Adaptability in Resilient Systems

Cultural landscapes vary in their adaptability to change with differing environments, composition, types of use, and significance. Landscapes can be managed for greater adaptability by redefining management parameters to overcome constraints, and by building greater diversity, redundancy, connectivity, and modularity. In other words, landscapes have both an inherent capability to adapt and an added capability through adaptive management. Adaptive techniques include compatible substitutions, alterations, and additions to the landscape that are more suited to changing conditions. Successful adaptive techniques amplify inherent adaptive processes or mimic naturally adaptive features.
View overlooking the rehabilitated turf of the Fort Baker
The historic parade ground at Fort Baker in California. A $115 million rehabilitation project was implemented at the Cavallo Point Lodge and the Institute at Golden Gate, an environmental institute with a mission to advance the health, sustainability, and protection of the environment.


Substituting turf grass with drought-tolerant grass species allows lawns to adapt to seasonal fluctuations in rainfall without landscape irrigation. At Fort Baker, a cultural landscape and unit of Golden Gate National Recreation Area in Sausalito, California, the historic parade ground was rehabilitated to reflect its 1939 character, with more sustainable turf that reduced mowing, water, and fertilizer requirements. The NPS and the park’s nonprofit partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, established several test plots on the parade ground to evaluate the cover, growth, and color of species under consideration and to ultimately select the most appropriate turf species composition for area-wide rehabilitation planting.

A hard fescue cultivar with high heat tolerance, Aurora Gold (Festuca trachyphylla), was ultimately selected. For three years following installation, maintenance staff used an automated irrigation system connected to an on-site weather station to establish sufficient cover. Today, only limited irrigation is used in the regular maintenance of the lawn (about 1.3 million gallons of water per year, compared to 15.5 million gallons per year for comparable areas of traditional lawn). The rehabilitated parade ground lawn also minimizes pesticide and herbicide use, resulting in a decreased risk of runoff. The growth rate of the lawn requires mowing only a few times a year during peak growing season.
Soft grass on the rehabilitated parade ground at Fort Baker
The historic parade ground at Fort Baker after adaptation with a resilient cultivar of hard fescue turf grass, "Aurora Gold."


The overall character of the Fort Baker parade ground is consistent with its historic appearance for nine months of each year, resulting in a rehabilitation treatment that is considered compatible. However, during the dry summer months, the lawn is allowed to go dormant, resulting in a rich golden color that is distinct from the historic conditions. This approach is a compromise that is offset by contemporary management goals to reduce water use in irrigation (by 14.2 million gallons per year), mowing time (by five hundred fifty hours per year), mower fuel use (by six hundred sixty gallons per year), pesticide use, and synthetic fertilizer use (by 4.5 tons per year).14
Workers use machinery to engineer a log structure near a river embankment
A log structure under construction at Mount Rainier National Park, engineered to protect the historic Nisqually Road from the erosive forces of the Nisqually River.


An example of a rehabilitation adaptation that amplifies or mimics naturally adaptive features can be found at Mount Rainier National Park. Here, the NPS is installing engineered logjams to protect flood-prone parts of the historic road system beside rivers and creeks. As climate change continues to shrink the mountain’s glaciers, more boulders ground from the mountain are being released into creeks and rivers. Vast quantities of sediment are flowing downstream, settling out on river and creek beds. This natural phenomenon known as aggradation is accelerating as the rate of glacial recession increases, exposing square miles of rocky moraines. The effect is a rise in river and creek beds, reducing the capacity of channels and causing more frequent over-topping and flooding.

To protect the historic road infrastructure, which is part of the park’s National Historic Landmark District, the NPS is using naturalistically designed log structures to deflect the main channel, or thalweg, of rivers and creeks away from the toe of road embankments and to reduce the velocity of the current, allowing for deposition of sediment rather than scour along river banks. The log structures slow the current and enrich riparian habitat, emulating naturally occurring logjams that protect riverbanks from erosion. The installation of the logjams is an adaptation design that meets The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, as the logjams are visually compatible with the naturalistic design style of the park’s roads.

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14. Christopher Beagan and Amy Hoke, Practicing Sustainability, Case Study: Fort Baker, National Park Service Park Cultural Landscapes Program, (accessed February 17, 2017); National Park Service, Cultural Landscape Report for Fort Baker (Seattle, Wash.: National Park Service, 2005).

Last updated: February 24, 2017