Up On The Mountain Update

The last few days I have kept my nose buried in several books on the topic of the Mission 66 park program and searching for insights into the design process of the architect Benjamin H. Biderman who designed Look Rock Tower. I have also been getting more familiar with cabin construction as my supervisor has given me some opportunities to get out into the park and hike up to cabins on our list of classified structures that need condition assessments. Some of the Mission 66 era books I’ve focused on include: Mission 66 Modernism and the National Park Dilemma by Ethan Carr, Mission 66 Visitor Centers,  by Sarah Allaback and Park Politics and the People by Conrad Wirth. I certainly hope by the end of this internship these various forms of research will have helped me become more knowledgeable about this era of parkitecture.

Elbert Cantrell farmstead spring house

Elbert Cantrell farmstead spring house

It’s really exciting to get outside make condition assessments of historical structures because I get to hike out to historic buildings in the park that in some cases are well over 100 years old. Some of these Appalachian structures have some really interesting construction techniques that you just don’t see on the west coast—I’ve looked at cabins, old barns, spring houses and the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club House. I even had a close call with what I think may have been a copperhead snake as I was looking at the foundation of one cabin!
Copperhead Snake

Copperhead Snake

While researching Benjamin H. Biderman, the architect of the Look Rock Tower, I did find something that peaked my interest as to the kind of person Biderman was or at least what his family did in his name. He passed away in 2009 and retired from the NPS in 1993 after 30 years of working as a designer. His obituary in the Arrowhead newsletter published by the NPS Employee and Alumni Association states that all memorial donations be directed to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center is a non profit organization dedicated to civil rights and public interest litigation that’s especially known for winning battles against white supremacist groups.
Architect Benjamin H. Biderman

Architect Benjamin H. Biderman

During the 30 years that Mr. Biderman worked for the NPS he saw the organization slowly change from an agency that discriminated against women and minority architects/landscape architects, to one that has been forced to comply with equal opportunity laws giving women and minority architects a chance to participate and thrive in the agency. Given the little I know about this designer it has opened me up to the possibility of researching this individual more deeply. I am inspired to reflect on how the NPS of 2016 strives to embrace this country’s diversity and has made significant efforts to better working conditions; that being said, NPS still has a long way to go. I was cognizant of the work that the agency still needs to do when it comes to diversifying the workforce to reflect this nation’s demography, but I had no idea of the actual scale of the problem. For the past two years I have worked in the San Francisco bay area as a park guide via the Pacific West Regional office, as well as with several of the S.F. Bay Area network parks and I can say that on the ground at the service level the staff is pretty diverse. However this is not the case back at the regional office, while  there are several women in key leadership positions and there is a few Latina/os, Blacks and Asians working in the office,  the majority of the staff is white.. During my time in the Smokies I can see that the service is not as diverse as I may have hoped it might be. I think I may be the only Chicano working in the entire park along with two other Latina/os working here in the park seasonally as interns and one Latina working here permanently.
Me at the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club

Me at the Smoky Mountain Hiking Club

My initial investigations to see if there were any bilingual staff working in visitor services has found that there are none. I would like to try to make an effort to address these issues during my time here however I am not currently working in an outreach or visitor services capacity I came here to learn skills in historic preservation and get training as a cultural resources technician with the focus on making a National Register of Historic Places nomination. Regardless I still want to help and maybe this can be the task for another LHIP internship here in the Smokies that can work with their public affairs office or the Resource Education Division because they need to address these deficiencies. I hope that I will learn skills here that will help me in advocating for the preservation of historical spaces that are important to Latino/as and that I can preserve our history in this country so that our stories can be shared on equal footing as that of the dominant culture.
reading list

reading list

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