Alaska Field Report: Preservation in the Wild

Posted on: September 6th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Brian R. Turner

Forest Service archaeologist Martin Stanford hiking in the Tongass National Forest. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

Stewarding historic and cultural properties within Alaska’s vast network of public lands is not only technically and physically challenging, it can be downright dangerous.   On a recent field visit to a remote site deep within the Misty Fjords National Monument, a floatplane dropped me and three Forest Service employees on the shores of a pristine bay, about an hour’s flight from the nearest road in Ketchikan.

Our purpose was to conduct a basic conditions assessment of the oldest stone masonry structure in the state, a half hour walk through the bush from the shore.  As we set out, I watched in anticipation as Forest Service archaeologist Martin Stanford loaded a shotgun and slung it on his back to guard against a bear attack – standard procedure.   Eagles, gulls and herons were the only visible signs of life, and we hoped to keep it that way.  In addition to the gun, hard hats, waterproof boots, mosquito repellant, and bushwhacking skills were essential.

Storehouse #3, as the site is known, was built by U.S. Army Captain David Gaillard and a team of stone masons in 1896.  The builder would later gain fame for spearheading the central cut of the Panama Canal, the Gaillard Cut, one of the great engineering feats of the 20th Century.  Gaillard’s goal in building the storehouse, one of four, was to prove U.S. use of the land in a boundary dispute with Canada, later resolved in arbitration.  It was apparent that #3 was built with exceptional skill considering it has survived for so long in the harsh conditions of the Southeast Alaska wilderness.

Storehouse #3, circa 1896, is the oldest stone masonry structure in Alaska. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

The storehouse is an important reminder that humans have left their mark in even the most remote places on earth.   Naturally, in a state as vast as Alaska, with over 222 million acres of public land (bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined), it is a tremendous aspiration for federal lands agencies to identify and protect every tangible and intangible reminder of 10,000+ years of human occupation.  But appreciating how humans survived in Alaska’s harsh environment helps us better understand our own connection with the wild.  Further, what we protect now will help future generations maintain a key connection to the past.

Undoubtedly, historic and cultural sites both above and below the ground, are disappearing every day in Alaska.  Many have never been recorded.  Some of the most rapid deterioration is being wrought by a changing climate.  On the shores of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, last year the Army Corps of Engineers observed that half of the archaeological sites it documented in 1982 have vanished.  These places were claimed by the rising seas, a unique irony given the battle against petroleum drilling on the Refuge that has now made ANWR a household name.

Landscape surrounding the “stone lady,” a culturally significant property to the Yup’ik on the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: Brian R. Turner)

Not surprisingly, federal funding for any proactive survey of our public lands is at a record low.  Heritage professionals in National Parks, Forests, and Wildlife Refuges around the country must be exceptionally resourceful with limited budgets, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Alaska.  The Fish and Wildlife Service, for instance, employs just one (very dedicated) archaeologist to oversee more than 78 million acres of public land.

Not all the news is dire.  Though rare, partnerships with Native communities, museums, and volunteers have been essential.  The Kodiak Island National Wildlife Refuge has documented more than 1000 human habitation sites thanks to help from the very inspirational staff at the Alutiiq Museum.  The museum also runs a community archaeology program that works with locals on Kodiak, and youth in particular, and has helped foster a sense of community identity and pride.  Another successful federal policy on Alaska public lands has been permitting access to public lands for subsistence hunting and food gathering which is critical for the survival of traditional ecological knowledge.

As anyone who has visited Alaska is well aware, the state’s size and the resourcefulness of its people make it undoubtedly unique.  And, though it may be often overlooked by those who visit the state expecting the purity of an “untrammeled” wilderness, history worthy of preservation abounds.

