by Jane. A. Auchan
Jane A. Ruchman
This thesis is submitted
as partial fulfillment of the requirements
for a Master of Landscape Architecture Degree
at the University of Colorado at Denver
College of Architecture and Planning
Graduate Program of Landscape Architecture
Stan Specht, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado State Office Planning Coordinator
THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP IN SO MANY WAYS:
Especially, to my thesis committee
for your wonderful encouragement,
technical advice, time and patience.
To all of the people who offered help, suggestions and information,
most of whose names appear in the References Section at the end of this thesis.
And to my spouse,
who loved me through three school years of weird hours
and commuting between Rocky Mountain National Park, Yellowstone National Park and school.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHARACTER OF THE NATIONAL PARKS AND PARK SERVICE: The Nature 10
and Evolution of the National Parks and the National Park Service
The Need foran Approach to Visual Management
The Grand Fatee Generating M>tha That Cloud Perceptions of the 11
The Reality of the National Pert; Character 12
Mandate and Role of the National Parks and the National Park Service 20
BACKGROUND Evolution of Visual Values in the Built Environment of National Peeks 26
1872-1918: The Pre-Part: Service and its Founding Years 26
1919-1933: The Part: Services Formative Years 29
1933-1942: The New Deal Years 31
1956-1966: The National Park Services Mission 66 Years 35
1970's: The Liability, Compliabifity and Safety Years 37
Significant Mandates, Legislation or Events Affecting Visual Management 38
in the National Parks
Summery; Evolution of Visual Values in the Built Environment 41
YISUAL MANAGEMENT RELATED PROJECTS IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: 44
PRECEDENTS, PROJECTS, RESEARCHANDCONFERENCES
OTHER AGENCIES PAGE
VISUAL QUALITY MANAGEMENT IN OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES 64
U.S. Forest Service, Department of Apiculture 64
Bureau erf Lend Management, Department of the Interior 73
Soil Conservation Service, Department of Agricufture 80
Systems Commonafities, Contrasts and Criticisms 87
Management Context 101
Conceptual Hov 103
Premises forNational Park Service Visual Management Guidefines 104
Proposed Visual Management System (Flow Chart) 113
Statement for Management 115
General Management Plan 117
Development Concept Plan 119
Proposed Visual Management System: Examples of Appfications 123
CONCEPTUAL CASE APPLICATION
National Park Service Proposed Visual Management System: Conceptual Case 127
Proposed National Park Service Visual Management System: Summery of 141
This thesis addresses the management of the visual aspects of America's national parks.
These visual aspects, which shape each visitor's national park experience to a very large extent,
have been shaped by the historic development and the historic and current social condition of the
To establish the current contextual framework of the parks, their major Issues are
discussed, which also serves to Introduce the variety of challenges that face park managers.
An overview of the development of the national parks and national park service covers the
spectrum of land designations that are all included under the umbrella of the National Park
Service. To reinforce the historic context and provide some understanding of the current visual
character, the evolution of visual values as they have been exhibited in the built environment of
the parks is traced. A chronology that follows, lists the milestones in the history of visual
management in the general public sector that have helped to set the social and legal tone.
Precedents established more recently by the Park Service are then presented. These precedents
Involve projects and conferences that have started to address the issue of managing the visual
quality and visual management of the built landscape.
To draw some similarities and contrasts of purpose, mandate and management, and to provide
a basis of understanding and reference, the thesis briefly presents and compares the most widely
referred to existing and established systems in use by other large federal agencies. These
systems address the process of quantifying and qualifying visual quality as it is related to
designing for and managing the built environment.
Finally, a need is established and a proposal made for a National Park Service-wide
procedure that attempts to clarify a decision-making process, in a way that fosters the
Intentional creation of appropriate, sustainable and meaningful experiences for visitors in the
national parks. The unique role of the national parks, in relation to other federal land
management agencies, is stressed, as well as the benefits to managers and the public of a process
that assists in identifying and communicating visual priorities in the parks at all the different
levels of management and decision making. After the framework for the system is outlined, the
concepts (not a process) are applied to a national park site to illustrate their intentions.
