factors. Inside each of those are three actual individual rating factors. It’s very parallel to the scenic quality process.
The scenic quality element is a field exercise. It covers that top part that you see there inside the oval where it’s a descriptive element. Then we have our 3 primary factors of landscape character, integrity, vividness, and visual harmony that leads to a rating. The next part in the next slide, you look at the bottom oval here, we have that parallel process for the view importance. We have the viewed landscape, the viewer, and the viewpoints. Then the components of the major factors are the viewed landscape and the viewpoint importance as well as the viewer concern.
The fieldwork for the scenic quality process, just to get a few things out, what we do is we define some of the basic things of where you’re looking, in what direction, decide what is in the scene and what is out, what is its landscape character type and describe the distance zones. We understand where things are developed. Potentially they could be a larger impact because they’re much closer and you could see a lot of extra detail in something versus something that is further away. If it’s a small scale it’s not going to impact that view at all. In any of these cases what we’re looking for is only describing what we see as far as some of the elements of land form, land cover, and the form line color texture.
We’re not considering from ecological standpoint what the impact is its poor habitat for a certain species or if it’s an invasive species that are a prominent element in that view. We try to stand back and look at it from a visitor’s perspective. If that view has elements in there that don’t belong from an ecological perspective but the typical viewer doesn’t recognize that, we’re not including that in our scenic quality evaluation. This really is trying to be a visual inventory process.
The fieldwork for the scenic quality, again, this is a little bit more explanation on that. The three components that we have, the landscape character, vividness, and visual harmony, all of the ratings, there’s three factors inside each one of those. Given the time frame today we’re not going to go into the details on those. Each element within those three primary categories is rated on a scale of 1 to 5. It’s done as a group. This is a team exercise in the field. This isn’t where we just send out one person to get their opinion on what these ratings should be. It should be a minimum of generally three up to maybe six or eight. We’ve done much bigger groups, but it gets a little unwieldy for fieldwork.
You reach a group consensus and we start our inventory workshops with a day and a half of training so that there’s an understanding what all the vocabulary is and what the rating criteria are and those kinds of things. It really does work pretty well. After the group gets going, the consistency and reaching consensus works pretty well. It ends up being a pretty consistent scoring methodology over the long term of doing the inventory work.
Here you can see for each of those major factors the three elements inside there. We’re looking at the landscape’s character elements for integrity. For character integrity we’re looking at the elements, whether all the elements or most of them that you would expect to be in that kind of landscape are there. Again, quality and condition— Is there a forest fire gone through that had a visible impact on the landscape— those kinds of things. Or is something, in the case of structures, is there vandalism, is their actual damage and those kinds of things to elements. Or are there things that don’t belong in that view? A big transmission line cutting across a historic landscape or whatever the case might be.
For vividness, those focal points, are there things that attract your attention? Are there really bold forms, colors, those kinds of things? To what extent do those really jump out at you and really make that scene aesthetically pleasing? For the harmony part, these can be a little bit more difficult. The spatial relationship, does everything basically just fit together? Does something not belong? The same thing with color and scale—do things generally fit? Do the colors work together in their specific rating criteria that we have for each of those elements? You get a total score and it comes out to A through E as you can see at the bottom there. You just check that off. That’s the field exercise for the scenic quality piece.
The view importance is an office exercise. This takes a little bit of background investigation. Either before or after you go into the discussion you might have to have some advance work done, or maybe you have to go back and revisit something, you go back and look at a nomination form and say, okay, visual setting was important or yes this is this kind of a structure, whatever. There’s some background work that can be done as part of this process. This is not necessarily the same group that went to the field. These are independent elements. They have their own rating processes and scores. These are completely separate elements.
The individuals, again, rate the three factors for each component. Again, it comes up to nine. The group, again, discusses to reach consensus on those values so that there is not one person doing the evaluation. Ideally these should be multidisciplinary teams across scenic quality and the view importance. We’re looking for interpretation, cultural resources, biological resources, natural sciences, law enforcement. We’ve had participation from a wide variety of groups. All the input can be very valuable to the process.
