Baker Island Cemetery-Acadia National Park-Maine. Baker Island is an uninhabited 123-acre island, which is part of the Carberry Isles. It was first settled more than 200 years ago by the Gilley family.  The landscape includes the Gilley Farm and its homestead, farm fields and orchard. #nps #culturallandscape #maine #mainers #cemetery #acadia via Instagram

Baker Island Cemetery-Acadia National Park-Maine. Baker Island is an uninhabited 123-acre island, which is part of the Carberry Isles. It was first settled more than 200 years ago by the Gilley family. The landscape includes the Gilley Farm and its homestead, farm fields and orchard. #nps #culturallandscape #maine #mainers #cemetery #acadia via Instagram

Path of History

SCA and YCC at Governors Island National Monument

It can be easy to overlook the bricks of history when they are directly underfoot, pressed neatly together into a long ribbon.

Summertime brings plenty of visitors to Governors Island National Monument in New York Harbor. Positioned at the tip of Lower Manhattan, the island has served as one of the longest continually-operated military installations in the country.  Its strategic value was first recognized in 1755, and it was occupied as a defensive position nearly continuously until the U.S. Coast Guard relinquished control in 1996.  

The site still contains Fort Jay and Castle Williams, two forts representing aspects of late 18th- and early 19th-century American harbor defense systems.  Most visitors to the site explore its history by following the heavily-traveled walkway that runs through the largely pedestrian park.

This July, twelve Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) members and two Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew chiefs learned about historic masonry and Governor’s Island history as they leveled and reset bricks in the historic sidewalk. The critical repairs make the walkway safer for the tens of thousands of people who use it every week, while also helping to preserve a critical thread of the park’s cultural fabric.  

For two days, the crew carefully leveled the bricks to be sure that the path’s surface would be flat. To do this, they removed bricks from damaged areas, dug out the underlying dirt, and layered fresh gravel and sand to create a solid base. They placed bricks into the stable bed, made sure the surface was level, and then swept sand into the spaces to lock the masonry in place.

The group also had a chance to tour Castle Williams, rewarded for their hard work with a rooftop view, rejuvenating harbor breeze, and wider perspective of how their repairs to the walkway fit into the historic landscape.

The crew spends the summer traveling around New York City to participate in natural and cultural resource protection projects at the sites that make up the National Parks of New York Harbor.  It is comprised of high-school aged youth from all five boroughs and beyond. The youth workers’ next destination is Gateway National Recreation Area, where they will construct a new hiking trail in Jamaica Bay.

The YCC program operates in partnership with the SCA, which provides experienced crew chiefs to guide and supervise the youth teams in their activities.

Great work!  

Learn more:

  • You can find more images of this project, as well as other current events happening at Governors Island National Monument, on the park’s Facebook page.
  • Interested in the specific features and history of this cultural landscape?  Read the Cultural Landscape Inventory park report for Governors Island. [If you follow the link, you can download the full report under the “Holdings” tab.]

New Teaching with Historic Places Lesson

Charlesfort-Santa Elena National Historic Landmark

We are pleased to announce that the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program has launched its 155th lesson plan: Digging into the Colonial Past: Archeology and the 16th-Century Spanish Settlements at Charlesfort-Santa Elena.  

The lesson plan helps students explore how the discovery of 16th-century Spanish colonial settlements on South Carolina’s Parris Island changed our perspective of the story of European arrival in North America. The settlements on the island predate Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth.

In the lesson, students examine how archeologists make use of both archeological evidence and written records to uncover past events. Historians and archeologists have been piecing together the story of Santa Elena for over a century.  This lesson demonstrates the array of clues and methods that offer insight into that history. 

Archeological data, modern and contemporary maps, images, and written accounts of the settlement all combine to provide students with a view of the thoughts and motivations of Spanish colonists, hints into their lives, and an understanding of Spain’s ambitions for 16th century North America.

