Proceedings of the Second Annual Mission Research Conference
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The Role of Research in Efficient Management Planning: The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Operation
José A. Cisneros, Superintendent
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Before we begin, I want to introduce to you some of my staff members who are in the audience today. First of all, you have already met Dr. Gilbert Cruz. Dr. Cruz is our Park Historian. Felix Hernandez, recently transferred from Big Bend National Park. He is our Chief Ranger in charge of Visitor Services and Resource Management. Santiago Escobedo, is one of our archaeologists in the Division of Cultural Resources. He is on the program and will have some things to share with you.

Joann Archer, who will join the staff in a couple of weeks as my personal secretary, is also present. I am glad you are here.

I want to welcome you to the Second Annual Research Conference on the San Antonio Missions. I want to thank Our Lady of the Lake University, Sister Sueltenfuss, and the Old Spanish Missions organization, Father Balty Janacek, for agreeing to co-sponsor this conference once more.

We are particularly appreciative of the opportunity that Father Janacek has given us in allowing us to join his Semana De Las Misiones celebration in the scheduling of this conference. Semana De Las Misiones, as you all know, has been ongoing for about six or seven years. When we came on the scene about four years ago, we became part of that celebration in an indirect manner. A couple of years ago we thought up the idea of maybe having a research conference with Semana. Last year, we were able to implement that idea. This, then, is our second conference.

I want to especially acknowledge in advance your interest and support in the objectives of this gathering by your attendance here today. I know that you are giving up your own time. We even have some people from out of town. We are very appreciative of that. We hope that you will learn some things that will make all that worthwhile.

Last year's conference was the beginning of what I hope is a long-term relationship between the National Park Service and the local community of researchers. We are grateful that that initial exposure has taken root and that we are gathered here once more to share information on the Missions of San Antonio.

My contribution today is to bring you up to date on where we are as a National Park Service unit in the implementation of the Congressional mandate to preserve, to interpret, and to restore the Spanish Missions of Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada.

Those of you who may have visited any of the Missions this summer have seen the NPS presence out there already, in the form of uniformed employees and in an improved appearance of the physical plant. We are finally operational after over four years and it has been long in coming. Those of you who have been following us have shared in our frustrations as we have negotiated back and forth and wrestled with the issue of church and state in trying to determine what would be the best relationship we could enter into, given the active parish status of the four Missions.

The fact that we have overcome that hurdle and we are now in operation of the Missions attests to the fact that we have done a lot of work and have enjoyed the support of many people in the community.

Some of you may have been present at the ceremony at San José on the 20th of February where the long-awaited relationship between the church and the state was formalized. Archbishop Patrick Flores, Director Russ Dickenson from the National Park Service, Director Jim Bell from the Texas State Parks and Wildlife, and Ms. Lynn Bobbitt from the Conservation Society, gathered in front of the Rose Window to sign the historic documents that allowed the implementation of the legislation that established the four Missions of San Antonio as the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.

We are grateful for that and we were glad that finally the Missions of San Antonio have, at long last, officially joined that repository of national treasures known as the National Park System.

I do not have to tell you that they join such other prestigious entities as Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall, and on and on. San Antonio is very fortunate in that I think what we have here is very unique. The Missions possess the greatest amount of integrity of any of the national historical parks in our system. We are cognizant of that and very fortunate but, to paraphrase the banking commercial, "we never forget they are your Missions" and we are simply the custodians that have been appointed to care for them.

Operationally, the action of the 20th of February signaled the beginning of a very hectic period for us. We had agreed that we would assume operational control of the Missions on April 1 and, as well-planned as we thought we were, there was much to do in the days ahead. To make a long story short, we recruited people, we trained them, we negotiated some maintenance contracts and we opened the doors on April 1st, April Fools' Day, and it was no joke. We had a series of ribbon-cutting ceremonies but the weather kind of turned sour towards the end of the day. It was also Good Friday, so it was full of symbolism.

