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Pia Hermoso

Historic Preservation in the National Park Service: A catalyst for conflict in cultural and natural resource management

        The National Historic Preservation Program was delegated to the National Park Service in 1966 with the passing of the National Historic Preservation Act.  The responsibility to preserve sites and structures of historic significance adheres to the Organic Act of 1916, the establishing legislation of the National Park Service, which states that it is the mission of the National Parks “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment … by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." [39 Stat. 535: 16 U.S.C. Section I].

            Management conflicts arise due to the contradictory language of this statement: providing enjoyment for current and future generations while keeping the resources unimpaired. This dual mandate is especially apparent in designated National Recreation Areas where recreation is the primary management concern, exacerbating the conflict between use and preservation of resources.

            Fort Tilden, a former military installment active from World War I through the Cold War, is used to illustrate this issue. Located on a barrier island complex in the New York Harbor, Fort Tilden is a unit within Gateway National Recreation Area, established in 1972 as the first urban national park in the United States encompassing more than 26,000 acres of land and marsh. In the next few years, Fort Tilden may face a substantial increase in visitation due to plans to implement land and waterborne transportation alternatives to provide greater access for recreationists and new initiatives to increase heritage tourism in the park.  These programs mean more people to the park, providing opportunities to reuse or rehabilitate existing historic buildings as support facilities or for tourism. Increased visitation, however, may adversely affect protected wildlife and natural areas of the park.

            Contradictory language in policies and regulations within the National Park System, as well as differing philosophies on the actual purpose of national parks, will be analyzed to identify and determine causes of resource management conflicts in the context of Fort Tilden. Evaluating the role of historic preservation in National Parks reveals how the recreation goal advances the National Park Service’s historic preservation mission, but yet compounds the conflicts between natural and cultural resource management. 

         Preservation of the nation’s significant historic and natural resources is imperative. As a steward of the public trust, the National Park Service, overburdened and under-budgeted, must strike a balance between its multiple and contradictory missions.


           Pia Hermoso graduated with a BA from Rutgers University with a double major in Art History and Anthropology.  She spent a summer as a student archaeologist with the Jamestown Rediscovery Project in Jamestown, Virginia. While at SAIC, Pia has worked in both the private and public sector, conducting an historic resources survey for URS Corporation, as an advocacy intern with the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and presently a student trainee in the cultural resource management division of Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City.


Thesis Advisor: Richard Friedman, Adjunct Professor, Historic Preservation; partner, Neal, Murdock & Leroy, LLC, Chicago

Thesis Reader: Kathy Foppes




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