Bringing together government professionals, academics, consultants, students, and citizens interested in understanding federal history work and the historical development of the federal government.


Historical Interpretation

Commemorating the 1964 Wilderness Act through the Built Environment

Rachel D. Kline

Dispatcher’s Cabin (left) and Commissary (both built in 1921) at the Fish Lake Guard Station (photo by R. Kline, 2012).

Dispatcher’s Cabin (left) and Commissary (both built in 1921) at the Fish Lake Guard Station (photo by R. Kline, 2012).

(originally published in The Federalist, Winter 2014–15:

When Congress passed the Wilderness Act in 1964, it commissioned federal agencies to protect diminishing undeveloped public lands for the benefit of the nation and nature itself. The act created the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and immediately protected 9.1 million acres across 13 states as Wilderness. Today the NWPS includes 109,511,966 million acres across 44 states with the majority of Wilderness areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS)—439 of 758 separate areas coast-to-coast. For the past 50 years, Wilderness areas have protected primitive and pristine places “where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain, an area . . . without permanent improvements or human habitation.”

To preserve “wilderness character,” federal agencies and public land users are prohibited from developing permanent structures, altering landscape, or using motorized or mechanized equipment within designated Wilderness areas. Thus, it would seem that Wilderness and the built environment are generally two landscapes that do not coincide. The Fish Lake Guard Station on the Willamette National Forest, however, is one built landscape that shares a vital relationship with Wilderness and served as the answer to managing delicate Wilderness areas in Oregon.

Built by the USFS and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for the Santiam National Forest (later Willamette) between 1906 and 1939, Fish Lake Guard Station provided fire crews and Forest staff with an administrative base and a pack animal remount station from which to provide forest and fire management throughout much of the 20th century. The station’s earliest function served as a fire dispatching headquarters and summer field office. In 1934, a CCC camp constructed additional facilities at Fish Lake, expanding the capacity of the site to host a larger pack strings operation. Thus, Fish Lake became an important firefighting remount station from which crews and pack animals were sent out to suppress and fight forest fires throughout the central Cascades. The importance of Fish Lake as a remount station, however, gradually diminished as vehicles, aircraft, and new fire detection and suppression technology developed in the 1940s and 1950s replaced pack animals and traditional equipment. Crews and equipment steadily left Fish Lake, and the Guard Station subsequently deteriorated.

With the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, the Fish Lake Guard Station found a renewed purpose, serving as an essential catalyst in managing newly designated Wilderness areas. The 1964 law forced forest managers to find innovative management practices for protected areas as the use of modern technologies like aircraft and vehicles was prohibited. With such restrictions, many forest managers returned to traditional management techniques implemented in the earlier 20th century. By packing noninvasive equipment in and out of Wilderness by horse from remount stations, USFS employees could successfully manage the sensitive areas according to the law.  With a corral, stock drive, grazing lands, and living quarters already in place, the Fish Lake Guard Station was revitalized as a remount station in 1964 from which personnel could provide bygone traditional forest management to delicate Wilderness areas less than five miles away. USFS packer Lloyd “Van” Van Sickle operated the pack strings out of Fish Lake consisting of packhorses (horses and/or mules) carrying equipment in sidebags or panniers trained to traverse the difficult and undeveloped terrain of Wilderness. From the centralized Fish Lake Guard Station, the Forest had the means to assist in overseeing the Mount Washington Wilderness (1964), Mount Jefferson Wilderness (1968), Middle Santiam Wilderness (1984), and Menagerie Wilderness (1984).

To commemorate this year’s 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the USFS’s Heritage Stewardship Group worked with the staff of the Willamette National Forest to list the station in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to its significant associations with the CCC and the Wilderness Act, the station’s rustic-style buildings are representative examples of USFS administrative architecture using standard plans made with local, natural materials to blend with the surrounding landscape. The Fish Lake Guard Station was officially listed as a historic site on June 27, 2014.

The last packer and pack string left the Fish Lake Guard Station in 2005, 99 years after the designation of the area as a USFS station. The station’s primary purpose today focuses on restoration training, historic interpretation and preservation, and landscape restoration. While it no longer houses any packers or horses, the site serves as a physical reminder that historic built landscapes do in fact have a lasting relationship with today’s Wilderness areas.

Rachel D. Kline is a historian with Heritage Stewardship Group, USDA Forest Service Enterprise Unit, in Fort Collins, Colorado.


