Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park is preserved through cultural resource management. (NPS)
Cultural resources constitute a unique medium through which all people, regardless of background, can see themselves and the rest of the world from a different point of view. Access to cultural resources means that people can learn not only about their own immediate ancestors but about other traditions as well. Such an exchange offers every American a place of importance in the history of our country as well as an opportunity to meet others and be met in a spirit of mutual tolerance, appreciation, and respect.
A primary responsibility of the National Park Service is to identify, protect, and share the cultural resources under its jurisdiction. The work inherent in this endeavor is varied and challenging. First, there must be systematic, open-minded study by historians and scientists to locate resources and to discover or substantiate their significance. Second, considerable thought must be given to the problem of simultaneously protecting park resources and making them available to the public. Third, appropriate treatment programs and protective measures must be put into effect (NPS 1997).
Cultural resource management involves:
- research (systematic study) to identify, evaluate, document, register, and establish the significance condition, and history of cultural resources
- planning (decision making) to ensure that this information is well integrated into management processes for making decisions and setting priorities; and
- stewardship (taking action) under which planning decisions are carried out and resources are preserved, protected, and interpreted to the public (NPS 1997).
Research for identification, evaluation, documentation, and full understanding and interpretation of cultural resources is essential to informed decision-making for park planning and operations, including maintenance and visitor services. Park managers can use the NPS Archeological Sites Information Management System (ASMIS) database to record and access key cultural resource information.
Archeologists excavate at the Lemon House in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site. (NPS)
Among other things, effective cultural resource management serves to:
- integrate cultural resource concerns into other park planning and management processes
- avoid or minimize adverse effects on cultural resources
- provide information for interpretation and public understanding, and
- identify the most appropriate uses for cultural resources and determine their ultimate treatment (preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, etc.), through processes that include involvement by groups with traditional cultural or religious ties to park resources.
In reaching decisions about resource treatment, preservation should always receive first consideration. Decisions about cultural resources should be based on awareness of long-range preservation goals and the interests and concerns of traditionally associated groups. From the planning document, specific actions are implemented to insure the long-term preservation of the resource.