Heritage - It's About Time!

A National Strategy

There are thousands of years awaiting review and reflection -- waiting to be embraced by all Americans.

Awaiting discovery in the hollows, mountains and river valleys of our National Forests are the remnants of past cultures that confront us and remind us of the centuries-old relationship between people and the land. These heritage resources hold clues to past ecosystems, add richness and depth to our landscapes, provide links to living traditions, and help transform a beautiful walk in the woods into an unforgettable encounter with history.

The Forest Service Natural Resource Agenda provides a vision for the long term future of the Forest Service. It also identifies several critical emphasis areas that need our immediate attention, including watershed health and restoration, sustainable forest ecosystem management, and recreation. The Recreation Strategy tiers to the Natural Resource Agenda and sets a new course for how we will deliver quality recreation experiences and services to the pubic. Heritage resources are fundamentally linked to the future envisioned in both of these documents.

As we embark on new efforts to maintain and restore the health of our watersheds and ecosystems, heritage resources offer crucial information and insights into the past that have bearing on sustainability. As we place priority on providing premier recreation settings, experiences, and customer service, heritage resources offer the "tie that binds" people to the land. And as we seek to engage the public in all of our endeavors, heritage offers the keys to understanding that unique "sense of place" that can bring people together to help shape the future.

This strategic plan builds on the 1992 heritage strategy that moved the heritage program more firmly into the arena of enhancement and public outreach. It further articulates the role the heritage program can play in achieving the overall mission and vision of the Forest Service. It seeks to clarify and define the program in terms of three key components: stewardship, public service, and a context for natural resource management. Several action items are identified within each component and for the program as a whole to guide efforts over the next 3-5 years.


To protect significant heritage resources, to share their values with the American people, and to contribute relevant information and perspectives to natural resource management. In so doing, we will:

  • ensure that future generations will have an opportunity to discover the human story etched on the landscapes of our National Forests and Grasslands;
  • make the past come alive as a vibrant part of our recreational experiences and community life; and
  • connect people to the land in a way that will help us better understand and manage forest ecosystems.


We open windows on the past and thereby see the people and the land more clearly.

  • The American people look to National Forests and Grasslands for intriguing opportunities to touch, explore, and learn about their cultural heritage.
  • As they travel through time, forest visitors make a personal connection with the past, sense the diversity of the human experience, and begin to understand the fundamental relationship between people and the land.
  • Recognizing the value of each piece of the puzzle, the public is our strongest ally in protecting and preserving heritage sites.
  • In partnership with other land managing agencies, local communities, and Indian tribes, the heritage program contributes to economic sustainability in a manner sensitive to traditional cultures and local/regional priorities.
  • Heritage stewardship and natural resource management operate in productive harmony to fulfill the social, economic, and spiritual needs of the nation.
  • Knowledge gleaned from more than twelve thousand years of history and prehistory contributes to our understanding of past and present ecosystems and provides an expanded context for decision making.


A land without ruins is a land without memories.


As manager of almost 200 million acres of public land, the National Forest System is entrusted with the stewardship of a large share of the nation's historical and cultural heritage. We can be proud of many of our stewardship accomplishments, including outstanding examples of historic building stabilization, rock art conservation, and adaptive use. Still, most of our stewardship efforts remain focused on protecting heritage sites from project impacts. Here our efforts are often frustrated by a time-consuming compliance process that contributes little to our understanding of the resource. Meanwhile, Indian tribes are voicing stronger concerns about the management of traditional cultural properties and sacred sites on public lands and are demanding a greater role in decisions affecting heritage resources. While we attempt to deal with properties threatened by development or criminal activities, or surrounded by controversy, we find ourselves increasingly unable to adequately care for properties threatened by years of natural deterioration, erosion, vandalism, and neglect. Much of the nation's cultural heritage languishes, poorly-documented and largely forgotten.

Desired Future

  • The Forest Service is recognized as a national leader in heritage conservation.
  • Looting and vandalism have all but disappeared on National Forest lands.
  • Priority sites are stabilized and monitored to protect significant values.
  • Heritage resources are fully integrated into land and resource planning
  • Tribal relationships based on trust facilitate resolution of heritage issues.
  • Project support is efficient and cost-effective, thanks to state-of-the-art tools and streamlined compliance procedures.
  • Site and survey information is accurate, up-to-date, and incorporated into GIS.
  • Artifacts and records are appropriately curated and available for study
  • Exciting knowledge about the past is synthesized and readily available for public interpretation and natural resource management.

Did You Know?

  • By the 1960s, archaeologists estimated that in many parts of the country up to 90% of the prehistoric sites had been destroyed by development.
  • National Forests contain many of the nation's best preserved heritage sites in some of the least disturbed natural settings.
  • Over 270,000 sites are currently inventoried on NFS lands.
  • Fewer than one percent of recorded sites have been stabilized or restored; most have not been studied or evaluated; only 3,000 properties have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Heritage specialists provide input to some10,000 undertakings each year, crosscutting all resource areas and activities.
  • Forests consult with more than 400 Indian tribes regarding management of heritage sites.


