Highlands Center Public Art

Highlands Center Herring Run Mural
Herring Run mural created by volunteers at Highlands Fest 2010

NPS photo

The Highlands Center site is currently closed to the public. Check back for updates on specific public events in the summer of 2023.

Partners and Volunteers Engage in Collective Artistic Action

Highlands Center at Cape Cod National Seashore is a special place in the park for artistic expression. New public art works complement the cultural programming occurring onsite by Payomet Performing Arts Center and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill.

Fostering engagement in the site, Highlands Center partners have contributed creative expressions by painting colorful, evocative murals. From their conception by AmeriCorps Cape Cod members - to their completion by adults and children at annual public festivals - the celebratory murals showcase natural resource management and volunteerism through art.

PolliNation celebration mural

NPS Photo


Pollinator Celebration Mural

Highlands Fest 2017 centered around the theme, “Bee Dynamic,” which was inspired by a growing need to learn about and be proactive towards saving pollinator species. All pollinators are important and essential to Cape Cod, and community members and partners gathered to encourage a few simple actions to help ensure their survival, such as planting native seeds to attract pollinators.

The "Pollination" mural, painted that day, features several pollinator species such as; moths, bats, mice, bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. The inclusion of a variety of pollinators and pollinating flowers was purposefully done to stress the importance of all pollinator species in our Cape Cod environment.

The mural was designed by AmeriCorps Cape Cod member Victoria Babcock; this art compliments the nearby wayside exhibit and pollinator gardens that have been established with native plants; bees and monarch caterpillars are found amongst bee balm, butterfly weed, and milkweed.


NPS Photo

Spreading Wings - Migration Pathways Mural

The 2016 “Spreading Wings” theme was inspired by the Highlands Center’s location atop dramatic sea cliffs and vital stop for birds traveling the Atlantic Flyway. Millions of birds rely on the majestic slice of Outer Cape Cod to breed, feed, and thrive, as they migrate over the salt marshes, windblown dunes, and plains.

“Spreading Wings” also captures the symbolism of the Highlands Center partners’ opportunity to take flight and flourish, and the mutual interest to inspire and educate people of all ages, abilities, and ethnicities about the important role birds play in our ecosystem.

The mural is a backdrop of the United States with the National Park Service arrowhead displayed in the middle of the painting. This symbolizes the NPS’s presence in the United States and the important role they play in protecting our environment and wildlife. The right side of the mural contains imagines of five different birds and their migration pattern – note that all of the birds displayed migrate through Cape Cod and rely on the Outer Cape for either breeding, nesting, resting, or feeding grounds


NPS Photo

Taking Root

The Highlands Center celebrates our interconnectedness with the local community by combining science, nature, art, and education. The partners of the Highlands Center have been improving this former air force station site since its transfer to the Cape Cod National Seashore in 1994. High-lands Fest 2014 followed the theme of Taking Root - focusing on the connec-tions between community, partnerships, and environment. This included the commemoration of Norm Edinberg for his work dating back to the roots of the Highlands Center.

A mural incorporating this theme with depictions of a growing tree, light-house, and the Cape ecology was designed by AmeriCorps Cape Cod mem-ber Richard Alex Smith, with assistance by Allyson Stein. The inclusion of people in the tree trunk derives from a sketch by Joyce Johnson, a founding board member of Highlands Center, Inc. and the founder of Castle Hill Arts Center.


NPS Photo

Earth's Energy Cycle

For one year, 2012-2013, the Cape Cod National Seashore hosted the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Mo-bile Climate Research Facility at the Highlands Center. The goal was to study aerosols—tiny particles in the air such as dust, soot and sea salt—to improve understanding of how aerosols affect Earth’s climate.

A component of the research is investigating how aerosols affect Earth’s radiation budget, or the cycle of energy between the sun and Earth.

To commemorate the presence of the ARM facility, Highlands Fest 2013 included the painting of a mural depicting earth’s energy cycle, designed by AmeriCorps Cape Cod member Kristen Grace.

The yellow arrows represent short-wave radiation coming from the sun that is absorbed or reflected by clouds, the atmosphere and the earth’s surface, and the red arrows represent long-wave radiation that is emitted by the surface, the atmosphere and clouds.


NPS Photo

Herring Revival

Herring return to Cape Cod each year from the ocean making them one of a few species of anadromous fish in our region. Anadromous fish hatch in freshwater streams and ponds, spend most of their lives in the ocean, and migrate back to freshwater where they were hatched to spawn. Although there are numerous varieties of herring, the two types of herring common to Cape Cod are alewife and blueback.

In their life cycle, herring travel through salt marshes, which are tidally influenced, and through uplands, which are above average sea level. Human development and activities negatively affect salt marshes, restricting tidal flow and introducing non-native species. Restoring tide flow to salt marshes will allow the herring to migrate more easily and moderate the presence of non-native species.

