Table of Contents
IntroductionEvery unit of the national park system will have a foundational document to provide basic guidance for planning and management decisions—a foundation for planning and management. The core components of a foundation document include a brief description of the park as well as the park’s purpose, significance, fundamental resources and values, and interpretive themes. The foundation document also includes special mandates and administrative commitments, an assessment of planning and data needs that identifies planning issues, planning products to be developed, and the associated studies and data required for park planning. Along with the core components, the assessment provides a focus for park planning activities and establishes a baseline from which planning documents are developed.
A primary benefit of developing a foundation document is the opportunity to integrate and coordinate all kinds and levels of planning from a single, shared understanding of what is most important about the park. The process of developing a foundation document begins with gathering and integrating information about the park. Next, this information is refined and focused to determine what the most important attributes of the park are. The process of preparing a foundation document aids park managers, staff, and the public in identifying and clearly stating in one document the essential information that is necessary for park management to consider when determining future planning efforts, outlining key planning issues, and protecting resources and values that are integral to park purpose and identity.
While not included in this document, a park atlas is also part of a foundation project. The atlas is a series of maps compiled from available geographic information system (GIS) data on natural and cultural resources, visitor use patterns, facilities, and other topics. It serves as a GIS-based support tool for planning and park operations. The atlas is published as a (hard copy) paper product and as geospatial data for use in a web mapping environment. The park atlas for Joshua Tree National Park can be accessed online at: http://insideparkatlas.nps.gov/.
Part 1: Core ComponentsThe core components of a foundation document include a brief description of the park, park purpose, significance statements, fundamental resources and values, and interpretive themes. These components are core because they typically do not change over time. Core components are expected to be used in future planning and management efforts.
Brief Description of the ParkJoshua Tree National Park lies along the east-west transverse ranges of the Little San Bernardino Mountains in southern California. The southern boundary of the park follows the base of these mountains along the northern edge of the Coachella Valley; the northern boundary is defined by the Morongo Basin. Ecologically, Joshua Tree National Park lies at the convergence of two deserts—two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The special habitat of the Joshua tree is found in the higher, more moist, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. The park includes five fan palm oases, which are the few areas where surface water occurs naturally.
The park lands include a rich and diverse cultural history. Human occupation dates to the early Holocene period, with what is known as Pinto culture; human occupation continues throughout the historical era with tribes known today as Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Mojave, and Serrano. In the last quarter of the 19th century, European American surveyors, cattlemen, miners, and homesteaders began to arrive and, alongside native peoples, created a set of enduring social and cultural legacies for these lands.
On August 10, 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established Joshua Tree National Monument as a unit of the national park system through a Presidential Proclamation. After two boundary changes in 1950 and 1961, Congress designated 429,690 acres of the monument as wilderness and 37,550 acres as potential wilderness in 1976. Then, in 1984, the monument was designated as part of a biosphere reserve system that included Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Monuments, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Santa Rosa Mountains Wildlife Management Area, and Deep Canyon Research Center. In 1994, the California Desert Protection Act added 234,000 acres (including 163,000 acres of new wilderness) to the park, and redesignated the area as Joshua Tree National Park.
The park boundary currently contains 772,676 acres in federal ownership and 19,834 acres of nonfederal lands. Of these lands, 595,370 acres are designated as wilderness and 70,557 acres of potential wilderness. The park lies within both San Bernardino and Riverside counties approximately 100 miles from the Los Angeles metropolitan area—more than 18 million people live within a three-hour drive of the park. The natural desert expanse of the park provides ideal conditions for campers, photographers, star gazers, naturalists, as well as anyone seeking space for quiet introspection, exploration, or outdoor learning. In addition, the extensive granite rock outcrops, boulder piles, desert mountain ranges, and canyons create a world-class destination for rock climbers, as well as hundreds of miles of scenic trails for hikers and equestrians.
Given its location along a transition line between two desert ecosystems, the park is home to a fascinating diversity of desert plants and animals. More than 900 species of flowering plants have been identified, with the most distinctive being the ocotillo, the cholla, and the Joshua tree. The park also preserves more native palm oases than any other unit in the national park system. These oases support vegetation and wildlife distinct from other species found in the park. The park contains highly diverse fauna. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded at Joshua Tree National Park, as have many unique species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and invertebrates. Some examples include the desert tortoise, the California treefrog, the desert bighorn sheep, and a species of tarantula that is found only in the Joshua tree plant community.