1. Increase efforts to prioritize and protect our most significant heritage sites.

  • Increase the number of sites preserved and protected (MAR 65.4) by 100% in the year 2001.
  • Enlist the public's help by expanding Site Steward programs and giving national recognition to accomplishments.
  • Explore development of a catalogue of endangered sites, with a non-profit partner, to serve as the focal point of an 'adopt a site" program.
  • Strengthen cooperative relationships with law enforcement, including an improved national communication network.

2. Address the question: " What are we learning about the past?".

  • Develop a more effective framework to inventory, evaluate, and protect heritage resources, including a streamlined compliance process with more meaningful products.
  • Expand partnerships with researchers and scholars to begin to synthesize and fill in the gaps in our knowledge about the history and prehistory of our forests.

3. Expand stewardship capabilities through use of improved technologies.

  • Incorporate heritage layers into GIS on all units by the end of FY 2001.
  • Develop an inventory of specialized equipment, expertise, and training available nationally.
  • Escacate efforts to develop a national information management module for upward reporting as part of the Infrastructure corporate database. 4. Take immediate steps to improve working relationships with Indian tribes.
  • Partner with S&PF and Civil Rights programs to increase awareness of tribal issues among national, regional, and forest leadership teams.
  • Clarify national direction regarding tribal/heritage issues.
  • Complete the "Management of Traditional Cultural Properties and Sacred Sites" course to be offered through George Mason University's Distance Learning Program.
  • Develop partnerships with tribes to achieve mutual heritage goals as a way to build stronger working relationships; share successes.

Public Service

I got to live a lifelong dream! - PIT Volunteer


People are fascinated with the past, whether it is their own family history, the history of their town, the Civil War, Lewis and Clark, or the Anasazi. There is a mystery and nostalgia associated with the past that captivates the imagination as well as the intellect--the desire to understand how we arrived at where we are today. Because of the intrigue of archaeology and the past, heritage has a ready and willing public constituency. As our society grows more urban and complex, people long for unique and authentic opportunities to experience the natural and cultural heritage of special places. We have premier sites, settings, and experiences to offer. Yet, despite our successes with public programs, the growth in Passport In Time (PIT) volunteer opportunities, and the fledgling Heritage Expeditions, we still are not meeting the demand for quality heritage learning and tourism opportunities. Nor are we realizing the full potential of heritage sites on public lands to draw heritage tourism partners or corporate sponsors which could benefit both our sites and our public programs. At the same time we need to assure that decisions about public visitation take into account the fundamental need to preserve the integrity and special qualities of the resources and their settings.

Desired Future

  • Through quality experiences, fascination with the past is transformed into understanding and appreciation.
  • People look to National Forests to experience heritage sites in natural settings that still preserve a sense of place and offer the thrill of discovery.
  • Forests offer an amazing range of heritage opportunities and experiences filled with learning, adventure, and fun!
  • Those experiences come in a variety of forms including interpretation, educational tours, volunteer opportunities to assist with research and management, and special events.
  • Heritage volunteer opportunities almost keep up with the demand
  • Heritage tourism contributes to rural community viability through involvement of local partners.
  • School children know that forest rangers take care of ruins, and they think that's cool!
  • Visitors gladly pay fees for quality heritage experiences and the satisfaction of knowing they are helping care for special places.
  • People find out about heritage experiences in many ways, including the World Wide Web.
  • Corporate sponsors help us provide heritage learning opportunities
  • The public becomes our most vocal advocate as a result of their positive heritage experiences.

Did You Know?

  • Over 88 million people visit historic sites each year.
  • Heritage tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in the nation's 350 billion dollar tourism industry.
  • These days, people don't just travel to escape, they travel to enrich their lives.
  • Visiting heritage sites is ranked in the top 2 or 3 reasons people take vacations.
  • Over 13,000 Passport in Time volunteers have contributed over 400,000 volunteer hours to Forest Service heritage projects while having "the time of their lives!"
  • In a time of resource management controversy and litigation, heritage offers the Forest Service that fabulous sound bite, that white-hat story.
  • Every other person you meet wanted to be an archaeologist when they were a kid.
  • Currently, around 2,000 heritage sites on NFS lands are interpreted in some way for the public.


1. Breathe new life into "Windows on the Past" by developing a set of national Windows products to highlight heritage opportunities (PIT, cabin rentals, heritage expeditions, fire lookouts, etc.).

2. Strengthen internal linkages with recreation management, interpretive services, fee demo, environmental education, engineering and others to assure integrated efforts and quality products.

3. Play a more visible role in helping shape heritage tourism on National Forests:

  • Develop a Heritage Opportunity Spectrum to match settings, sites, and appropriate heritage tourism opportunities.
  • Increase Passport in Time opportunities by 50% by FY 2001.
  • Broaden and increase opportunities for Heritage Expeditions nationally to explore the eco-tourism/adventure travel niche and fee possibilities.
  • Involve local communities in exploring heritage tourism opportunities.
  • Forge links with private sector partners, such as NFF, National Trust, and the tourism industry to better understand trends, customers, and the appropriate role of National Forests in providing heritage experiences.
  • Develop a marketing packet for Heritage to attract potential corporate sponsors.
  • Make heritage volunteer and tourism opportunities available on the World Wide Web. 4. Develop and implement quality standards for interpretive sites and programs as part of heritage Meaningful Measures to assure high quality, memorable heritage experiences that exceed visitor expectations.

