Written by Denise Ryan
Last summer, the National Trust for Historic Preservation joined thousands of Americans and preservation partners at over 50 listening sessions on President Barack Obama’s call to action for the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
On February 16, 2011, the report we have all been waiting for was released -- America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations.
While it should come as no surprise that an initiative called "America’s Great Outdoors" is ultimately focused on natural resources, the report does have several great recommendations for historic preservation.
The first section of the report addresses Americans' disconnection to the outdoors. Beyond general visits to and awareness of our historic sites, this section highlights the need to engage our youth in the conservation and stewardship of our green spaces and historic places. It also addresses the need to create jobs where America’s youth can learn skills and create the next generation of citizen stewards and mentors.
The second section of the report, "Conserving and Restoring America’s Great Outdoors," is where we find the heart of the preservation recommendations. Most notably, this section includes recommendations for increased funding for the Historic Preservation Fund, which would provide for “expanded support for state, tribal, and community historic preservation efforts for capital projects, planning, interpretation, community-based preservation and surveying, and technical assistance that support partnerships and community-based preservation activities.”
Unfortunately, the report does not recommend full funding of the Historic Preservation Fund at $150 million, a very modest sum in comparison to the full funding recommendation for the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million.
In the same section, National Heritage Areas are addressed with a recommendation to “establish through legislation clearly-defined standards and processes to support a system of regional- and community-based national heritage areas that promote locally-supported preservation work, promote heritage tourism, and creates jobs.” It also recommends “supporting battlefield protection through partnerships with historic preservation and land trusts to fund acquisition of historically significant, threatened battlefields emphasizing Civil War sites, as a part of the Civil War Sesquicentennial from 2011 to 2015.”
The report recommends the continued protection and interpretation of our historic sites and cultural landscapes on federal lands, which it notes as a challenge because “economic pressures, development, effects of climate change, and other factors mount to threaten the sustainability of heritage resources.”
The report also recognizes the importance of the Antiquities Act of 1906 as a tool to “achieve national conservation goals." Through this law, Congress wisely gave the President of the United States the power to reserve “historic landmarks, historic or prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest." For instance, in 2000, President Bill Clinton used the Antiquities Act to establish President Lincoln’s Cottage National Monument in Washington, DC, while President George W. Bush used the same law in 2006 to designate the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York. As one of the first national preservation laws, we support the use of the Antiquities Act because there are still many places in America where our important historic and cultural sites deserve a higher level of protection. More specifically, we urge Congress and President Obama to act as quickly as possible to protect sites at Chimney Rock Archaeological Area in Colorado, Casa Grande Monumentin Arizona, and Otero Mesa in New Mexico.
So what's next? How do we go from great ideas to meaningful action? The coordination and implementation of this report's recommendations will be overseen by the Interagency America's Great Outdoors Council, which will publish a detailed plan with assignments and timelines in the next 180 days.
We invite you to stay tuned as we continue working with the Obama Administration on making the laudable goals of America's Great Outdoors a reality.
Denise Ryan is the National Trust for Historic Preservation's program manager for public lands policy.