Joshua Tree National Park protects numerous archeological sites associated with the Pinto Culture, one of the earliest prehistoric cultures found in the California desert (7,000–10,000 years old). The park preserves sites and materials associated with at least four overlapping ethnographic native cultures—the Cahuilla, Serrano, Chemehuevi, and Mojave Indians. Other historic sites preserve information on the history of the processing of gold ore, cattle ranching, rustling, and homesteading of the southwestern deserts.
Park PurposeThe purpose statement identifies the specific reason(s) for establishment of a particular park. The purpose statement for Joshua Tree National Park was drafted through a careful analysis of its enabling legislation and the legislative history that influenced its development. The park was established by Presidential Proclamation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 10, 1936 (see appendix A for subsequent amendments). The purpose statement lays the foundation for understanding what is most important about the park.
Joshua Tree National Park preserves and protects the scenic, natural, and cultural resources representative of the Colorado and Mojave deserts’ rich biological and geological diversity, cultural history, wilderness, recreational values, and outstanding opportunities for education and scientific study.
Significance statements express why a park’s resources and values are important enough to merit designation as a unit of the national park system. These statements are linked to the purpose of Joshua Tree National Park, and are supported by data, research, and consensus. Statements of significance describe the distinctive nature of the park and why an area is important within a global, national, regional, and systemwide context. They focus on the most important resources and values that will assist in park planning and management.
The following significance statements have been identified for Joshua Tree National Park. (Please note that the sequence of the statements does not reflect the level of significance.)
Fundamental Resources and Values
Fundamental resources and values (FRVs) are those features, systems, processes, experiences, stories, scenes, sounds, smells, or other attributes determined to warrant primary consideration during planning and management processes because they are essential to achieving the purpose of the park and maintaining its significance. Fundamental resources and values are closely related to a park’s legislative purpose and are more specific than significance statements.
Fundamental resources and values help focus planning and management efforts on what is truly significant about the park. One of the most important responsibilities of NPS managers is to ensure the conservation and public enjoyment of those qualities that are essential (fundamental) to achieving the purpose of the park and maintaining its significance. If fundamental resources and values are allowed to deteriorate, the park purpose and/or significance could be jeopardized.
The following fundamental resources and values have been identified for Joshua Tree
Interpretive themes are often described as the key stories or concepts that visitors should understand after visiting a park—they define the most important ideas or concepts communicated to visitors about a park unit. Themes are derived from, and should reflect, park purpose, significance, resources, and values. The set of interpretive themes is complete when it provides the structure necessary for park staff to develop opportunities for visitors to explore and relate to all park significance statements and fundamental resources and values.
Interpretive themes are an organizational tool that reveal and clarify meaning, concepts, contexts, and values represented by park resources. Sound themes are accurate and reflect current scholarship and science. They encourage exploration of the context in which events or natural processes occurred and the effects of those events and processes. Interpretive themes go beyond a mere description of the event or process to foster multiple opportunities to experience and consider the park and its resources. These themes help explain why a park story is relevant to people who may otherwise be unaware of connections they have to an event, time, or place associated with the park.
The following interpretive themes have been identified for Joshua Tree National Park:
Part 2: Dynamic ComponentsThe dynamic components of a foundation document include special mandates and administrative commitments and an assessment of planning and data needs. These components are dynamic because they will change over time. New special mandates can be established and new administrative commitments made. As conditions and trends of fundamental resources and values change over time, the analysis of planning and data needs will need to be revisited and revised, along with key issues. Therefore, this part of the foundation document will be updated accordingly. The special mandates and administrative commitments section was not included in this edition of the foundation. It will be included in a future edition.
Assessment of Planning and Data NeedsOnce the core components of part 1 of the foundation document have been identified, it is important to gather and evaluate existing information about the park’s fundamental resources and values and to develop a full assessment of the park’s planning and data needs. The assessment of planning and data needs section presents planning issues, the planning projects that will address these issues, and the associated information requirements for planning, such as resource inventories and data collection, including GIS data.