Just a really quick look here, the nine factors, the three factors inside each of those major elements or view importance for the viewer concern. We’re looking at the level of visitation, how long are people staying, do we think that people going to this location, are they going to be sensitive? There’s a hierarchy established as part of the rating process. Would people notice a change in the landscape? For the viewed landscape and the viewpoint, we’re looking at the level of publicity, in both inside and outside NPS media— how do rangers and maps and guidebooks at the park direct visitors to locations, to what level and even then outside media: websites, hiking guides, those kinds of things.
To what extent is the landscape for the viewpoint? How does it fit into the interpretation? What level of importance is attached to that as far as the park and how they’re using that location, that historic vantage point or whatever the case might be for their interpretation? What is the park’s investment? What does it have, how are they managing that location for that visitor experience?
Once we have those 2 elements— you’ve done the scenic quality and you’ve rated the view importance—you can see at the bottom of that one it comes out to the one through five. Those two combined, getting back to our flowchart, you can see it combines to the scenic inventory value.
That value is derived from a little simple matrix that we made that has the scenic quality along the vertical and the view importance across the horizontal. You just plug this in and you get a very low to very high rating on that view. At this point you now have inventoried the entire view. You’ve looked at the viewpoint, the view landscape, you’ve assessed of the scenic quality and the view importance. This is our inventory value. It now considers the scenic quality and the view importance. Rather than have twenty-five different combinations from a mapping standpoint that could get very confusing, we’ve broken it down using this matrix into these five major categories.
When we do the analysis on the backside with the GIS, we’ve preserved the scenic quality and the view importance ratings as part of the information attached to a view. Just because a B, if you look at the matrix, a B-1 is very high, and so is an A-3. An A quality scenic quality with a very moderate view importance is still in the same category as something that is very, very important for the park but of a little bit less of scenic quality. There is variation within those five categories. It’s important to preserve that binary score if you will, that rating for each one.
Once we have all these inventory values, this is an inventory value for an individual view that’s been rated in the field and then subsequently rated for its importance. Then we have developed a way to understand where overlapping views occur, how do we make a composite inventory value out of that. Where those overlapping views happen, we’ve developed a way to use a view shed analysis and then understand where those views overlap to create basically a new value.
What happens is now we start doing mapping analysis with the GIS and we understand where the visible elements are in the landscape. This is going to be far too quick to go through right now. If we get to opportunity for questions and answers, would be happy to talk about this in a little bit more detail. Basically where the views overlap in this example that you see, the GIS model extracts out the highest scenic quality values and the highest importance value out of those overlapping views, and creates a new value that is applied to those overlapping areas. That’s in concept what we want to do so that we are using that binary value to really capture the highest values out of each of those processes.
When we have all this data, where we want to get with this is we’ve got all of our ratings and rationales, we’ve got our inventory values, all of this is stored in a database that has just gone online in the last couple of months. We can start to do, we’ve got all this information that we’ve collected and we want to get it into some inventory reports.
This is just a few screenshots of the database. It’s accessed through IRMA. It has a very similar interface to a lot of the other database processes. You can see it’s very similar in structure as the forms that we developed. You can download the photos that are attached to that particular view as well.
That is a very, very quick overview of the inventory process. Have the last couple of slides here just as the other components of our visual program. What we’re doing is as I mentioned assisting parks with guidance documents and mitigation and preparing comments for projects in or near park boundaries if there is potential visual effect.
For planning products, what we’re trying to do is we developed a way to get some very brief fact sheets worked up for foundation workshops for parks if they want to consider including visual resources. We’ve developed a tool to use in the state of the parks process. We’re just now starting to develop some content and some ideas for what these conservation plans could be. We’re also in the process of developing, making sure we can fit our framework into the resource stewardship strategies as part of those overall resources for a park to consider in managing for the visitor experience.
