On a balmy July evening in Plattsburgh, NY, City Historian John Krueger begins the story of Lake Champlain during the four tumultuous decades following 1775. Looking out over the reservoir, Krueger paints an image quite different from the placid waters: this was once the scene of half a dozen critical battles of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 between the British and Continental armies.
Listening intently are several National Park Service (NPS) managers and program leads, state organizations from New York and Vermont, and members of the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership (CVNHP), its Heritage Area Program Advisory Committee (HAPAC), and a handful of local recreation and conservation groups. The CVNHP assembled these partners for a workshop in early July to discuss strategies for improving collaboration between their organizations. “One NPS” aimed to identify overlapping priorities and opportunities to better protect the many cultural, historical and natural resources of the interconnected waterways of Lake Champlain and its eleven surrounding counties.
Having stood witness to countless fundamental moments in history, the lake’s historical importance to the establishment of the young American and Canadian nations, to the Iroquois and Algonquin peoples for whom it is an ancestral home, as well as to centuries of traders, merchants and explorers, earned the region a National Heritage Area (NHA) designation in 2006. Emphasizing the term “Partnership” rather than “Area”, the CVNHP connects scores of historic sites, museums, and natural areas dedicated to preserving their piece of the regional heritage.
Gathered in a room at the Plattsburgh Elk Lodge, representatives from these partners re-examined their relationships, considered how communication could be improved, and identified potential partnerships.
“This is the first workshop where we’ve applied the concept of One NPS to a heritage area,” said Christina Marts, NPS Liaison to the CVNHP and Deputy Superintendent of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park (NHP) located nearby in Woodstock, Vermont. “We’re learning a lot and hoping to share with other heritage areas and national parks that working with a broad range of communities can provide great benefits to conserving resources.”
The idea for the One NPS workshop began in response to the Urban Agenda, a NPS initiative that identified ten cities across the country where Urban “Fellows” were tasked with connecting NPS units and programs across urban landscapes.
As a result, the NPS Stewardship Institute created a series of One NPS workshops, bringing together representatives from NPS community assistance programs, national park units and community organizations that work towards protecting historic, cultural and natural resources within a common geography. The goal was to connect like-minded people and groups so that they could begin to work better, and smarter, together.
Representing a population of roughly 500,000 nestled between the Adirondack and Green Mountains, the CVNHP is hardly an “urban landscape” in the traditional sense. Yet, with a layered network of diverse partners, it has a particularly well-suited foundation on which to build this model. The CVNHP houses NPS sites such as Saratoga NHP and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP, as well as other notable destinations like the Green Mountain National Forest, Fort Ticonderoga, and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The NHA also has close ties to natural resource preservation groups thanks to its managing organization, the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
A look around the table where participants have gathered reflects the workshop’s interdisciplinary roots. The Superintendent of Saratoga NHP, Amy Bracewell, sits across from Dan Bolognani, Director of the Upper Housatonic National Heritage Corridor. On the other end of the table is Rita Hennessy, Program Lead of the National Trail System representing the North Country Trail development, catty corner to the Director of the Hudson River Valley NHA, Scott Keller, and Project Director of Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance in New York State, Karl Beard. Each of the 20 attendees brings a unique perspective and array of ideas.
At the end of the workshop, the group has filled a poster-size map with current and future regional projects that demonstrate One NPS, each drawing new connections to the resources of different programs and partners. The two other NHA Directors in attendance have made commitments to collaborate on a trail project with the Champlain Valley NHP where resources and jurisdictions overlap.
“There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel every time,” says CVNHP Assistant Director Jim Brangan during a workshop activity. “It is crucial that we share with and learn from one another.”
Last updated: August 18, 2017