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The management of Americas national parks not only affects the more than 200,000,000
visitors each year and employees in the parks, but sets examples on an international level. The
varied visual environments, as they are altered to allow experiencing the parks, is an issue that
managers have continued to deal with, as the national park system expands and the nature ot the
land being designated for parks, changes.
IMPETUS FOR THESIS
This thesis grew out of a curiosity that developed during a graduate class on Visual
Management. That curiosity, due, in large part, to this author's work and living experience in
national parks, centered on the absence of any established visual managment approach for the
national parks in the curriculum or text, that could be compared and contrasted with those
presented from the other large federal agencies. Some sources even hinted at the suggestion that,
in regard to multiple use, national parks do not even need visual management since they are all
of the highest quality of land, visually.
METHODOLOGY AND OBJECTIVES
Expanding the original focus of that curiosity, this thesis seeks to establish a wider
contextual understanding of the issues of visual management in national parks and the concepts
that could form the basis for a tool to apply to national park visual management.
The objectives of this thesis are:
1) to establish a current and historical context in which to understand visual management
in the national parks. This context is legal, social, visual and managerial.
2) to expand that context to visual management being done by other federal agencies.
3) to propose a conceptual framework for a procedural approach to visual management in
the national parks.
4) to apply that conceptual framework in a very general sense, to a few national park sites.
This thesis reflects an integration of research about national park history and architectural
history, national park design, environmental psychology and perception, visual analysis and
management, and then interviews, observations, conferences, phone conversations, report
reading and personal work experience. It afforded the author an opportunity to learn more about
and critically evalutate an area of personal interest.
In the text, sources for specific facts are cited in parentheses that imediately follow each
corresponding fact. This is to avoid the reader having to turn pages to find a footnote, a
complete list of references and sources appears at the end of the thesis.
"It is a scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes
of an impressive character, particularly if this contemplation occurs in
connection with relief from ordinary cares, change of air and change of
habits, is favorable to the health and vigor of men... The want of
such occasional recreation... often results in softening of the brain,
paralysis, palsy, monomania, or insanity..
from "The Yosemite Valley and The Mariposa Big Trees" A Preliminary
Report by Frederick Law Olmsted, 1865
When Alice was in Wonderland, the Mock Turtle told her that he went to
school with an old turtle who taught Uglification.
1 never heard of' Uglification/"Alice ventured to say.
The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise.
Never heard of uglifying," it exclaimed. "You know what to beautify is,
"Yes," said Alice, doubtfully. "It means to make anything prettier."
"Well, then," the Gryphon went on, "if you dont know what to uglify is,
you are a simpleton."
from Interpreting Our Heritage bv Freeman Tilden. Chapel Hill, The
University of North Carolina Press, 1967, p. 113-114.
cwA-f^-p^S Of TH6
CHARACTER OF THE NATIONAL PARKS AND PARK SERVICE: The
Nature and Evolution of the National Parks and the National Park
Throughout history and into the present, national parks have acquired a reputation of
eternally perfect grandeur that needs no management or regulation. This mythical, misguided
sensibility of national parks tends to obscure or distort their statistically real side, which
includes the Interface of the park visitor, the built environment, the natural environment and
park visitors among themselves. Since the greatest portion of almost any visitors experience
of a park is visual, the care with which the visitors and visitor facilities are interfaced with
the scenery; natural, cultural or historic, becomes paramount. To understand national parks
and the issues that affect the quality of the visual experience in the national parks, it is
important to be aware of not only the Need for a National Park Service Approach to Visual
Management, but also The Grand False Generalizing Myths that Cloud Perceptions of the Parks,
and The Reality of the National Park Character.
The Need for an Approach to Visual Management
Encouraged by the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act's declaration for federal agencies
to identify and develop methods and procedures... which will insure that presently
unquantified environmental amenities and values may be given appropriate consideration in
decision-making along with economic and technical considerations" (The National Environmental
Policy Actof 1969, as amended, Title I, Sec. 102,B), the U.S. Forest Service, followed by the
Bureau of Land Management, continued to refine methods to incorporate visual managment into
their decision-making process in a systematic manner that reflected their own particular role,
legislated mandate and character of the lands they manage. The National Park Service, the other
large federal land management agency, has acknowledged the merit of these existing systems,
borrowing and applying parts of both, (conversations with personnel in parks, regional offices
and the Denver Service Center) The Park Service has not yet developed its own comprehensive
approach, system or statement, and relies, instead, on NEPA-style interdisciplinary teams,
professional judgements and management review processes. With growing interior and exterior
park pressures, scrutiny and influences from the public served by these parks, a reassessment
of the role of visual management in the national parks is necessary and imminent, not only for
park managers to be able to communicate among themselves to direct or reverse development in
a systematic and far reaching fashion, but for the public to have a tool to understand their parks.