There are three sections in the assessment of planning and data needs:
Identification of Key Issues and Associate Planning and Data NeedsThis section considers key issues to be addressed in planning and management and therefore takes a broader view over the primary focus of part 1. A key issue focuses on a question that is important for a park. Key issues often raise questions regarding park purpose and significance and fundamental resources and values. For example, a key issue may pertain to the potential for a fundamental resource or value in a park to be detrimentally affected by discretionary management decisions. A key issue may also address crucial questions that are not directly related to purpose and significance, but which still affect them indirectly. Usually, a key issue is one that a future planning effort or data collection needs to address and requires a decision by NPS managers.
The following are key issues for Joshua Tree National Park and the associated planning and data needs to address them:
Habitat Connectivity. Plants and wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park rely on habitat and migration corridors that extend beyond park boundaries. The park links three desert ecosystems but also serves as a vital link for the mosaic of protected lands spread across the California Desert, including lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Defense, as well as other National Park Service lands. Fragmentation and loss of regional habitat connectivity could potentially isolate Joshua Tree’s plant and animal populations, reducing their numbers, increasing their susceptibility to environmental change, and exposing them to potential genetic deterioration. Connectivity between large protected areas is particularly vital for the long-term population viability of certain species, especially those with long-range movement such as bighorn sheep, mountain lion, and bobcat. Protection of habitat corridors becomes even more critical given the pressures exerted by the effects of climate change. Primary threats to habitat connectivity around Joshua Tree National Park include urbanization, military land use, and energy development.
Even within existing public lands certain areas important for habitat connectivity are compromised by transportation corridors, renewable energy development, and urbanization. Ecological interconnectivity, biodiversity, and natural community quality within Joshua Tree National Park is threatened by visitor use impacts, development within and adjacent to the park, and encroachment on park boundaries.
Opportunities exist to work with neighboring land managers to develop strategies for maintaining and enhancing habitat connectivity. Partnerships among neighboring land managers are needed to foster coordination of protection efforts.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: boundary protection plan, boundary study, park strategic plan, and carrying capacity study (visitor use study).
Wilderness Protection. Approximately 595,000 acres of designated wilderness (almost 80% of the park) make Joshua Tree one of the largest wilderness areas in southern California. Another 44,390 acres of parklands have been identified as potential wilderness areas. Given the large amount of wilderness area in the park, ample opportunities exist for visitors to enjoy the solitude and untrammeled landscape that are characteristic of a high quality wilderness experience. However, in areas radiating from popular wilderness access points, some wilderness values are diminished (e.g., certain recreational uses, social trail development, encounters with other visitors). Wilderness character values such as solitude are impacted from external threats. For example, large development projects impact views from wilderness while airplane overflight noise affects natural quiet. In some areas, illegal dumping occurs along the wilderness perimeters.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: boundary protection plan, boundary study,
park strategic plan, and carrying capacity study (visitor use study).
Changing Demographics and Visitor Use Trends. Joshua Tree National Park provides a wide variety of access and recreational opportunities; however, increasing visitation (1.4 million visitors in 2012) and changing recreational uses and demands often result in conflicts between recreational users and impacts on natural and cultural resources. Visitor use impacts include trampling, illegal collecting, wildlife disturbances, natural soundscape impacts, spread of invasive species, and damage to geologic features.
Visitation patterns have changed from primarily seasonal to year round. The demographics of surrounding communities are also evolving with population growth being the highest near the southern boundary of the park where visitor facilities, including trailheads, are minimal. The presence and understanding of the park and its mission to residents in outlying Coachella Valley towns and cities has been limited, yet there are considerable opportunities to engage new audiences in this area.
A variety of issues germane to the following uses affect visitor experience and resource
protection efforts at Joshua Tree National Park:
Development and Uses Adjacent to the Park (Boundary Encroachment). Regional urban development and encroachment of park boundaries for unpermitted uses, such as wildlife poaching, off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, and trespassing in general, impact park resources and surrounding viewsheds. Approximately 30% of the park boundary is affected by OHV encroachment, which has the greatest adverse impact on Joshua Tree’s fundamental resources and values. While scenic views within the park boundaries are generally exceptional, some views beyond have been impacted by communication facilities, solar farm and energy development, and urban development. For example, the Riverside East Solar Energy Zone on BLM-administered lands includes nearly 150,000 acres of land along the southeast boundary of the park. Approximately 80% of this land is proposed for solar renewable energy projects.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: boundary protection plan, boundary study, park strategic plan, and visitor use surveys.
