Foundation Document



Every unit of the national park system is required to have a formal statement of its core mission that will provide basic guidance for all planning and management decisions—a foundation for planning and management. Increasing emphasis on government accountability and restrained federal spending demand that all stakeholders are aware of the purpose, significance, interpretive themes, fundamental resources and values, and special mandates and administrative commitments of a park unit, as well as the legal and policy requirements for administration and resource protection that factor into management decisions.

The process of developing a foundation document provides the opportunity to gather together and integrate all varieties and hierarchies of information about a park unit. Next, this information is refined and focused to determine what are the most important attributes of the park. The process of preparing a foundation document aids park managers, staff, and stakeholders in identifying information that is necessary for future planning efforts. This foundation document was developed as a collaborative effort. A workshop to facilitate this process was held June 19–21, 2012, in Moab, Utah. A complete list of attendees and preparers is included in part 3 of this document.

A foundation document serves as the underlying guidance for planning decisions for a national park unit. It describes the core mission of the park unit by identifying the purpose, significance, fundamental and important resources and values, interpretive themes, assessment of planning and data needs, special mandates and administrative commitments, and the unit’s setting in the regional context.

The foundation document can be useful in all aspects of park management to ensure that primary management objectives are accomplished before addressing other factors that are also important, but not directly essential to achieving the park purpose and maintaining its significance. Thus, the development of a foundation document for Natural Bridges National Monument is necessary to effectively manage the park over the long term and protect park resources and values that are integral to the purpose and identity of the park unit and to address key issues affecting management.

The park atlas is also a part of the foundation project. It is a geographic information system (GIS) product that can be published as a hard copy paper atlas and as electronic geospatial data in a Web-mapping environment. The purpose of the park atlas is to support park operations and to facilitate planning decisions as a GIS-based planning support tool. The atlas covers various geographic elements that are important for park management such as natural and cultural resources, visitor use patterns, and facilities. The park atlas establishes the available baseline GIS information for a park that can be used to support future planning activities. The park atlas is available at

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Part 1: Core Components

Foundation documents include the following core elements:

The park purpose is the specific reason(s) for establishing a particular park. A park purpose statement is grounded in a thorough analysis of the legislation (or executive order) and legislative history of the park, and may include information from studies generated prior to the park’s establishment. The purpose statement goes beyond a restatement of the law to clarify assumptions about what the law means in terms specific to the park.

The significance statements express why the resources and values of the park are important enough to justify national park designation. Statements of park significance describe why an area is important within a global, national, regional, and systemwide context. Significance statements are directly linked to the purpose of the park and are verified by data or consensus that reflect the most current scientific or scholarly inquiry and cultural perceptions because the resources and values may have changed since the park was established.

Interpretive themes connect park resources to relevant ideas, meanings, concepts, contexts, beliefs, and values. They support the desired interpretive objective of increasing visitor understanding and appreciation of the significance of park resources. In other words, interpretive themes are the most important messages to be conveyed to the public about the park. Interpretive themes are based on park purpose and significance.

Fundamental resources and values are features, systems, organisms, processes, visitor experiences, stories, scenes, sounds, smells, or other attributes of the park that merit primary consideration during planning and management because they are essential to achieving park purpose and maintaining park significance.

Other important resources and values are resources and values that are determined to be important and integral to park planning and management, although they are not related to park purpose and significance.

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Brief Description of the Park

Natural Bridges National Monument (Natural Bridges) is located 43 miles west of Blanding, San Juan County, Utah. The park contains 7,636.88 acres within its boundary. San Juan County covers 7,884 square miles and is the largest county in Utah. Located in the southeast corner of Utah, the county is roughly the size of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and lies entirely within the physiographic region of the United States known as the Colorado Plateau. The land area surrounding the park ranges from the desert canyons along the Colorado River to the forested mountains of the Abajo Mountains range. Elevations on the Colorado Plateau vary approximately from 4,200 to 10,000 feet. As is common in the southwestern United States, precipitation is minimal, averaging only 13 inches per year.

Repeatedly occupied and abandoned during prehistoric times, Natural Bridges was first inhabited during the Archaic period, from 7000 BC to AD 500. Only the rock art and stone tools left by hunter-gatherer groups reveal that humans lived in this area. Around AD 700, ancestors of modern Puebloan people moved onto the mesa tops for dryland farming and later left as the natural environment changed. Around AD 1100, new migrants from across the San Juan River moved into small, single-family houses near the deepest, best watered soils throughout this area. In the 1200s, farmers from Mesa Verde migrated here, but by the 1300s, the Ancestral Puebloan people migrated south. Navajos and Paiutes lived in the area during later times, and Navajo oral tradition holds that their ancestors lived among the early Puebloans.

In 1883, prospector Cass Hite wandered up White Canyon from his base camp along the Colorado River in search of gold. What he found instead were three magnificent bridges that water had sculpted from stone. In 1904, National Geographic Magazine publicized the bridges, and in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established Natural Bridges National Monument, creating Utah’s first national park system unit.

