From Archaeologist to Park Planner…Something About the Way We Are Trained

When I first interviewed for this position, one of my biggest worries was needing a specific planning background; I’ve either mentioned or alluded to this in my previous blog posts. Little did I know that my now supervisor Sami was in the same boat as an archaeologist turned park planner. I use the word “boat” literally because Sami used to work with the NPS – Underwater Archaeology Division; I even met Sami’s old boss on my first day on site! I remember bringing up my concerns during the interview, and that’s when Sami said the phrase that inspired this blog post: ” It’s something about the way we are trained that makes anthropologists and archaeologists good planners.”Fundamentally, archaeologists try to understand how people live and use the land. Archaeologists employ methods to first figure out how people lived in the past, and only recently have they started using this data to connect that past with present experiences.

Being interested in the connection between past and present, I am working on planning processes with Pecos National Historical Park for my project. This highly archaeological park is often the first introduction for visitors to the mix of Indigenous, Spanish, and U.S. legacy of the Southwest. The park’s history begins with the Pueblos of the Southwest which was disrupted by the involvement of the Spanish in the region. Pecos is once again transformed as it marks the site of one of the most western battles of the Civil War. This location means different things to different people, meaning different cultures remember this site differently and interpret its history in various ways.

My project is related to understanding the multiple uses of the site through a Planning Portfolio Review focused on zoning. Expressed in more general terms, my job is to understand how visitors use the different areas of the monument and how that balances with cultural preservation. The process for me to complete this project practically translates to reviewing all of the park documents, summarizing documents actively used to manage the different areas of the park, and identifying any changes that need to be made to the planning portfolio. As I previously mentioned, Pecos National Historical Park is a highly archaeological park, which means the results of this portfolio review need to balance the visitor experience and resource protection. For example, structures can collapse if there is too much movement or people are being led through trails leading to archaeological sites that shouldn’t be disturbed. Understanding the planning history and zoning of Pecos National Historical Park is similar to an archaeological investigation in that I am excavating through files that will reveal the different features of the various zones of the park. Once the “excavations” have concluded, there should be a summary of how the park has defined zones and uses for these zones. It is the process of connecting the park to current experiences that makes me excited to be using archaeological perspectives in the National Park Service.

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