We have had a good summer, as Felix will attest. Visitors have not stopped coming and we are providing a modicum of visitor services, given the fact that coming in at the middle of the fiscal year, funds have been limited and we have not been able to hire the numbers and the kinds of people that we feel we need out there. Be that as it may, we have a good cadre of people. They are going a good job and we are maintaining the place.

We are now into the mundane operational problems of stopped-up commodes, paper towels, trash cans being stolen, and that sort of thing. It is really an operational park after all these years of planning.

We are slowly and painfully, as Father Balty will attest, learning to work with the Cooperative Agreements. We signed Cooperative Agreements with the Archdiocese, as with the state that recognized the fact that the Missions are now a part of the National Park System as mandated by Congress and approved by the President. We, therefore, must implement that legislation.

Over the past four years, we went back and forth as to the best arrangement for implementing the park legislation. We settled finally on a series of Cooperative Agreements that enables the National Park Service to operate and manage the Missions, while they remain in the ownership of the Archdiocese and, the State of Texas.

The Agreement allows the National Park Service to provide visitor information. It requires that we clean up after ourselves. Provide wear and tear maintenance. Provide security during hours of operation. It authorizes us the use of designated structures and buildings for staff space.

We did not address the much-needed preservation work that needs to be done. This Cooperative Agreement is an interim agreement, a beginning agreement. We felt that we needed to get something going. We needed to get some working experience under our belt and see how this arrangement was going to work out.

The issue of church/state was very real and I believe that we have broken ground here in terms of this kind of relationship. It is ironic when you consider that in Spanish colonial times, the whole Missionization process was a joint effort of the state and the church. Now the two entities are together once more. We do have this bundling board between us to ensure that we do not get too cozy, but nevertheless we are working on what is considered a proper church/state relationship, and I think we are getting the job done.

We are learning the basis of good communications and we have made a few mistakes. Any time you take action, you are liable to make mistakes and we have.

We have a number of people looking over our shoulders, including the parishioners who are most mindful of what we are doing to their Missions, to their parishes, and so far we have been able to stay clear of major controversies. Ours is not a bed of roses in that we need to do certain things that are necessary and required in most National Parks. By the same token, the authority to do that certain thing or things is often not there. We have to do things halfway, we have to do things in kind of a round-about way, but as I said before we are getting the job done, with the cooperation of many people.

On a more positive side, we are slowly accomplishing many things. Our planning is getting done as we have been planning for the past three years. Our General Management Plan/Development Concept Plan was issued in July of 1982 and it will guide us during the next ten to 15 years. It represents the best thinking of the time. The plan was done in 1980-81, and was the subject of a number of public meetings. It is a good plan and it sets out things that we want to do as an agency. It is not set in concrete, though, and this is what I have to keep reminding everyone, including ourselves. As we begin this operational stage we will learn new things, we will gain new information, we may see that things work better over here than over there, this way or that way. We will begin to look at the GMP in a new light. We will not be reluctant to revise the GMP as we go along.

We hope that we will not make wholesale revisions because it was a very thorough effort. It touched a lot of bases and it represents the best thinking of the time and we need to stay with it as much as we can. Where it says we can do one thing over here, maybe that will not work and we will then back off and do something else.

Just last month, our Land Resources Protection Plan, or our Land Acquisition Plan by its former title, was finally issued. The plan outlines the strategies for the acquisition of lands and properties within the park. We began work on the plan, as some of you may recall, in 1980. We had a number of public meetings in 1981, as well, and then the Administration in Washington changed and we got caught by Secretary Watts' moratorium on land acquisition in the Department of Interior. That resulted in a wholesale change of emphasis and direction in the acquisition of lands by the Government. Our planning got caught in that.

Finally, new guidelines were issued. The plan was taken and revised according to the new guidelines. They do not change the essence of the plan in terms of what we acquire and how we acquire it, because I think we were ahead of the game. What has come out in the way of new guidelines is pretty much in line with what we had decided that we had to do at this park and that is to have a combination of acquisition interests representing the minimum needed. That included Cooperative Agreements where we leave the property in the owners' hands and just simply manage it for park purposes. Scenic easements, where we leave the property in the owners' hands, but we have acquired and bought a development right which freezes the use of that land which we feel is comparable with what we are looking for, but nevertheless allows the owner to continue to use it in that manner. He may sell it, he may pass it down, whatever the case might be.