The three natural bridges found here are among the world’s largest, having formed in a classic entrenched meander stream system in Cedar Mesa Sandstone. They represent three different stages of bridge development. Sipapu—a Hopi word meaning “place of emergence”—is a massive, mature bridge with a smooth, symmetrical opening. The second bridge, Kachina, is named for the rock art at its base that resembles symbols often associated with Kachina dolls. Kachina is a youthful bridge. Low and broad, it is still growing, widened by episodic flooding and rockfall. Its abandoned meander is easily recognizable. The last bridge, Owachomo, named for the rock mound on its east abutment, is an old bridge nearing collapse. The stream that formed it has long since changed course and no longer flows beneath it, making Owachomo seem like a relic.

The three bridges have been known by other names but in 1909 the General Land Survey assigned the current Hopi names attesting to the Puebloan occupation of the area in times past. Kayenta and Mesa Verdean cultural influences are in evidence in the structures, artifacts, and rock art found in the vicinity of the bridges suggesting former trade networks to the wider Southwest.

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Park Purpose

Purpose statements identify the specific reason for the establishment of a particular park. Purpose statements are crafted through a careful analysis of the enabling legislation and legislative history that influenced the development of Natural Bridges National Monument, which was first designated on April 16, 1908 (see appendix A for enabling legislation and subsequent amendments). The purpose statement reinforces the foundation for future park management administration and use decisions. The following is the purpose statement for Natural Bridges National Monument:

The purpose of Natural Bridges National Monument is to preserve and provide for public enjoyment of three of the world’s largest streameroded natural bridges, and Ancestral Puebloan and other cultural sites in their settings.

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Park Significance

Significance statements express why Natural Bridges National Monument resources and values are important enough to merit national park unit designation. Statements of significance describe why an area is important within a global, national, regional, and systemwide context. These statements are linked to the purpose of the park unit, and are supported by data, research, and consensus. Significance statements describe the distinctive nature of the park and inform management decisions, focusing efforts on preserving and protecting the most important resources and values of the park unit.

The following significance statements have been identified for Natural Bridges National Monument. (Note: The statements are in no particular order):

  • Nowhere else on Earth are three large natural bridges found in such close proximity to one another.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument contains some of the most significant intact or semi-intact prehistoric structures with wooden features in the American Southwest, as well as archeological sites and resources associated with ancient peoples and their activities. Scientific investigations of wood specimens have contributed significant insights into the timing of Ancestral Puebloan settlement, resettlement, and abandonment in the Colorado Plateau region.
  • Natural Bridges National Monument is recognized internationally for the exceptional natural quality of its night sky and was the first designated International Dark Sky Park.
  • Deep, moist canyons and associated diverse biotic assemblages of Natural Bridges National Monument are regionally significant due to a long history of protection that has maintained these systems in their natural condition.

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Interpretive Themes

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 of the park significances 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. They go beyond a mere description of the event or process to foster multiple opportunities to experience and consider the park and its resources. Themes help to explain why a park story is relevant to people who are unconnected to an event, time, or place.

While themes are important as an organizational tool to guide management decisions, they are not intended for public use. The themes offer park staff guidance on focusing on relevant visitor experiences, and what matters to the public is how these themes are represented through park services, media, programming, and facilities.

The following interpretive themes have been identified for Natural Bridges National Monument:

  • Geology. The deeply incised canyons, entrenched meanders, and natural bridges of the region are a result of powerful geologic and hydrologic processes operating over great spans of time.
  • Life and Landforms. The climate, geology, and riparian habitats of Natural Bridges National Monument form a rich, interconnected ecosystem.
  • Wildness. The remote nature of Natural Bridges National Monument provides opportunities for visitors to discover and enjoy wildness and solitude.
  • Prehistoric Cultural Resources. Structures, sites, artifacts, and rock art from ancient peoples found in Natural Bridges National Monument serve as windows into the region’s rich human history and help foster better understanding and appreciation of the lives of these prehistoric people and their relationships with the land.
  • Remote and Undeveloped Setting. In a remote natural setting essentially unchanged since Puebloan time, Natural Bridges National Monument protects and preserves the same dark night skies, natural soundscapes, and clean air that the ancestral Puebloans observed and valued hundreds of years ago.

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Fundamental Resources and Values

Fundamental resources and values are those features, systems, processes, experiences, stories, scenes, sounds, smells, or other attributes determined to warrant primary consideration during planning and management because they are critical to achieving the park’s purpose and maintaining its significance.

The preeminent responsibility of park managers is to ensure the conservation and public enjoyment of those qualities that are critical (fundamental) to achieving the park’s purpose and maintaining its significance. These qualities are called the park’s fundamental resources and values (FRVs). Fundamental resources and values are closely related to legislative purpose, and are more specific than significance statements. Fundamental resources and values help focus planning and management on what is truly important about the park. If they are allowed to deteriorate, the park purpose and/or significance could be jeopardized.