Bringing History to Policy Making

Historians can offer crucial skills and insights for government policy makers, yet they are often not brought into the planning process. This failure is a longstanding dilemma. Many agencies place little value on historians’ views, while others value and include historians in policy development but fail to heed their advice. A new report from the United Kingdom titled “What is the Value of History” explores the benefits of historical insights and the ways in which government offices can more systematically benefit from history. The report was co-authored by the Arts & Humanities Council (AHRC), one of several publicly chartered UK Research Councils, and the Institute for Government, an independent charity founded in 2008 to help make government more effective. Their findings emerged from their Making History Work Initiative seminars, and they bear great relevance for U.S. agencies.

The report’s findings fall into several themes:

•  The historian and case studies. Policy makers can use case studies and intercultural comparisons more extensively to gain more insights into current and evolving national and international issues. By using such studies—normally not produced in haste and more sensitive to cultural differences—policy making can be more balanced, insightful, and effective. The report found that policy makers value history but that historical research is not used as systematically as that of other types of evidence, such as statistics, modeling, and economics. Historical knowledge can help not only in foreign policy and military planning, but in humanitarian efforts, “social cohesion policy,” and economic policies. Often, the authors found, policy makers favored “harder” evidence and sought “solutions rather than context.” The historian provides context and a “conceptual toolkit” that promotes new ways of thinking about issues. Academic research can also help policy makers “frame” the terms of current debates, and to help understand how others see their own history.

•   Institutional memory. Despite often high staff turnover and often poorly developed internal mechanisms for capturing and using institutional memory, agencies can develop methods for capturing such expertise for use when needed. One need is “strong data repositories” and good recordkeeping. The report mentions mandatory exit interviews, but also emphasizes better access to institutional knowledge.

•   Training in history and policy. More training in these areas, as practiced in the UK’s Treasury, Foreign Office, and Department of Education, helps staff build knowledge and expertise. While some government offices have in-house historical expertise, a problem is how to join that expertise with those who specialize in the difficult discipline of negotiations, summits, and unforeseen crises. Internal historians can also help recruit outside knowledge as needed. The problem eventually goes to the larger issue of civil service reform in the redefinition of the policy profession, “opening up the policy making process . . .  [to reconsider] what role historical evidence and expertise should play.”

•   Relationships with outside experts. Developing ongoing relationships with academic historians and experts helps build upon internal expertise and brings in the latest insights and research. Many UK offices have used more “secondments” or fellowships to benefit from outside expertise and to provide academics with high-impact experience. Some universities have established “policy institutes” that offer more permanent and rapid response to the need of policy makers. Such academic partners must be given greater career credit (rewards) for their public consultations in order to encourage more of the same.

•   Promote new thinking. The UK’s open policy initiative aims to encourage policy makers to value and include historical analyses and the perspectives and insights they contribute. Much difficulty lies in changing minds about the nature of historical work. Government officials often hold that other fields offer “harder” evidence and greater objectivity than history, and that history “is a very disputatious discipline.” Also, the report notes, the difficulty of getting a minister or select committee “to go back to first principles.”

•   Advisory bodies. Departments should maintain advisory bodies more systematically. These experts would not only advise but would be a link to identifying others experts—“a bridge to academia.”

•   Understanding records access. More work is needed with archivists and historians on developing and understanding “future archives,” how to improve access to and understanding of rapidly changing record storage systems.

While the report is grounded in the UK’s policy making environment, it is highly relevant to U.S. needs. The report notes the great institutional desire and demand for the historian’s contributions. Many of our own federal agencies experience the same needs and practical and theoretical dilemmas. Some offices, such as the State Department history office, have developed advisory boards and connections with universities but still face the problems of how to effectively integrate and use historical expertise. We now see successful policy making as a complex process involving better integration of expertise across federal and academic lines, one wherein we are “conscious of the range of actors and directions that it might take.” This report provides an invaluable start in identifying the issues, parties, and possibilities that we must understand in trying to improve the policy making process.

— Benjamin Guterman, The Federalist

See the report at



“Co-Creating Narratives in Public Spaces”
Symposium Looks at Transforming the NPS

The “Broadening the Story” session discussed ways to produce fuller, more inclusive historical narratives.

The “Broadening the Story” session discussed ways to produce fuller, more inclusive historical narratives.

The National Park Service has been at a crossroads for some time, probing how to reinvent itself as a 21st-century agency. Its all-out campaign for change looks both within and without:  how it hires and maintains a diverse and trained staff, and how it connects with park visitors at its nationwide sites. As its 2016 centennial nears, the NPS aims for relevancy in a radically altered public sphere that demands more comprehensive, accurate, balanced, and interactive interpretative presentations and visitor experiences. In 2013, the agency published the far-reaching report The Imperiled Promise (2012). It then opened debate on that report to NPS personnel, outside experts, and the public in a series of conferences at Rutgers University, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, and on September 17–18, at The George Washington University. This latest meeting, titled “Co-Creating Narratives in Public Spaces,” was remarkable for both the breadth of its coverage and its candid conversations. Congratulations to NPS management and conference planners for an outstanding range of speakers and presentations from across the agency and from outside parties. The following summary of the proceedings is necessarily brief and incomplete, but more will hopefully follow in later issues of The Federalist.