Cultural Resources Protection, Data, and Management Guidance. Joshua Tree National Park contains numerous historic structures, historic and prehistoric archeological sites, prehistoric trail systems, rock art, ethnographic resources that maintain traditional meaning to American Indian communities for survival of their cultural identity, and historic resources of past and continuing importance to major themes in US history from mining and homesteading to art and music. However, evaluation and documentation for many cultural resources has not been completed, limiting the scope of decision-making about the protection of these resources. Cultural resources face impacts from both human and natural sources such as vandalism, trampling, collecting, erosion, fire, flooding, burrowing animals, rot, insects, and climate change. Historic structures are in need of intervention to ensure their long-term preservation. Sites and landscapes are affected by urban encroachment, and impacts associated with increasing visitation. Cultural resources are also threatened by increasing and uncontrolled advertisement of cultural sites on the internet and in publications.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: cultural resources condition assessment, Cottonwood comprehensive site plan, boundary protection plan, boundary study, park strategic plan, and carrying capacity study (visitor use study).
Aging Park Infrastructure. Facilities and infrastructure at Joshua Tree National Park are aging and are poorly located given current visitation and demographic trends. Long-term sustainability of facilities parkwide is a concern. Visitor facilities currently exist at Black Rock Campground, Joshua Tree Village (in partnership with the Joshua Tree National Park Association), in Twentynine Palms (Oasis Visitor Center), and at Cottonwood Springs. Facilities in these main visitor areas were constructed at different times in a variety of architectural styles. Thus, facilities within the park currently have no cohesive design aesthetic.
Access to the park from the south is by one road just 30 miles from the major population center of the Coachella Valley. Aside from the southern entry road and Cottonwood area, visitor access from the south is mainly restricted to four-wheel-drive canyons where visitors have little to no interaction with park staff. Parking areas and visitor facilities in Cottonwood are inadequately sized to meet peak demand, but little expansion is possible without impacts on the riparian area. Severe flooding in 2013 damaged many resources as well as facilities in the southern area of the park including roads, trails, campgrounds, and the Cottonwood Visitor Center.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: Cottonwood comprehensive site plan, park strategic plan, and long-range interpretive plan.
Water Resource Protection (including Oases). Joshua Tree National Park lies in a desert region of southern California with limited water resources. Freshwater sources occur at springs, wells, oases, and seeps. Springs flow from fractures and joints in the bedrock. The presence of water in a desert landscape allows life to flourish and attracts high levels of natural and human use. Water resources are primarily threatened by alterations to precipitation from climate change. The lack of accurate baseline data and understanding of local and regional surface water and groundwater limits the park’s ability to manage for surface and groundwater. Climate change and variability could have significant impacts on the protection of water resources.
Joshua Tree National Park contains five desert fan palm oases and more than 200 springs. Desert fan palm oases often occur along fault lines, where uplifted layers of hard impermeable rock forces underground water to the surface. A well-known destination for bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lion and many other species of wildlife, these verdant oases are the only year-round dependable water source in the park. The oases have great cultural resource significance due to their long history of human use. Some of the park’s oases are well-protected and unspoiled; others such as Cottonwood Spring and 49 Palms receive high visitor use and associated impacts. Oasis of Mara is probably affected by both natural and unnatural factors. Unnatural effects include a lowered groundwater table from adjacent water uses/drawdown and supplemental watering to sustain the oasis (by the National Park Service and adjacent landowners). Natural effects could include hydrogeologic changes associated with the shifting fault line that could block and/or reduce spring flows.
There are several artificial impoundments in the park, including Barker Dam, Cow Camp, and Keys Lake. The artificial impoundments are historic structures associated with early ranching activities.
Associated plans and/or data needs include: boundary study, Cottonwood comprehensive site plan, carrying capacity study (visitor use study), and park strategic plan.
Planning and Data NeedsTo maintain connection to the core elements of the foundation and the importance of these core foundation elements, the planning and data needs listed here are directly related to protecting fundamental resources and values, park significance, and park purpose, as well as addressing key issues. To successfully undertake a planning effort, information from sources such as inventories, studies, research activities, and analyses may be required to provide adequate knowledge of park resources and visitor information. Such information sources have been identified as data needs. Geospatial mapping tasks and products are included in data needs.