Brian R. Turner is a Regional Attorney at the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

New Visions for Kentucky's Coal Country

Posted on: August 25th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


The Kentucky side of Black Mountain showing all mountaintops intact. (Photo: Flickr user

Written by Karen Nickless

In an earlier post I discussed the National Windows Preservation Standards Summit (sponsored by the Preservation Trades Network) that was held from July 22-July 29 at Pine Mountain Settlement School in the mountains of Kentucky. The goal of the Summit was to provide unbiased energy testing data for historic windows and to develop industry guidelines for the treatment of historic windows. The Summit garnered national press from The New York Times  to the trade publication Window and Door

The Summit focused on conserving our built environment, which of course benefits the natural environment. It was fitting that the Summit was held at Pine Mountain Settlement School. Founded in 1913 to serve the isolated Southeast Kentucky mountain community, the school's mission shifted in the 1970s to become a center for environmental education. Ironically, Pine Mountain’s 625 pristine acres sit in Harlan County, the heart of coal country. Coal is omnipresent, from the coal trucks on the mountain roads to bumper stickers that declare, “If You Don’t Like Coal, Don’t Use Electricity.”

While I was at the Summit I took an afternoon to visit the towns of Benham and Lynch. Benham and Lynch sit at the foot of Black Mountain, which was on the Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2010. Benham and Lynch were once model company towns with thriving local businesses and a hospital and schools provided by the coal company. Now Benham and Lynch are economically depressed and many old and historic buildings stand empty. The towns are developing heritage tourism, with attractions such as the Portal 31 exhibition mine and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum.

Both illustrate that coal mining is an industry with a proud history, but mining coal has changed. Where deep shaft miners once brought the coal to the surface, now the coal is accessed by surface mining, often with an extraction method known as mountaintop removal, which literally removes the summit of a mountain to access coal. Mountaintop removal decimates flora and fauna and deposits debris into nearby creeks. The removal of mountaintops can cause dangerous flooding and rock slides. In 2005, on the Virginia side of Black Mountain, a three-year-old boy died when a boulder dislodged at a mountaintop removal site struck his house.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Rehabilitating a Wyoming Dude Ranch with HistoriCorps

Posted on: August 17th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Jenny Buddenborg

HistoriCorps operates in the Rocky Mountain region, but accepts volunteers from across the country.

The Mountains/Plains Office of the National Trust partnered with HistoriCorps in early August to bring volunteers together for the stabilization and rehabilitation of three buildings at the Double D Ranch located in the Shoshone National Forest in Wyoming - the first federally protected National Forest in the United States.  Nestled amongst the Absaroka Mountains, the site is just southwest of the small town of Meeteetse (Shoshone for “meeting place”) and five miles below the abandoned mining town of Kirwin.  It is an old homestead turned dude ranch eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The ranch land was homesteaded in the 1890s and purchased by Carl and Vera Dunrud in 1931.  The Dunruds set about using the site as a guest ranch that operated until 1945.  Over the years Carl himself built many of the buildings.  The site includes a barn, cabins, dugout, lodge, garage with stone walls, and an outhouse.

The ranch offered activities for relaxation and recreation in a remote location, including a masonry swimming pool that would have provided a fairly chilly dip, it being at an elevation greater than 9,000 feet.  Its guests included Amelia Earhart and her husband George Putnam, an acquaintance of Carl Dunrud’s.  They stayed in the one-room log cabin nestled in a corner of the ranch with a front porch angled towards Jojo Creek.

The Dunruds owned the ranch and surrounding land until 1959 when it was sold to the American Metals Climax Corporation who in turn sampled the area for ore, discovering rich deposits of copper and molybdenum.  The company eventually ceased its explorations due to fluctuating ore prices and a negative public view of open-pit mining.  In 1992, the Mellon Foundation and The Conservation Fund purchased the companies’ holdings, which included the Kirwin mining district, and donated both the mining district and the Double D Ranch site to the U.S. Forest Service.