Relevance and Learning

Program relevance was at the core of the discussions. In our age of smartphones, Twitter, and podcasts, and with the proliferation of historical information and the great demand for even more discussion and information, can the agency and its sites engage more effectively with park visitors and students across the country? Informed visitors expect more developed and nuanced historical narratives. The issue is not simply the use of technology but effective delivery of information and educational opportunities in ways now opened by technology—in the ways that many of us, including students, are now learning. Claudine Brown of the Smithsonian Institution stressed that 21st-century education will increasingly include technology-based resources as well as outside-the-classroom experiences. As the nation’s most important storyteller, the NPS must begin reaching audiences through such methods.

Immersion and Interaction

Presenters stressed the need for an expanded NPS role as a facilitator for education. Laura Schiavo, professor at George Washington University, summarized that new role as a transition from traditional public service to “civic engagement.” And others also stressed that park sites must now be places for dialogue. In the decentralized park program structure, many parks have already embraced such inclusive programs. Kelli English discussed the several ways that the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Site engages local youth and the community, often as volunteers. That site is perhaps one of the most complex, incorporating historic buildings, student ambassador programs, museum exhibits, volunteers, and numerous community partners. Others used the term “validating the visitor,” in which their activities enable the visitor to find more personal and perhaps familial connections with the history of that site, as at the Holocaust Museum or the new Cesar Chavez site. Jesse Nickelson discussed how the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and Museum’s student ambassador program immerses students in the program and enables them to serve as international ambassadors against genocide. Naomi Torres related how the Anza Historic Trail similarly trains high school students on the trail’s history, building on their family connection to the area. The need for partnerships with the community and businesses was also an important part of these discussions, especially since historic properties are often in private hands.

Those connections with the public and visitors can also emerge from expanded historical content and artifacts. Paul Gardullo, curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, argued the need for a fuller, more nuanced history at museums—stories that are fully inclusive of all groups. In this sense, museums need to catch up to the decades-old social history movement and go beyond it to make even more personal connections. He discussed how his museum is seeking artifacts from private citizens, allowing an expanded view of the past through more personal extensions of the narrative. He stated that people make pilgrimages to museums to make personal connections with the stories there. Now more sites are needed for other ethnic groups. Ruben Andrade discussed progress at the new Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, the first site celebrating a modern-day Latino hero. Similarly, Joy Kinard explained the extensive work at the Bethune National Park to chronicle the work of black women, and the development of the Carter G. Woodson site. The results become “ever-widening circles of inclusion.”

Adding Discussions

Attendees were very interested to learn how park visitors could be brought into discussions and thus both immerse themselves in the content and advance public engagement, or “participatory history.” Many parks and other agency offices are already using such forums, but the questions always concern the risks of dealing with controversial topics, such as the riots at Ferguson, Missouri; the degree of appropriateness for government offices; and the training and guidelines needed to manage such groups. Katherine Kane of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center discussed her center’s use of “salons” and the successes and pitfalls they’ve discovered. Salons are beneficial, she urged, for the connections and trust they encourage. Other presenters agreed by sharing their experiences. Naomi Torres, of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, stated that the best moments for learning at her site have been controversial ones in which the community was polarized. But others shared reservations about the appropriateness of forums, the challenges of remaining neutral (nonpolitical), and of managing charged discussions.

Personnel Issues

Personnel questions were central to the above issues. First, NPS staff nationwide must reflect the ethnic and racial diversity necessary to tell an expanded and balanced history. The agency remains predominately white despite recent efforts at diversity. Retention of new hires is a major problem, we learn, primarily because their low pay grade and often part-time schedules make it difficult for them to stay on long enough for promotions.

But is the low application rate of minorities also a symptom of something deeper? Professor Mickey Fearn, a former deputy director and now professor at North Carolina State University, stated that blacks have “biophobia,” a culturally conditioned indifference to natural settings. Conditioned over decades of impoverished inner-city life, they don’t pursue the park lifestyle. In that argument, only far-reaching socioeconomic changes will make a difference in application rates.