Items considered of the utmost importance were identified as high priority, and other items identified, but not rising to the level of high priority, were listed as either medium- or low-priority needs. These priorities inform park management efforts to secure funding and support for planning projects.
Criteria and Considerations for Prioritization.
The following criteria were used to evaluate the priority of each planning or data need:
High Priority Planning NeedsCottonwood Comprehensive Site Plan.
Rationale — In 2011 and 2013, substantial rainfall events and associated flash flooding significantly impacted the oasis and visitor facilities at Cottonwood Springs. As a result of the flooding, the National Park Service was forced to close the site to visitors for an extended period of time to restore and repair facilities for safe visitor access and to address resource impacts. The heavy floods exposed sensitive cultural resources making them vulnerable to theft and other impacts. Trails have been damaged and access to Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Lost Palms Oasis, and Mastodon Peak remain closed. Safety concerns include trail condition, archeological resource protection, and potential exposure to exposed mine tailings as a result of flooding. The existing Cottonwood campground is located within the floodplain and is threatened by future floods. The campground location is also impacting a sensitive archeological site.
The Cottonwood visitor center, a modular trailer placed on site in the mid-1990s as a temporary facility, serves as a visitor contact station for visitors who enter the park from the southern entrance. Although the facility was intended for temporary use, it continues to serve as the primary visitor contact point for the Cottonwood District. The appearance and location of the visitor center does not encourage visitors to stop at the facility. Many visitors drive past the visitor center resulting in lost fee revenue and visitor contact. Neither the modular trailer nor other supporting visitor facilities in the Cottonwood District are equipped to handle the increasing volume of visitors who access the park from the south. There are challenges in retrofitting existing visitor facilities to meet current Americans with Disabilities Act standards and site development constraints in terms of power and water.
Safety concerns at the Cottonwood District include lack of telephone service, limited cellular service, fire and ambulance response times, mill tailings at the spring trail, campground location in a floodplain, and Occupational Health and Safety Administration violations as a result of Hantavirus threats at the interpretive office and the maintenance compound.
Scope — Joshua Tree National Park has both immediate and long-term needs to address resource protection, facility, and visitor use issues at Cottonwood Springs. The comprehensive site plan would identify measures for the protection of cultural resources and the oasis, particularly with the ongoing threat of floods. The plan would also provide recommendations for the type, location, and scale of visitor and operational facilities including the visitor center, trails, campground, housing, and maintenance areas. It is anticipated that civic engagement would be part of this planning effort.
The comprehensive site plan would evaluate opportunities for rehabilitation, relocation, or replacement of existing facilities including the visitor center, parking, campground, trails, staff housing, office space, and maintenance facilities. Necessary infrastructure upgrades would be included. Development of an entrance station to move this function from the temporary trailer would be considered in the scope of the plan. Visitor access, including improved accessibility and overall circulation along the southern boundary of the park, would be evaluated as part of the plan.
Sequencing — Resource surveys would be necessary in the development of the comprehensive site plan. A hazmat evaluation has been completed. Archeologists have been on-site since the flood. Additional data required as part of the planning process include cultural resource surveys to better understand the resources and a floodplain study. Most of the existing operational facilities at Cottonwood Springs were constructed as part of the Mission 66 initiative. The park would complete a determination of eligibility for these structures, which includes the interpretive office, three houses, maintenance bays, and the campground.
Immediate planning needs include addressing safety concerns with the mine tailings, Hantavirus, and protection of the oasis and archeological resources. Campground location evaluation and consideration of an entrance station or replacement visitor contact facility could be done at a later phase.
Boundary Protection Plan.
Rationale — Routine illegal uses and access along the park boundary cause resource damage and pose security and safety risks. There are 240 miles of boundary at Joshua Tree National Park. Approximately 30% of the park’s boundary is affected by OHV encroachment. Other impacts include trash dumping, poaching of plants and animals, theft and destruction/vandalism of archeological and historic resources, and other resource damage. Traditional fencing and barriers have been ineffective in preventing encroachment and illegal uses that damage resources. Park operations are impacted by the high cost of continual barrier replacement and monitoring. Boulders are physically removed and there are broken fence lines along the park boundary. The majority of the boundary is wilderness and activities related to encroachment are in violation of the Wilderness Act. Security on the remote southern park boundary is especially lacking, resulting in high levels of encroachment. Strategies are needed to protect resources, enhance safety, and reduce operational expenses associated with resource damage, monitoring and enforcement, and destruction of barriers.
