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(photo) The former parade ground at Fort Union National Monument, New Mexico.

It is a problem long in the making. Throughout the century, the Park Service has had to repair ruins under the brunt of erosion and visitation. The craftsmen were usually local people who traced their ancestry to the sites; the supervisors a cadre of archeologists expert in indigenous architecture. The primary repair material was mortar made from Portland cement. Despite the skill of the work, by the 1970s it was clear that the cement was hastening, not halting, the destruction.

After a flurry of experiments with new materials, the problem was forced to the back burner by inflation, the disbanding of the repair unit, and the retirements of key personnel. For over a decade, the situation languished-with visitation and nature continuing to take their toll-only to resurface with a vengeance in the early 1990s.

A handful of park managers began to compare notes about the deteriorating sites in their care; the result was a grassroots program called "Vanishing Treasures." The program is tackling the problem on three fronts: first, by documenting the

vanishing treasures

rate of deterioration; second, by repairing structures in imminent danger (while fostering new techniques and materials); and third, by training a new generation of craftsmen before the older ones have retired.

Each of these initiatives has been infused with a wealth of ideas, thanks to the involvement of a wider range of professionals. Each has had success and failure. The failures, by and large, are tainted by a recurring theme: lack of funds.

Glenn Fulfer, superintendent of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, says the Vanishing Treasures program is "a last defense against the loss of these tangible symbols of America's heritage." As the destruction continues apace, hopefully it's not too little, too late.

Portrait of a Crisis
Parks in Danger
The Long Range Plan



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