Looking Ahead

Directors Julie Washburn, Stephanie Toothman, and Michael Reynolds concluded the conference with their commitment to progress. They urged the various parks to take risks in making their programs relevant, to continue to build partnerships, and to keep the dialogue going. The sessions documented that public engagement is not only educationally vital but most beneficial in expanding and enriching local historical narratives. But not all community engagement will be easy because of local divisions and opposition—that is part of the process of producing “shared meaning” at historic places. And, management promised to address diversity and pay issues.

While the conference highlighted many of the promising strategies and directions that the NPS has been taking and can continue to take, it was very apparent that the highly decentralized structure of the park system will make for uneven progress. As park sites differ in their historic resources and potential educational messages, their outreach programs and innovations must be unique to themselves. Park leaders and workers must continually educate themselves on how they can create new meaning for their sites. The impressive open exchange of ideas at this recent conference, and undoubtedly many more to come, offers the best hope that our parks will become the best open classrooms we can make them. For more information, visit

— Benjamin Guterman, The Federalist

from The Federalist, Fall 2014



The National Park Service’s American Latino Heritage Initiative

By Paloma Bolasny

This article was first published in The Federalist, Fall 2013.

The National Park Service (NPS) is America’s storyteller. The agency has the responsibility to tell the stories of all Americans, whether through narratives at National Park units or through places listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since fall 2011, the NPS has been engaged in a number of projects under the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) American Latino Heritage Initiative (ALHI). Ken Salazar, then Secretary of the Interior, announced the ALHI after a forum at La Paz, in Keene, California, in June 2011. The discussion at the La Paz Forum, hosted by the DOI, NPS, and the National Park Foundation (NPF), focused on ways to recognize the contributions of Latino Americans throughout American history. DOI’s ALHI seeks to raise the profile of Latino heritage through projects and programs throughout the department. At the Forum, the Secretary expressed interest in an American Latino Theme Study that would serve as a historical and informational basis for new projects. It would soon become a central part of the NPS’s ALHI program.

The Theme Study

The theme study, American Latinos and the Making of the United States: A Theme Study, was published by the National Park System Advisory Board (NPSAB) in spring 2013. The audience for the publication is diverse, including historic preservation professionals at all levels of government and in the private sector whose job it is to identify, document, nominate, and preserve historic places. As historic preservation priorities increasingly focus on greater inclusion of our nation’s cultural diversity, this publication can be used as a starting point. The theme study also presents the opportunity to share American Latino history more widely with the general public, who may not be familiar with this topic.

To assist with the development of the theme study, an American Latino Scholars Expert Panel was formed in December 2011 under the auspices of the NPSAB. The 11-member panel, which still meets regularly, was formed of scholars, professors, and conservation professionals. Coordination of panel activities and compilation of the theme study was undertaken by Stephanie Toothman, NPS Associate Director for Cultural Resources, Stewardship, Partnerships, and Science in cooperation with the Organization of American Historians. In January 2012, the panel met in San Antonio for an intense session dedicated to framing the theme study. The panel provided recommendations to the NPS as to the structure of the publication and potential essayists.

The theme study, available at, consists of a “core” essay and four large sections, each with its own broad theme: Making a Nation, Making a Life, Making a Living, and Making a Democracy. The “core” essay, written by Yale University professor of History and American Studies Stephen Pitti, covers Latino/a history since the 15th century as personified in four historical figures. Each subsequent section contains four chapters, each of which can be read as a stand-alone document. Making a Nation, the first section, discusses U.S. nation building—both physically and intellectually—from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Making a Life looks at the ways Latinos have created their religious, artist, recreational, and culinary lives in the United States. Making a Living highlights the role of Latinos in fostering and sustaining American economic life. Finally, Making a Democracy discusses the stories and struggles for equality in all aspects of American Society. The theme study also includes an extensive bibliography, valuable for any researcher or inquisitive mind new to American Latino history.

Community-Focused Projects

The NPS Washington office of Cultural Resources has also engaged in several other projects that promote Latino heritage. These projects are also available at Completed in July 2012, the bilingual American Latino Heritage brochure highlights American Latino heritage projects in National Parks and communities. The Community Action Toolkit provides an overview of the current players in historic preservation in the United States, from the federal level to local nonprofits. This site is intended for users new to the world of historic preservation and is tailored with case studies and contacts for nonprofits representing Latino heritage.

The popular Discover our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary series added a new itinerary in 2012 on American Latino heritage. The itinerary includes nearly 200 sites associated with the role of Latinos in the history and development of the United States. This extensive itinerary is available to all. Two Youth Summits aimed at engaging young Latino and other youth in historic preservation in their communities were conducted as part of the ALHI. Students at the first youth summit in Washington, DC, focused on advocacy with preservation, education, and government leaders. The second summit took place in the Yakima Valley and Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. The students spent three days exploring Latino heritage in the area by visiting the Yakima museum and a successful Latino-owned orchard. Both summits were supported by the NPS, the National Conference for State Historic Preservation Officers, and multiple state and local partners and private businesses. A guide on how to conduct youth summits is also available.