Context for Natural Resource Management

The past serves as an anchor for the present. It shows us how we came to be who we are and, perhaps, hints at where we are going as a society.


In our efforts to maintain and restore the health of our ecosystems and watersheds and as we bring people together to help us chart a new course in conservation, heritage provides the link that connects people, past and present, to the land. For thousands of years, our Forests and Grasslands have been home to communities who depended upon their mountains, rivers, and canyons for food, shelter, and spiritual well-being. This same basic relationship continues today. Heritage resources and information offer opportunities to deepen our understanding of both the lands we manage and the communities we serve. Heritage offers the Forest Service the "long view" in terms of understanding ecological continuity and change and helps us comprehend that "sense of place" that transcends science and public policy. Today, we have only begun to scratch the surface of this critical area of investigation.

Desired Future

  • Understanding the role of human beings in past and present ecosystems provides a context for understanding contemporary landscapes and natural resource issues.
  • Knowledge about past cultures and traditional communities helps us appreciate human and ethnic diversity in the work place, in our interactions with constituents, and in our daily lives.
  • Heritage resources are an essential component of ecosystem analysis and forest health assessments.
  • Land managers recognize that socio-cultural values have always shaped perceptions about the environment, including our own, and will continue to define natural resource issues.
  • An energized Forest History Program provides insights into Forest Service beginnings and how our programs and policies have evolved in response to an ever-changing society.
  • The Heritage Research Work unit provides exciting products and conceptual tools that open new doors for heritage contributions to natural resource management.

Did You Know?

  • Around AD 1100, the ancient city of Cahokia, near St. Louis, held more inhabitants than Rome or London at that time.
  • In the Phoenix Basin in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Hohokam farmers built 500 kilometers of irrigation canals that watered 150 square kilometers of irrigated fields.
  • The Green and White Mountains of New England were 80% deforested in the 1800s due to historic logging activities.
  • Archaeological sites yield pollen, seeds, animal bones and charcoal that help reconstruct past landscapes, biotic communities, and climatic change.
  • Hydrologists and fisheries biologists are using archaeological evidence in restoring streams and reintroducing species.
  • In the hills of eastern Kentucky, data from rock shelters on the Daniel Boone National Forest suggest that, beginning around 7,000 years ago, use of fire by prehistoric peoples significantly altered forest composition.


  • 1. Articulate nationally the significant role heritage can play in ecosystem management.
  • Develop a national position paper drawing from regional products (R1, R5).
  • Assemble and share case studies using existing channels (Heritage Times, EM News , EM, recreation and heritage meetings and conferences, leadership team meetings).
  • Increase routine heritage involvement in on-the-ground multi-resource inventories and ecosystem analysis and planning.

2. Strengthen linkages to Heritage Research.

  • Communicate heritage research objectives and products to heritage specialists and land managers.
  • Expand existing partnership with research to assure technology transfer and dialogue relative to research needs and applications.

3. Integrate knowledge and appreciation of past cultures into today's celebration and management of diversity.

The Underpinnings:

Management Effectiveness

The legal foundation for a well-rounded program including resource stewardship, public programs, and input to natural resource management, has been in place for many years. In fact, in addition to their basic stewardship responsibilities, FS heritage professionals have been doing public programs and working with interdisciplinary teams for years. However, our program evolution beyond basic project support has not been documented clearly in manual or handbook direction, nor was it reflected in accomplishment measurements or budget direction until recently. This resulted in wide variation among heritage programs on different units which sometimes frustrated managers who had nowhere to go to find out exactly what the heritage program should entail.

In order to effectively implement this evolving vision of the Heritage Program, we must develop the following integrated set of tools to reflect and support all three program components: resource stewardship, public service, and a context for natural resource management .


As we mobilize for implementation of the national strategy, several key actions are needed to lay the groundwork for success:

1. Gain the commitment of the Recreation leadership to make the heritage vision a shared vision.

2. Develop a communication plan to heighten the awareness of FS leadership, the Department, and Congress regarding the untapped opportunities and public benefits of the heritage program.

3. Assess the national heritage program funding level in terms of our ability to implement the strategy and the value of the benefits to be derived. Make adjustments.

4. Implement a plan to provide the heritage work force the training, tools, and resources needed to make the strategy a reality.

5. Begin to forge alliances with other agencies, local communities, tribes, private sector partners, the professional community, and others whose cooperation and support are needed to achieve the vision.

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Title: heritage_strategy.shtml
Last Modified: Thursday, 06-Jun-2002 09:31:44 EDT
Expires: 1/1/2001

  • Revised Manual and Handbook direction
  • Heritage Meaningful Measures
  • Effective Heritage Information Management
  • National Programmatic Agreement/Alternate Procedures
  • Budget direction and allocation criteria
  • Heritage training (core competencies)