Last, but not least it includes a fair amount of fee acquisition where we have felt and decided that we needed total control of some of the lands within the park for either development of necessary visitor facilities or simply to protect and interpret to the visitor.

To date, we have received $1.3 million to acquire land, and as of this month we will have spent all of that. We feel that we will need about $2 million more to complete the process. As far as the House of Representatives is concerned, we are not getting any money in Fiscal '84. I am not sure what the Senate has done, but we were hoping that the Senate might give us something. If they do not, then we are stuck until Fiscal '85. All and all we will bring the project in at a little over $3 million, which is a big change from the $10 million which was authorized in the legislation and which was thought to be the price of the land at that time. We are saving quite a bit of money.

Our Interpretive Prospectus, which is a planning document to guide the Interpretive and Visitor Information Program, has also been approved as of last February and we are working on implementing that.

The Historic Structures Report is also nearing completion. Marlys Thurber and her staff have spent over two years in its preparation and some of you here have provided information that will be part of that document. The Structures Report promises to be one of the more important documents that we will produce. It will document the structural history of the Mission structures. It has not been an easy task and Marlys and Santiago will attest to that. New information has had to be acquired, new conclusions have had to be reached. Some will be different and others will suggest additional research.

Later on in the program Santiago will share with you some of the work that he has done as part of that project.

This summer the Historic American Buildings Survey people selected our Missions as one of their, I believe, two or three projects in the whole National Park System. The HABS, as it is called, was a Depression-era work project designed to document the architectural history of the historic buildings in the country. They were in San Antonio in the 1930's and documented the Missions as they were at the time. This year they have agreed to update those drawings and to do a more complete job of documentation.

What they will produce will be another piece of information that we will then use. Before they leave, I am told that they will do an exhibit that we will then open to the public. I have seen some of the preliminary work that has already been done and it is excellent.

The HABS team is comprised of two recent college graduates and one college professor. With the cooperation of Father Balty, they are living and are working at the old convent at Mission Espada. They will be here until the end of the month and they will close it up at that point.

We have received half a million dollars out of the Jobs Bill to correct health and safety problems at all of the Missions and we will begin work on that sometime after October.

The City of San Antonio continues to be a good partner in our venture. Late in June, City Council approved the realignment of Mission Road by Concepción as part of the 9th year funding of the Community Development Block Program at a cost of $588,000. They will realign that section of Mission Road to the west and allow us to reconstitute the compound of the Mission.

In all of these accomplishments and in the ongoing work, we see the need for additional information. Gil, in his work in putting together a library, in terms of trying to get research done, has provided us with quite a bit of information that we did not have before. As these matters go, and you all know better than I, the more you know the more you need to know because that new knowledge raises new questions.

We have gaps in our research that we have yet to plug. We had a team of two people in Spain this summer, Dr. Joseph Sanchez from Santa Fe and Chuck Cutter from Albuquerque. They spent two whole months doing research on Missions and other Colonial Spanish forts. They brought back a wealth of information, but they were unable to bring back everything they were looking for. The elusive architectural plans of the Missions are still to be found.

Joe Sanchez says that in the basements of some of the libraries and depositories there are stacks and bundles of materials that have yet to be sorted out since they were placed there some 200 years ago. He feels that there is a lot of information yet that we will be getting as time goes by.

To make a long story short, this gets back to the objectives of this conference and what you can do for us and what we can do for you in terms of identifying the kinds of information that we feel we need and in terms of you cooperating in some manner in your own way in trying to provide that information to us. The community will be the beneficiary of all this new information. We have already learned a lot in the short time that we have been here but we know that there is lot more to learn. As we have these conferences, I think that we will get that done.

Without further adieu, Gil, I will turn it over to you and see what people have to share with us.

José A. Cisneros, Superintendent
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Photo courtesy of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

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Last Updated: 24-Apr-2011