First Annual National Park Service Historic Preservation Conference
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United States Department of the Interior



To: Director

From: Assistant Director, Park Historic Preservation

Subject: Historic preservation meeting

The first of what participants hoped would be annual meetings of historic preservation specialists occurred in Boston on April 21-23. More than seventy people participated. Included, in addition to historians, architects, archeologists, and other specialists, were representatives of management on all levels. This participation helped bring about much more meaningful discussion than would have been possible had we simply been talking to ourselves. All participants were especially grateful for the contributions of Russ Dickenson and Dave Thompson.

A dozen or more major topics were addressed. Not surprisingly, there was considerable disagreement on many issues, sometimes warmly expressed. Throughout, however, ran several major strands of consensus which the group approved and asked to be communicated to you and hopefully to the regional directors at an early meeting.

First is the matter of the commitment of the National Park Service to its historic preservation mission. However erroneous may be the opinion, it is undeniable that a substantial part of the Service's historic preservation community doubts the depth and sincerity of our agency's commitment to historic preservation---an opinion, incidentally, not held alone by historic preservation specialists but by others in the Service as well. Recent statements and actions by you and the top Washington staff and by the regional directors have been immensely reassuring. Even so, such institutional biases are not easily or quickly overcome. The conference participants strongly urged that top management seize every opportunity to emphasize the Service's statutory mandates in historic preservation both to the public and, even more importantly, to the Service itself.

The greatest concern was voiced for the immediate danger to the historic fabric entrusted to the care of the National Park Service--buildings, structures of all kinds, historic and prehistoric ruins, and historic objects. The full dimensions of the need will not be known until the List of Classified Structures is completed. Enough is known to reveal that we are confronted by an emergency of Systemwide proportions. Remedies are short-term and long-term. In both the focus is on the parks and the regional offices.

The immediate, short-term need is for interdisciplinary teams of preservation specialists based in the regional offices to render immediate, emergency service to parks with endangered historic fabric. Every region contains enough emergency needs of this character to occupy such teams for the short-term future. Their purpose is not to engage in lengthy studies or complicated bureaucratic procedures, but simply, through application of specialized skills, to keep the fabric from disintegrating.

A bridge between the short-term and long-term need is the List of Classified Structures. It will give us the budgetary and programatic data needed to sustain a major emphasis in historic preservation. The group warmly welcomed your conclusion that the List of Classified Structures should be completed next year if at all possible.

Long-term needs are more complicated and less susceptible to specific solutions. A basic need, however, is to build on the emergency cadres described above to create a permanent regional professional services capability to bring all historic fabric up to standard--i.e. to maintenance condition--and to develop a park capability to meet cyclical maintenance needs. The first function requires preservation specialists in various disciplines. The second requires formal and on-the-job training programs aimed at providing park maintenance personnel with sensitivity to the special conditions and requirements of historic fabric, with the skills to perform tasks within their competence, and with the discrimination to recognize when the help of regional specialists must be sought.

Other problems that will have to be resolved over the long term were discussed and debated without developing clear solutions. Among them may be mentioned the following:

Personnel identifying themselves as "managers" and "professionals" must find ways of developing greater harmony of interest, a greater sense of common purpose, and a greater spirit of cooperation.

There is confusion at all levels over the respective roles and functions of the Washington and regional offices, Denver Service Center, and the parks. Similar confusion exists over roles and functions within offices, especially Professional Services and Park System Management at the regional level. There was a strong feeling that roles and functions must be more clearly communicated and perhaps in some instances redefined.

A feeling was also expressed that some of our current activity standards may not be realistic in their demands or responsive to the need. Some even felt that activity standards were not the best approach to accomplishing our mission. Even so, we think it would be misdirected effort to try at this point to revise the standards. They are sufficient to establish in general the direction we should be going. The need instead is to connect trained, informed specialists with the deteriorating fabric and let them do their thing.

A great deal of discussion focused on the Denver Service Center. Opinion was badly divided on whether the regions or a service center should perform the functions now assigned to DSC. Thus this discussion reflected the broader debates now occurring within the Service. There was consensus however, that the preservation team in DSC has been hampered by a management climate incongenial to historic preservation interests and by a continuing failure to involve the historic preservation function fully and meaningfully in the other DSC functions. There was also recognition that contract administration and contract supervision as currently conducted by DSC are not adequate to the needs of historic preservation.

Throughout our discussion of Historic Structure Reports, Historic Resource Management Plans, compliance documents, and master planning ran a recurring theme that our decision-making system is loose, badly defined, and inadequate to the needs of NEPA and 106 compliance. There seems to be a no well-understood document in which one may find a record that describes and justifies a decision. A parallel theme was that, inadequate through documentation may be for some planning needs, for others we are producing excessive documentation. This is wasteful in dollars, manpower, and time. However these long-range concerns may ultimately be resolved, there was a conviction that the emergency needs of the moment dictate that we act with the minimum possible documentation trusting that qualified specialists will do the right thing and that the ideal documentation can be developed later, perhaps in the form of completion reports. It was emphasized repeatedly however, that the validity and desirability of the long-term ideal not be clouded by the short cuts decreed by the present emergency.

Another basic need is to recruit and train preservation specialists and to keep them once we have them. In recruiting such people, we are inhibited by governmentwide personnel regulations that must be tortured to accommodate our particular requirements. Even so, it was felt that the existing system can be made to meet our needs if there is a will to do so.

To keep people once we have them, we must provide continuity of employment. This in turn depends upon placing them in permanent, full-time positions and upon modifying or wholly breaking away from a system that ties them to individually funded projects rather than a continuing need. This observation applies not alone to DSC but to all offices with preservation responsibilities.

Finally, it is to be emphasized that the vast collections of historic objects in the custody of the National Park Service are man-made historic fabric in the same sense as structures, ruins, and buildings. Objects are seriously endangered now as are structures. Many of the same techniques and skills needed for structure preservation are common to object preservation. Long-range measures to meet our preservation responsibilities should apply to all man-made fabric, whether fixed or portable, and should reflect the similarities in inherent character as well as in specialized technical preservation methods.

A complete report of the proceedings of this conference will be prepared and distributed. The group, however, wanted the above thoughts transmitted to you at once for such use as you care to make of them at the forthcoming regional director's meeting. This memorandum was prepared, revised, and adopted by the group on the third day of the conference.

Robert M. Utley

Regional Directors and Manager, DSC

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Last Updated: 14-Jul-2009