The number of herring returning to Cape Cod each year has dramatically decreased in the past two decades. Possible explanations for their decline include over-fishing and diminishing access to waterways. Currently, the state of Massachusetts prohibits the taking of herring, and numerous Cape Cod towns and conservation groups are working toward restoring herring runs. For example, there is an effort to restore the Herring River in Wellfleet to its natural state before it was diked over 100 years ago in a misguided effort to control the mosquito population. This restoration effort would rejuvenate the salt marsh creating critical habitat, not only for herring, but for hundreds of other organisms as well.

In addition to being a historically important fisheries species, herring are part of the food web for numerous other species, including striped bass, bluefish, whales, ospreys, and the endangered Roseate tern.

Herring runs remain a critical but largely underappreciated habitat of Cape Cod, despite local efforts. In order to raise awareness and recognition of herring runs, AmeriCorps Cape Cod members, in partnership with the National Seashore, have chosen to paint a mural of a herring run as they travel through the salt marsh to the freshwater ponds and streams of coastal uplands.

Coastal Change Mural

NPS Photo

Coastal Change Mural

The four murals titled, Metamorphose: The Changing Form of Cape Cod, are meant to express how dramatically the shape of Cape Cod has evolved in the past 10,000 years. The general shape of the Cape was first formed with the retreat of the Lauren-tide ice sheet, which once covered much of Northern America beginning 95,000 years ago.

As shown in Mural 1, 10,000 years before present (BP), Cape Cod was just beginning to take the shape it is today. Since then, the Cape has metamorphosed, or changed form, by the power of the Atlantic Ocean.

The battering of wind and waves against the coastline of Cape Cod constantly removes and redeposits sand along the shoreline, so even while certain areas are eroding, other areas are growing, such as the hook at Provincetown. Mural 2 depicts that by 6,000 BP Georges Bank submerged under water due to sea level rise. The outer shoreline of Cape Cod was left increasingly vulnerable to strong ocean waves which had once been weakened by Georges Bank.

Each mural depicts a different time in history, and the lines represent coastal change. The changing shoreline has directly affected how humans and the environment developed on Cape Cod. These murals were painted so that visitors could understand the history, breadth, and beauty of the dramatic cliffs on which they stand.


NPS Photo

Making Waves

As a cornerstone throughout the history of the Seashore, Volunteers-in-Parks were the hon-orees of the day on July 9, 2011 at Highlands Fest. Themed Making Waves, the National Sea-shore's 50th Anniversary celebration of volunteers commemorated commitment to service and how this makes positive waves throughout the park. The Highlands Center Partners and Cape Cod National Sea-shore honored several parties for their extensive volunteer service to advance science (Dr. Graham Giese ), the arts (Joyce Johnson), education (17 Interpretation and Cultural Resource volunteers who have served for over 15 years) and the community (Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore) during an awards ceremony.

“In 2010 alone, volunteers served over 22,000 hours at Cape Cod National Seashore. The monetary value of this service is almost half of a million dollars, but the contributions of these volunteers are invaluable to us and we are excited to be recognizing them,” said Superintendent George Price.

A true celebration of volunteerism, the day focused around a fun and engaging service project: painting a mural. Highlands Center partners and volunteers painted together, creating a color-ful, celebratory mural designed by Barnstable County’s AmeriCorps Cape Cod member Vadim Zhernokleyev. This mural will leave a visible and lasting mark on the Highlands Center, just as volunteers have left their mark on the seashore.

[From left to right] Recycling and carbon footprints, ocean currents temperature, sun and rain, thermal imagery of global warming, and cloud and aerosol coverage.
[From left to right] Recycling and carbon footprints, ocean currents temperature, sun and rain, thermal imagery of global warming, and cloud and aerosol coverage.

NPS Photo


Five globe sculptures surround the flag pole located behind the ARC Classroom, creating a thoughtful gathering area at the Highlands Center. The sculptures were created from yoga balls, cement, and chicken wire in 2012 by Joyce Johnson of Truro, MA and AmeriCorps member Alexandra Heyn.

Inspiration for the globe sculptures came from the installation of a oneyear (2012-2013) deployment of the Department of Energy's Atmospheric Radiation Monitoring System (ARM). The project studies aerosols, weather, and other impacts on our environment. The globes, in celebration of the ARM climate research facility, are a perfect example of how arts and sciences can naturally compliment each other, a balance and mission which the Highlands Center aims to foster.

Highlands Fest 2012 focused on volunteers painting the five sculptures each with a climate-awareness theme, including: sun and rain, recycling and carbon footprints, cloud and aerosol coverage, thermal imagery of global warming, and ocean currents temperature. The globes are a bright, insightful addition to the quad and will be available to be enjoyed by visitors for years to come!

Last updated: February 1, 2023

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

99 Marconi Site Road
Wellfleet, MA 02667


To contact NPS Law Enforcement or report an incident, please call the 24-hour dispatch: 617-242-5659. In the event of an emergency, call 911.

Contact Us