At the time the Forest Service acquired the site, the Double D Ranch buildings had suffered from years of deferred maintenance and neglect.  But there was strong local sentiment for their preservation that has held over the years.  Descendants of Carl and Vera Dunrud still live in the area, so the Double D Ranch history is alive and well.  With support from the Shoshone National Forest and a grant from Wyoming’s Abandoned Mine Land Program, the stabilization and rehabilitation of the Double D Ranch buildings became a recent reality.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Supporters Gather for Fort Monroe's National Monument Status

Posted on: July 25th, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Monica Rhodes

The lighthouse at Fort Monroe. (Photo: Monica Rhodes)

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a public meeting convened by the National Park Service for Virginia's Fort Monroe. The two sessions were held in the Hampton Convention Center and both were well attended. The crowd was as diverse as the individuals who worked diligently to get the project to this point. It is also worth noting that there were a total of 800 people in both meetings and a unanimous vote of “yes” for the designation of Fort Monroe as a National Monument.

The local supporters included the Contraband Historical Society, the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, and churches intimately connected to the history of the fort. National organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated and the Sierra Club attended to show their support as well. While these organizations have diverse missions, one thing is clear: Fort Monroe provides a relevant and preservation-worthy connection to the past.

Seizing the chance to preserve a place with a multilayered history, such as Fort Monroe, is an excellent opportunity to distinguish the city of Hampton, the state of Virginia, and the United States as a nation.  Fort Monroe served as the place where the institution of enslavement - which dominated American life from 1619 until 1865 – began, and where African Americans were determined it would end.

Constructed in 1819 as a seacoast fortification, Fort Monroe is not only historically important for its tactical military position, but also for its socio-historical connections to all Americans. In 1861 during the American Civil War, the fort served as a “Freedom’s Fortress” for enslaved African Americans fleeing to protection behind Union lines. This place matters!

Residents and interested parties gathered in Hampton, Virginia to discuss the Fort's future. (Photo: Monica Rhodes)

Establishing Fort Monroe as a National Monument under the Antiquities Act is necessary to preserve and protect the site. With the President’s signature, Fort Monroe can be protected for the future owners of the national parks. National Monument status would protect and conserve the natural, cultural, and historical features of the site.

It is my understanding that the state of Virginia will work with the National Park Service to co-manage the 565-acre island. This partnership will not only encourage local and national oversight and stewardship, but also benefit from the expertise of Hampton University to interpret the story of self-emancipation for 500,000 African Americans.

Special thanks go to National Trust Advisors Dreck Wilson and Lacy Ward, and the rest of the speakers who shared their thoughts on Fort Monroe at this public meeting.

In the words echoed by many supporters at the public meeting, “Let’s Get It Done!”

Join me and demonstrate your commitment to establishing Fort Monroe as a National Monument. Please sign the letter of support to encourage President Obama to utilize the power of the Antiquities Act to create his first National Monument.

Monica Rhodes is a graduate student in Historic Preservation at The University of Pennsylvania and an intern in the Southern Field Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

A New Congressional Champion for Colorado's Chimney Rock

Posted on: July 22nd, 2011 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Written by Denise Ryan

The Great House Pueblo at Chimney Rock. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

On Thursday, Colorado's Chimney Rock came one step closer to becoming the U.S. Forest Service’s seventh national monument and their only national monument dedicated to the preservation of cultural resources. The National Trust has been a champion for Chimney Rock for many years, and today the Forest Service’s most important cultural site has a new champion: freshman Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO).

Rep. Tipton introduced the Chimney Rock National Monument Establishment Act in the House on July 21, 2011. Rep. Tipton’s bill is very similar to the bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Michael Bennet in March 2011 and was considered in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May 2011. We hope that Rep. Tipton’s bill will receive a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee following the August Congressional recess.

