Significance and Integrity: Cultural Landscapes and the National Register

Tools for Landscape Preservation

The National Register of Historic Places helps preserve historic resources, including buildings, structures, landscapes, objects, sites, and districts. When the National Register of Historic Places was originally authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, it was designed to record the nation’s historic places and establish a program to coordinate public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect them. To be listed on the National Register, a property must meet certain criteria that establish its significance. For this reason, the National Register primarily recognizes physical properties and locations and does not list intangible values, except when they are associated or reflected in the historic properties.

At its inception, the documentation primarily focused on buildings. As preservation practices evolved, preservation professionals began to identify how large or small landscape elements can also convey historic significance and embody the stories of people in places. Recognizing the importance of these places in communicating our nation’s history, the National Park Service has been documenting and preserving cultural landscapes since the 1980s. The National Register is a part of that process and helps define what makes a place historic and significant.

A row of five matching three-story buildings are evenly spaced along the edge of an open expanse of grass.
Fort Hancock Post Grounds is a cultural landscape at Gateway National Recreation Area.



Grass and shrubs grow along the banks of a small stream flowing through wetlands, with a barn and mountains in the distance.
At Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Montana, the spatial relationships of buildings and structures, roads, fields, fences, and natural systems reflect the functions of the ranching operations in the cultural landscape.

NPS / M. Surber

A property must meet at least one of the National Register Criteria for Evaluation to qualify for listing. These criteria demonstrate that the place is associated with an important historic context and certify that it retains integrity.

  • Integrity is the ability of a property to convey its significance, grounded in an understanding of its physical features and how they relate to its historic context.

  • Historic contexts are the broad patterns or trends in history that help us understand an event, property, or site and its importance within a time period.

  • This evaluation also helps determine the period of significance, which is typically identified in National Register documentation as a defined and specific period of time that relates to a historic moment, theme, or person. The period of significance is also based on the integrity of the landscape's surviving physical features. A property may have multiple periods of significance in order to more fully express its significance or association with multiple areas of significance.


Cultural landscape researchers, preservationists, and stewards of the National Park Service document the history of cultural landscapes in order to provide a deeper understanding of a landscape’s significance. The National Register evaluation of historic significance plays a central role in cultural landscape documentation and treatment recommendations by helping to define important historical associations, primary interpretation themes, and preservation objectives.

Two NPS staff on scaffolding to work on the second floor exterior of a wooden structure.
NPS preservation team works on the structure of the Kitchen House, a historic structure in the Kingsley Plantation cultural landscape at Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve in Florida.


Still, a site's period of significance and its documentation in the National Register do not tell a comprehensive story of a landscape or the people who have interacted with it. Periods of significance can be revised, based on additional research and data and determined through the consensus of subject matter experts. Oral histories, perspectives from descendent communities, ethnographic studies, and new technologies can help expand our understanding of landscape significance.


Understanding a landscape's history is an essential aspect of its care. Historic significance and integrity are factors when devising appropriate preservation and management plans, as well as in creating engaging interpretive materials that allow the public to connect with a site's historical significance.

The articles and resources on the Cultural Landscapes website summarize the NPS responsibility to protect the cultural landscapes associated with significant events, places, people, and patterns that define the nation’s history. They are also an invitation to explore. There is always more to the story.

Low level view of a field blooming camas flowers, purple-blue flowers on a main stem and broad leaves.
Weippe Prairie has long been a traditional gathering place for the Nez Perce, a location to both dig for camas bulbs and socialize. Camas flowers usually bloom between May and June in wetland prairie ecosystems from Idaho to Montana, such as the cultural landscape in what is now Nez Perce National Historical Park.


Landscape Examples

These examples help to demonstrate just some of the relationships between National Register significance and cultural landscape preservation.

Together, National Register and cultural landscape documentation provide a set of tools and frameworks for evaluating significance and integrity that considers research, data, and context, all with the understanding that these can change over time. As with any tool, this effectiveness of this documentation is based on available information and the ways that it is applied.

Loading results...

    Last updated: December 19, 2023