This distinction is made to ensure that fundamental resources and values receive specific consideration in park planning processes because of their relationship to the park’s purpose and significance.

The following fundamental resources and values have been identified for Natural Bridges National Monument:

  • The three natural bridges—Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo. Natural Bridges National Monument is the one place where three natural bridges (streamcarved features) are found in close proximity. Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo exemplify natural geologic and hydrologic processes that form and modify natural bridges over great spans of time
  • Cultural resources. The entire monument has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Natural Bridges Archeological District, which includes 507 contributing resources. These resources contribute to the broader knowledge of the full range of prehistoric occupation on Cedar Mesa and include both simple lithic scatters as well as multi-room pueblos with stratified deposits.
  • The remote and undeveloped setting. Natural Bridges National Monument exists away from significant development, allowing for night skies, soundscapes, and air quality to be maintained in their natural condition.
  • Moist canyon habitats. Protected natural hydrologic processes, geomorphic processes, and biotic processes are necessary for maintaining the natural condition of canyon habitats and associated biotic assemblages.

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Other Important Resources and Values

Natural Bridges National Monument contains other resources and values that may not be fundamental to the purpose and significance of the park but are important to consider in management and planning decisions. These are referred to as other important resources and values. The following other important resource and value has been identified for Natural Bridges National Monument:

  • Museum Collections. The park’s museum collections contain three-dimensional objects and natural history specimens and artifacts that are representative of the resources within the park’s boundaries. Archives also are a component of museum collections and document park and resource management history.

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Part 2: Dynamic Components

Part 2 consists of two components:

  • special mandates and administrative commitments
  • assessment of planning and data needs

These components may change after this foundation document is published and may need to be updated periodically.


Special Mandates and Administrative Commitments

Many of the management decisions for a park unit are directed or influenced by special mandates and administrative commitments with other federal agencies, state and local governments, utility companies, partnering organizations, and other entities. Special mandates are requirements specific to a park, most often legislative or judicial, that must be fulfilled along with the park purpose. Mandates can be expressed in enabling legislation or in separate legislation following the establishment of the park. They may expand on park purpose or introduce elements unrelated to the purpose of the park. Administrative commitments are, in general, agreements that have been reached through formal, documented processes, often through memoranda of agreement. In this category are such agreements as easements, rights-of-way, arrangements for emergency service response, etc. Special mandates and administrative commitments, in many cases, support a network of partnerships that help fulfill the objectives of the park and facilitate working relationships with other organizations. They are an essential component of managing and planning for Natural Bridges National Monument.

  • Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service—this agreement ensures that the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service continue to enhance efficiencies in each other’s management activities, to coordinate information and outreach efforts, and to foster communications on activities that have the potential to affect the other agency’s management responsibilities.
  • Memorandum of Understanding among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding air quality analyses and mitigation for federal oil and gas decisions analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process—this memorandum of understanding provides that air quality will be considered, analyzed, and mitigated through an interagency collaborative process. The agreement seeks to safeguard air quality and resources sensitive to air pollution—termed Air Quality Related Values (AQRVs)—while recognizing the various missions and mandates of the signatory agencies.
  • Cooperative Agreement between the National Park Service and San Juan County— this agreement is to provide for cooperative management activities and emergency operations in San Juan County, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and Hovenweep National Monument.
  • Special Use Permit—this special use permit allows Utah Department of Transportation access over, along, and upon the Natural Bridges National Monument easement and withdrawal as may be required by Utah Department of Transportation for the performance of routine maintenance, to make modifications to the roadway and appurtenances to address safety hazards, and to minimize resource degradation.

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Assessment of Planning and Data Needs

Once park purpose and significance statements and fundamental resources and values have been identified, it is important to consider what additional information and planning tasks may be necessary to aid the National Park Service in its mission. The assessment of planning and data needs identifies any inherent conditions or threats contained in the gathered information and determines whether any additional planning steps, data needs, and management efforts may be necessary to maintain or protect the existing fundamental resources and values and other important resources and values.

There are three parts that make up the planning and data needs assessment:

  1. analysis of fundamental and other important resources and values
  2. identification of key or major parkwide issues that need to be addressed by future planning
  3. prioritization of data and planning needs

The analysis of fundamental resources and values and identification of major issues leads up to and supports the identification and prioritization of needed plans and studies.

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Analysis of Fundamental Resources and Values

The analysis of fundamental resources and values articulates the importance of each fundamental resource and value, current condition, potential threats, and the related issues that require consideration in planning and management. Included in the analysis is the identification of relevant laws and NPS policies specific to the preservation and management of the resources at the park. This section of the foundation document will require periodic reviews and updates as monitoring and research improves the understanding of each fundamental resource and value.


The Foundation Document contains additional analysis and appendices. To request more of this information, email us.

Last updated: January 3, 2018

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