Chimney Rock is arguably the most important cultural site managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Exhibiting many of the features that earned Chaco Canyon a World Heritage Site designation, Chimney Rock was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1970. Between A.D. 925 and 1125, the ancestors of modern Pueblo Indians occupied Chimney Rock, and the site remains of cultural significance to many descendant tribes. Hundreds of cultural elements surrounding Chimney Rock’s soaring twin rock spires, including the Great House Pueblo. Chimney Rock is the northernmost and highest (7,600 feet) Chacoan site known to exist. Every 18.6 years the moon, as seen from the Great House Pueblo, rises between the rock spires during an event known as the Major Lunar Standstill. The last Standstill was in 2006 and the next time we can witness this dramatic event will be in 2024 and 2025.

The designation of Chimney Rock as a national monument enjoys the support of the bipartisan Archuleta County Commissioners, the Town Council of Pagosa Springs and a host of local, state and national preservation and conservation organizations.

Denise Ryan is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s program manager for public lands policy.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Legislature Protects Nevada Heritage

Posted on: July 12th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Greg Seymour

The Pony Express Trail in Nevada (Photo: Brian Turner)

The Pony Express Trail in Nevada (Photo: Brian Turner)

This session the Nevada legislature was able to pass SB 257, which increases penalties for graffiti at “protected sites” on public and private property. Passing overwhelmingly in both the Senate and Assembly and signed by Governor Sandoval on June 10, 2011, it is effective October 1. Senator Valerie Weiner, District 3, (Las Vegas area) was the author of this bill.

The legislation creates new protections for a wide variety of the historic resources unique to Nevada, including:

"A site, landmark, monument, building or structure of historical significance pertaining to the history of the settlement of Nevada; Any Indian campgrounds, shelters, petroglyphs, pictographs and burials; or Any archeological or paleontological site, ruin, deposit, fossilized footprints and other impressions, petroglyphs and  pictographs, habitation caves, rock shelters, natural caves, burial ground or sites of religious or cultural importance to an Indian Tribe. (SB 257)"

It makes destructive acts a felony if the site is protected.  Dollar thresholds for damage for this offense dropped from $5,000 to $500 in order to ensure that even small acts of vandalism are cover under this new law.  Penalties can include with a 10 day mandatory jail stay with probation, restitution, up to 300 hours of community service, and substantial jail time.

This new law helps protect our state’s cultural resources on public and private property with similar protections that federal laws afforded us for resources on lands under the US government’s oversight.  Similar legislation at the federal level, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, provides penalties for cultural resources over 100 years old on federal lands. Resources not meeting that age threshold are subject federal vandalism laws. Now private property rights are strengthened through enhanced legal and civil penalties.  The property owner would have the option of pressing charges.

For many of us, the allure of Nevada is imbued in its rural places. Our collective history is long and rich and can be seen in its many ranches and mining sites, some long abandoned. Prehistoric rock art can also be enjoyed as art, as history, or both.  One cannot help to wonder about how difficult it must have been to survive especially during those below zero winters in the Great Basin or the above 100⁰ summers in the Mojave Desert. Our predecessors ranched, farmed, worked and grew families and made decisions which still influence our vision of what Nevada has been and what we will be.  For a more urban view, mid-century modern architecture can act as an anchor for revitalization based on historic preservation combined with fun and funky shops, cafes, and bars. These special places can help us understand our collective heritage.

Heritage tourism brings in outside dollars providing employment across the state. Millions of dollars annually are spent at parks, museums, hotels, restaurants, stores and casinos by visitors to our historic and scenic sites.  Did you know that Nevada is home to the Great Basin National Heritage Area?  If you don’t believe me, just ask them about heritage dollars in Nevada. These are example of Nevada’s special places where heritage resources deserve our patronage and protection.

Turns out good things can happen despite our current hard economic times. Good Job Nevada!

Greg Seymour has more than 25 years of experience in CRM archaeology and historic preservation. He holds positions on various boards and professional organizations, including Preserve Nevada, Nevada Archaeological Association, Nevada Coordinator for Preservation Action, and as the Nevada Advisor for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at