This is the 155th lesson in the Teaching with Historic Places series, a program that brings the significance of historic sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places into classrooms across the country and helps enliven history, social studies, civics, and other subjects. 

The cooperative effort to prepare the Charlesfort-Santa Elena lesson plan involved the National Park Service, the Santa Elena Project Foundation, and the Kingdom of Spain.  It was written by historian and education specialist Jaclyn Jecha for the Santa Elena Project Foundation, with assistance from Dr. Paul E. Hoffman of Louisiana State University. The project was initiated by the National Park Service Archeology Program through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kingdom of Spain and supported by the Spanish Embassy.

Please feel free to share the online lesson with educators!

  • For more about the site, including visiting information and links to the National Historic Landmark nomination, visit the Charlesfort-Santa Elena page - part of the “Discover our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary” series.

Talking Totems

The stories told by the stately totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park are as expressive and intricately layered as the carvings themselves.

When Europeans first arrived at the indigenous coastal villages of Southeast Alaska, they were greeted by crowds of wooden bears and ravens. Traders and travelers marveled at the skillfully crafted carvings, but had little understanding of where they came from or what they meant.

Two hundred years later, modern visitors continue to marvel at the totem poles at Sitka National Historical Park.  Unlike those early mariners, today’s visitors can access 24/7 interpretive experiences thanks to park rangers, wayside exhibits, and - most recently - cell phone walking tours.

A Self-Guided Tour of Sitka’s Totem Poles

The cell phone walking tours at Sitka began in 2009, when Sitka NHP Superintendent Mary A. Miller saw an opportunity to supplement the park’s existing interpretation through the use of technology. Five years later, 12,000 visitors have explored the totem pole collection with the help of their mobile phones. Statistics collected by mobile tour vendor OnCell Systems show that the average tour is 44 minutes (the same length as a ranger-led program), and that visitors have used their cell phones to tour the totem poles as late as 11pm.


“The cell phone walking tour certainly isn’t intended to replace the function of our talented park rangers,” said Miller. “Instead, it offers a flexible interpretive experience for visitors to understand and appreciate our unique cultural objects.”

After dialing a toll-free number, a woman’s voice guides visitors along the forested Totem Trail where the park’s totem poles stand proudly and silently. Throughout the mile-long loop, a listener can pause the tour and skip ahead or backwards. Dialing the number posted on small signs near each totem pole enables each listener to completely control their self-guided tour.

Making the Connection

Whether visitors arrive at the Totem Trail between ranger tours or after the visitor center closes, cell phone tours give self-sufficient visitors an option to discover the park’s resources at their own leisure.

Visitor reviews have been glowing. “This is a spectacular service. As we walk through these incredible places without the guide, it allows us to be self-guided and informed. Thanks so much,” said one caller. “I just want you to know that this walking tour has been wonderful,” said another caller. “It made the difference between really understanding what I’m looking at versus just walking through a nice park and seeing a bunch of totem poles.”

Courtesy of Michael Hess

July 2014 NPS Archeology E-Gram


Digging into Agricultural Landscapes

The expanding warmth of long summer days envelopes the landscape.  We are nearing the season where labor and patience combine, erupting (with luck) into harvest. 

This month, the Park Cultural Landscapes Program digs into the agricultural landscapes that have shaped and been shaped by our diverse heritage.

We will visit farms, ranches, historic orchards, and kitchen gardens across the country.  Agricultural landscapes provide a view of how people use and value the land around them. For thousands of years, this nation’s occupants have found ways to make harsh conditions habitable, adapted traditional values to fit the features of a new place, and merged the pleasures and necessities of living.

We will unearth a few of the deep roots of agricultural landscapes, as well as the significance of their current appearance and function.  We’ll also see some of the techniques the National Park Service and partnering organizations are using to preserve and share these unique resources – two vital parts of the cultivation process, as anyone who has ever created a garden will tell you!    

Do you have a favorite national park agricultural #culturallandscape? We’d love to see your photos and stories.  Share the bounty!