Promoting Documentation and National Historic Landmarks

Documentation of the nation’s built heritage forms the core mission of many of the NPS Cultural Resources programs in the Washington office. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)/Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) partnered with students and professors from the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona to prepare measured drawings, a written historical narrative, and large-format photographs of Forty Acres, the National Historic Landmark (NHL) closely associated with Cesar Chavez. The project is projected to be completed by the end of 2013.

The NHL program has been busy reviewing and preparing nominations under the ALHI. The majority of the nominations approved by the National Historic Landmarks committee since 2011 have been of places that reflect the heritage of underrepresented groups, such as Latinos, women, Asian Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans. Recently designated NHLs include The Hispanic Society of America Complex, NY, the U.S. Post Office and Court House (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California), and Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, CA. The NHL program is currently also engaged with scholars to prepare a theme study on Asian American Pacific Islander heritage and LGBTQ history in the United States.

NPS greeted its 398th unit to the National Park system in October 2012. The Cesar E. Chavez National Monument at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz in Keene, California, designated by President Obama using the Antiquities Act, will be managed by the NPS in cooperation with the National Chavez Center. The La Paz property served as the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America since the 1970s and is where Chavez is buried. The American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) of the National Park Foundation contributed funds for the establishment of the Monument. The ALHF works to support historic places that tell the story of Latinos’ contributions to the American narrative by supporting the National Park Service. The ALHF was established as part of the ALHI and has provided support for many of the Initiative’s goals.

Many other NPS parks and programs are engaged in projects under the umbrella of the ALHI. From archeology programs to partnerships with local schools, the NPS is working creatively to document Latino heritage and teach a new generation all that NPS has to offer. The energy spurred by the ALHI led DOI Assistant Secretary Rhea Suh to announce the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Initiative in 2013 to promote historic preservation projects in the AAPI community ( NPS welcomes partnerships that advance all its preservation and stewardship goals as well as these official initiatives. Please feel free to contact Paloma Bolasny at or Barbara Little at for more information on these initiatives or to find out how your agency or office can become involved.

Paloma Bolasny is coordinator of the Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program and a historian with the Cultural Resources, Stewardship. Partnerships, and Science Division, Office of Outreach at the National Park Service, Washington, DC.

__ __ __

Manzanar National Historic Site

The management of historic sites often raises questions and opposing views from several constituencies. Ann Hitchcock of the National Park Service provided a striking example in the summer 2007 issue of The Federalist of the essential negotiations—the “Civic Engagement” process—that enabled the preservation of the Manzanar War Relocation Center in Owens Valley, California.

She wrote that in 1992 “Congress established Manzanar National Historic Site to provide for the protection and interpretation of resources associated with the Japanese American relocation experience. The legislation also established an Advisory Commission composed of former internees, local residents, representatives of Native American groups, and the general public. Although the mission focused on the relocation camp, the composition of the Advisory Commission would give voice to diverse views.”

The camp had been home during World War II to “more than 10,000 men, women, and children lived in 576 primitive barracks and shared com

mon buildings, such as a laundry, classrooms, and an auditorium.” However, the land was leased, and after the war the Army removed almost all structures from the property.

There were stark differences in approaches to development of the historic site. The NPS traditionally disproved of “reconstructions” of buildings and other structures “as contemporary interpretations of the past rather than authentic survivals, and favored reconstruction only when no other alternative would accomplish the park’s interpretive mission and when it would not be based on conjecture.” Other groups on the commission favored such reconstructions, including the rock gardens, barracks, and especially the guard towers.

Opposing views were evident at the 1993 planning sessions in “the NPS’s opposition to reconstruction versus the Manzanar Committee’s belief that reconstruction was essential; the legislation’s focus on the history of the relocation camp versus the local communities’ desires to see the pioneer and Paiute history given equivalent attention”

In the end, the adopted plan reflected not only the Manzanar experience but the centuries of Native American presence, and the ranching and agricultural character of the area. The structure of the site reflected the internment experience, with reconstruction of the barbed wire fence, camp site entrance, guard tower, and barracks buildings.

Hitchcock noted the value of the general compromise: “The Civic Engagement process “transformed the NPS position and enabled all parties to accommodate the needs of others to put this difficult lesson of history in the context of the extended history of Manzanar.”

Groundbreaking at reconstructed barracks

- – -

For the full article, see the Summer 2007 issue of The Federalist at,

under “Publications.”

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