The Superintendent's Letter: Holding the High Ground
By Cynthia MacLeod
This spring brought several National Park Service conferences to Richmond, partly to experience the novelty and excellence of our visitor center at Tredegar. I would like to report to you the results of one of those meetings, the Holding the High Ground II Conference that was held here March 27-29, 2001. (The first conference of the same name was held in Nashville, TN, in 1998.) Thanks to John Hennessey of Fredericksburg Spotsylvania National Military Park for his summary. The draft proceedings are a public document, and we are accepting comments. Call the park for a copy at (804)226-1981.
We had three concerns to discuss. The first and most comprehensive addressed the current lack of funds available service-wide to upgrade exhibits, films, brochures, wayside panels, and other interpretive media. This concern includes the need to expand interpretation to tell stories that help visitors understand the whole meaning of the specific resources in their context. To address that need, the superintendents of Civil War-related sites have concluded to undertake the effort themselves by working with others inside and outside the National Park Service developing an Interpretive Concept Plan to tell the comprehensive story of the Civil War using the sites in the NPS system. The final product will provide a mechanism and context that will allow for large-scale funding to upgrade permanent media at Civil War sites in time for the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
This will be a true interpretive plan; it will do more than simply establish thematic connections between sites and a media prescription or a list of projects. The plan will identify the major themes and stories that need to be conveyed by the National Park Service at large; it will reflect the NPS commitment to the whole story. While each battlefield will remain committed to its core mission of battlefield interpretation, the plan will indicate how each site can contribute to the objective of telling a comprehensive story service-wide. This approach will relieve individual parks from the unrealistic (and redundant) responsibility of telling the whole story itself. Instead, it will allow each park to play to its strengths by viewing the larger story through the lens of local resources or events. This in turn will guarantee that we avoid a dye-press approach to interpretation; it will allow visitors to encounter issues of causation, context, and results in varying forms--depending on how those themes are reflected locally.
The other two concerns of the conference--managing public use and protecting significant land--were addressed by consensus on definition of guiding principles:
1) Visitor uses shall not adversely affect the integrity of battlefield resources or the ability of visitors to understand and appreciate the mission/stories of the battlefield.
2) Working with local communities, partners and other agencies, NPS battlefield managers shall actively seek to protect non-adjacent resources related to the mission of the local park.
Number 2 also has applied principles:
2a) The NPS recognizes its responsibility as an important, revenue-producing stakeholder and shall, as good corporate citizens, participate in local and regional land use decisions that may affect non-adjacent related lands. The NPS will work to enable communities to make informed decisions.
2b) Non-adjacent battlefield lands can be protected using strategies that are incentive-based and supportive of local economic development objectives.
We welcome your help in reaching our goals and applying our principles in managing these national resources.