Illegal access into park canyons also impacts inholders and adjacent landowners. For example, landowners and park partners who own contiguous parcels of land have experienced difficulties meeting protection commitments and dealing with the effects of illegal access to their lands and park lands. Some agencies that own parcels adjacent to the park do not have the capacity to address encroachment issues. Opportunities exist to work with adjacent landowners to collaborate on providing access in appropriate areas and to coordinate efforts to address encroachment issues such as illegal dumping.
Scope — The boundary protection plan would include a range of strategies for protecting the park, including wilderness and resource values from boundary encroachment including:
Sequencing — Boundary surveys are needed at various locations. Compliance and consistency with the backcountry/wilderness management plan would be considered.
Rationale — Fragmentation and loss of regional habitat connectivity could adversely affect the viability of plant and animal species in Joshua Tree National Park. Protection of habitat corridors becomes even more critical given the pressures exerted by the effects of climate change. Primary threats to habitat connectivity around Joshua Tree National Park include urban development, military land use, and energy development. Some views within the park, including wilderness, have been impacted by communication facilities, solar farm and energy development, and urban development. A boundary study will help the park identify critical lands to better protect the park’s fundamental resources and values, including
Scope — By applying the boundary adjustment criteria identified in NPS Management Policies 2006 (section 3.5), the boundary study will determine the appropriateness of including certain lands within the park boundary in order to protect Joshua Tree National Park’s fundamental resources and values. The boundary study will evaluate management options and whether lands will be feasible to administer, considering size, configuration, ownership, costs, and other factors. In addition to the potential for inclusion of certain lands within the park boundary, management options will also explore opportunities to partner with neighboring land managers and protect these resources.
The study will evaluate lands along the park boundary, including lands that were formerly within the park boundary at one time. The resources considered must be directly related to the purpose and significance of the park and will support protection of fundamental resources and values. The study will document threats related to habitat fragmentation, loss of habitat, and strategies for wildlife and vegetation linkages, connectivity, and migration corridors. Surrounding corridor studies should feed into a boundary study. It is anticipated that civic engagement would be part of this planning effort.
Rationale — Joshua Tree National Park lacks a multiyear plan for operations and funding that is guided by a long-term vision for the park. Since the completion of the general management plan in 1995, funding and operational capacity at Joshua Tree National Park have decreased while new mandates and administrative commitments have increased. A strategic plan would address this need by setting goals and priorities to address the most pressing operational, organizational, administrative, and resource issues.
Scope — The strategic planning process will establish a clear direction for park management, and then set goals and priorities accordingly. Specific components of the process include identifying the most significant challenges and opportunities facing the park or program, figuring out how to address those challenges and opportunities, and following through with effective implementation. The overall intent of strategic planning is to focus employee attention and energy on effectively addressing the biggest operational, organizational, administrative, and resource issues in a timely manner.
The strategic planning process would evaluate what can be accomplished within the constraints of funding limitations. This evaluation helps to identify staff positions that need to be filled. The strategic plan would also help assess current operations and gaps, in the context of the budget, and would inform development of a workforce management/staffing management plan.
Carrying Capacity Study (Note: now referred to as Visitor Use Study).
Rationale — Regional demographics and visitor use trends at Joshua Tree National Park
have changed considerably since the completion of the general management plan in 1995. Communities surrounding the park, especially on the south side, have been growing. It is important to document current conditions to maintain them for the future rather than to shift the baseline as conditions degrade. Increased visitation without proper management threatens park resources. Fragile desert ecosystems can take years to recover from visitor use damage. Park facilities are aging and are not meeting the needs of visitors. Use of the current park infrastructure has exceeded what it can handle. Guidance is needed to identify ways to address visitor use conflicts and how to disperse use and to determine what uses facilities can support. There are resource concerns with climbing and erosion especially in frontcountry climbing areas. Bouldering activities have more impacts than traditional climbing (e.g., crash pads, vegetation removal). The Joshua Tree National Park resource stewardship strategy recommends conducting ecological and visitor carrying capacity studies to understand how visitor activities affect other visitor experiences and the condition of resources.