Here’s just a little bit of stuff that we’re working on. There is a process in place that we’re working on right now to work with a number of other agencies on developing some policies for landscape scale mitigation. If there are impacts to park or BLM lands that we’re looking at it at a landscape level, so that maybe we find the best places to conserve scenery regardless of who’s managing the land if there is effects from a project. Then as I mentioned our director’s order has just barely started to establish service-wide recognition of the program. That’s what I have for today. I appreciate the opportunity again. If we have time, I think we’re on schedule after the break to ask a few questions, that would be just fine. That will take care of it.
Jill ?: Hi, this is Jill. A question for Mark … I’m curious. You mentioned that the viewpoint approach rather than a scenic character approach was decided upon for the process that you’re working on. I’m curious about this. In other words, focusing on the views from specific viewpoints rather than visual character within the polygon.
Mark: Yes. We decided to do that simply because we’re looking at the landscape as a visitor might. Rather than looking at it for a specific understanding of a landscape character and how it might be impacted by a project like a BLM or Forest Service, they set up the inventory. The system is set up to be able to assess the impact of a project on lands that they manage. But we took a little bit different tact just because we wanted to look at it from the visitor’s perspective and how they see a composite of the polygons as a scene. That’s why we chose and kind of evolved into this idea of a view with those three components being the unit of inventory. It is a more visitor focused, visitor centric approach, which rather than making an assessment of a whole bunch of scenic quality rating units that may or may not be within a view or have impact on a visitor.
Christie ?: I’m wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on how your program will be working with the Appalachian Trail? In my state, we have concerns with the potential impacts from several wind farms and view sheds seen from the trail. Will your inventory be useful to [SHIPOS 00:08:24](State Historic Preservation Officers) for evaluating the effects of development on the AT view sheds? I have a second part to that question, and that is, do you consider the foreground, the middle ground, and the background of a particular view separately, or do you include them all in your analysis of the views?
Mark: The work on the Appalachian Trail, we had tentatively a scheduled workshop to go work with some folks this year. It looks like they’re going to postpone that until sometime next year, maybe next spring. We’re going to be working closely with them to try to … It will be one of the early applications of the practice to a linear feature. Although they have identified, like I mentioned, numerous viewpoints, I think it will be a combination of viewpoint based kind of a process. We have developed a concept of where if a trail segment or a [inaudible 00:09:31](likely: Wild and Scenic) river segment or whatever it is, if the segment has similar characteristics, we have in theory a way to assess a representative point that says, “Here’s the visual character of this segment from point A to point B”. That remains to be seen exactly how we will do that on the Appalachian Trail, and so we’ll continue to work with those folks and determine that when we do that.
As far as doing the view sheds, I think it would probably be very helpful in looking at potential impacts of wind projects, and similar things that could be visible from the trail, just how prominent they might be, the distances and such. We do consider the … we do a description of foreground, middle ground and background, we don’t use a set distance like some of the other processes do, just because the landscapes and the viewpoints, and the types of views, are so varied among park units, so we have a way that we explained during the training workshop, we actually do a verbal description of the foreground for a particular view. The foreground is actually, it goes out to the end of that first ridge, or to the far side of the river, those kinds of descriptions.
It’s considered all together in the view. We make those descriptions just because if a project goes in, we understand that, okay, it could be in the foreground of this view and it’s going to be very prominent, or it’s going to be in the background, what’s considered the background in this view, and it’s not going to be that visible. We do consider the view in its total, and not do an evaluation of the foreground, middle ground and background. It is all considered together.
Christie: Good, thank you very much. Do you anticipate that when this program is done, your workshops and so on, that you will have ranked either representatives view on the AT or all the views on the AT?
Mark: That’s going to be … I think what they’re doing now is looking at, as we understand it, to try to bring—because there are so many entities and volunteer groups and the AT Foundation and all of these groups that assist in the management of the trail— and I think their goal is to try to look at the workshop and the inventory process as a train the trainers kind of a situation, where they bring as many folks as they can to some of the workshops, understand the process so that they can go back to their respective areas and work on the inventory.
I don’t anticipate through our workshops and our field efforts that we’re going to come anywhere near covering all of their points. We had anticipated, and still do, that when we go and work with the folks, we’ll do some representative points and get the workshop and get the process understood with the folks that are actually going to go out and do the points at a later point in time.