It Takes All Kinds

Last week, I had a chance to return to Cape Cod National Seashore with a team from the Olmsted Center, SUNY ESF, Gateway National Recreation Area, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and Minute Man National Historical Park. Our group was diverse, representing landscape architecture, field biology, history, Africana studies, archaeology, fine arts, and conservation. While fieldwork is a delightful part of any site visit, especially in such a beautiful and ecologically varied park, our meetings with park staff members were the highlight of the trip for me. When people think of National Park employees, they often think first of the interpretive rangers who interface most frequently with the public. However, parks are stewarded by a staff representing disciplines as diverse as our visiting group, and the opportunity to meet with several individuals across natural and cultural resources helped give us a complex understanding of managing a large park like Cape Cod. (Some of Cape Cod’s many ecosystems clockwise below: salt marsh, cranberry bog, sand dune, fresh water pond, ocean).

Bill Burke, the park historian, was our primary park partner and general wealth of institutional knowledge. Having been with the park for over two decades, he helped us understand both the distant and recent history of these sites, as well as their significance to visitors. These insights were extremely useful for informing potential treatment tasks for the future. We also got to meet with two members of the Science and Research Division, Nita Tallent, the Chief of Natural Resource Management and Science, and Mark Adams, the GIS Specialist. They shared with us the challenges of managing a park that is ecologically diverse, vulnerable to climate change, and balances both heavy recreational use and conservation. The change in research scale of their projects was really amazing – from studying a particular fungus growing on a single cranberry species to considering the long term effects of shifting sand and winds over the entire outer cape. Finally, we got an opportunity to meet with Deputy Superintendent Kathy Tevyaw and Sue Monyihan, the Chief of Interpretation and Cultural Resources Management, along with Bill and Nita. Lauren McKean then shared historic maps and photos from the archives with us to put the changing landscape into a broader perspective. It can be easy to get lost in our specific research projects, and this final meeting was a great opportunity to put our work in context, ask questions, and gain a better understanding of the interplay between cultural and natural resource management, research, and public engagement. (Some of our fearless leaders and partners clockwise from left: Bill, Lauren, Margie, and Chris & Jeff).

One of the aspects we talked about that I found particularly engaging was the nature of public-public and public-private partnerships in national parks. Many parks, Cape Cod included, rely heavily on collaborations with partners outside the national park service. These include individuals representing other federal agencies, non-profits, universities, Native American tribes, and state and local governments. You can read more about an important partnership between the Cape Cod Modern House Trust and the park on Melissa’s blog. Nita shared natural resource research projects currently underway with university partners, and Mark recently helped publish and illustrate an informational book on coastal landforms and processes in collaboration with the US Geological Survey and the Center for Coastal Studies. While we were unfortunately already on our way home to Boston, members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes hosted the Wampanoag Spring Cultural Festival at the park last weekend. Other non-park affiliated events like a kiln loading at the Truro Center for the Arts and Provincetown’s Portuguese Festival are actively promoted on the park’s web calendar, which helps to create a broader sense of community and encourage the “Cape Cod Way of Life.”

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Thank you to everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with us and share their work – and of course, a big thank you to Chris, Jeff, and Margie our fearless leaders and excellent minivan drivers.

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