Scope — The carrying capacity study would take a focused look at desert ecology as well as the visitor experience. The study would consider ecological, cultural, visitor use, and facility carrying capacities. The study would evaluate current visitor use patterns and characteristics and identify potential indicators and standards that define acceptable levels of use and appropriate management strategies. The study would provide guidance for mitigating adverse impacts on cultural and natural resources. It is anticipated that civic engagement would be part of this planning effort.
Sequencing — This planning need is a precursor to several other priority planning needs. This study would consider guidance in the resource stewardship strategy. This would then provide data for the
Rationale — Joshua Tree National Park lacks comprehensive interpretive planning guidance, including a current long-range interpretive plan required by Director’s Order 6: Interpretation and Education. The park’s interpretive program would benefit from a planned approach that would be more effective in reaching audiences. Visitor use patterns at the park have changed considerably since the completion of the 1995 general management plan. Adjacent to growing metropolitan areas, visitor use has increased and demographics have changed, bringing in new audiences and new ways of enjoying park resources. The park needs strategies for incorporating the new realm of technology and media to improve visitor experiences. Interpretive media and programs lack current knowledge about park resources.
Scope — The long-range interpretive plan would define the overall vision and long-term interpretive goals of the park. It builds on foundation elements such as park purpose, significance, and interpretive themes.
The plan would evaluate opportunities for nonpersonal media, new technology/social media, new visitor programming and activities, as well as lifelong learning and youth engagement opportunities that would resonate with current visitors. The plan would explore opportunities in surrounding communities and would also serve park partners (friends groups), other local parks, agencies, tribes, local communities, and schools. The plan would strive to develop stewardship through changed attitudes and behaviors. The plan would incorporate current knowledge of natural and cultural resources. Assistance from Harpers Ferry Center and regional and network assistance would be beneficial. Opportunities to partner with other agencies and organizations would also benefit the plan process.
The long-range interpretive plan could benefit from visitor use trends and data. Guidance should be informed by data on current visitor use patterns and local demographics, and should evaluate Joshua Tree National Park visitor use in relation to visitor use patterns in the broader region. An updated visitor use study would help to inform this effort.
Cultural Resources Condition Assessment.
Rationale — The park lacks baseline documentation, including inventories, and management guidance for a diverse array of cultural resources. A comprehensive condition assessment is needed to understand the threats to cultural resources and to develop strategies to better protect and manage the resources.
Scope — The condition assessment process helps identify data gaps and research needs, and may lead to funding initiatives to address the most critical information needs. For various cultural resource categories, such as archeological resources, cultural landscapes, historic structures, and museum collections, the cultural resources condition assessment would identify
Sequencing — This assessment would be used to inform a variety of plans and studies.
Completion of a cultural resource condition assessment is scheduled for 2015.
High Priority Data NeedsVisitor Use Surveys.
Rationale, scope, and sequencing — Greater understanding of park visitation patterns and the visitor use needs of surrounding communities is needed for planning decisions, visitor use management, and interpretive and educational programming. Visitor use data will feed into other planning efforts including carrying capacity / visitor use studies, site-specific plans, long-range interpretive plan, and a visitor use management plan. Visitor use forecasting and research on recreational preferences of surrounding communities are needed to plan for future facilities and develop programing to engage new audiences. Visitor use data and research, broad-based and site-specific, would be necessary to understand and guide visitor behavior in high-use areas.
Table 1. Summary of HIgh Priority Planning and Data Needs
Table 2. Summary of other Planning and Data Needs
Analysis of Fundamental Resources and ValuesThe fundamental resource or value analysis table includes current conditions, potential threats and opportunities, planning and data needs, and selected laws and NPS policies related to management of the identified resource or value. Not all of these components are included in the analysis tables in this edition of the foundation. They will be added in a
future edition. Please see appendix C for the analysis of fundamental resources and values.
Part 3: Contributors
Joshua Tree National Park
NPS Pacific West Region
Other NPS Staff
Last updated: September 20, 2017