The Grand False Generalizing Myths That Cloud Perceptions of the National
National parks, which are about the same as national forests, are all spectacularly scenic
places, and if one isn't, then it shouldnt be a national park. All land inside national park
boundaries is of equally high scenic quality, regardless of any factors, and so doesn't need to be
categorized or inventoried for visual quality or high visual sensitivity. Since national parks
are for preservation, everything is pristine, authentic and natural and never changes. Visitors
and cultural elements in parks are intrusions unless the cultural elements are ancient and the
visitors are hardy mountaineers. National parks are special places where time stops,
everything is safe and the National Park Service always knows whats best. National Park
Service designers have an innate sense of what is visually appropriate for a site just as
everyone who works for the Park Service completely understands and is in agreement about the
National Park Service "mission".
The Reality of the National Park Character
1. THE DUAL MANDATE
The National Park Service has been charged by Congress with, what can be considered, a
contradictory responsibility. It is supposed to provide for the public to enjoy the parks,
but do so in a wsy that will leave the parks unimpaired for all future generations to also
enjoy them. This dual mandate leaves National Park Service decision-makers constantly
facing conflicting priorities, such as meeting visitor needs now versus creating less visual
intrusions and natural resource impacts for today as well as tomorrow.
Administrative decisions involve other conflicts in priorities:
Natural Resource Management versus Visual Resource Management: the question of
maintaining ecologically pure gene pools and natural successional processes or
preserving visual vignettes of primitive America before European man entered the
parks (as recommended by the 1963 Leopold Report) and preserving scenes and keeping
vistas open that are historical and Important to a particular park's establishment.
Processes, such as trees dying due to bug kill, forests being burned by fire, meadows
being flooded by beaver, all may be self limiting and even cyclical within a larger time
context that perhaps didn't correspond with the park's founding date and so may appear to
destroy historic vistas. At Mt. Rainier National Park, trees that were naturally Invading
the beautiful subalpine flower fields that gave the area its name of Paradise, were cut
down to keep the meadows open. (the authors personal observation and discussions with
long term employees at Mt. Rainier National Park)
Cultural Resource Management versus Visual Resource Management: the question of
fully restoring or rebuilding cultural or historic sites to recreate the historic visual
experience for visitors, but perhaps sacrificing certain aspects of complete authenticity
and opportunities to witness the effects of time. As an example, this type of conflicting
alternatives could occur at an historic site with gardens that have become delapidated.
The Visitors Visual Experience versus Safety: in a age of lawsuits, tort claims and
contended liability, the question of creating absolutely accident-free (is that possible?)
structures and areas that may sacrifice visual quality by being too overbearing versus
built environments that, visually, are appropriate and even challenging, but that offer
a certain amount of obvious risk that heightens the experience. A cantilevered
viewpoint that overlooks a deep, steepwalled canyon in Rocky Mountain National Park
sharpens the experience of looking down into the canyon. Increasing the height of the
four foot railing to ten feet would essentially prevent anyone from falling over, but
would also diminish the present breathtaking qualities. At Yellowstone National Park,
a father tried to sue for his son's fatal fall into the Old Faithful Geyser in 1970.
(footnote: National Parks for a New Generation: Vision. Realities. Prospects. A Report
from The Conservation Foundation, Sponsored by the Richard King Mellon Foundation,
Washington, D.C. 1985, p. 16) Perhaps ten foot railings, here too, on the boardwalks
that surround the geyser at a good distance, would be safer but again, would diminish
the visitors' visual participation in such a powerful display. While a proliferation of
warning signs ringing the geyser would detract, visually, probably more than
preventing accidents, they would make a stronger court case for the park in the event
of a lawsuit.
Short Term versus Long Term Planning: the question of following a procedure that will
have less of a short term effect but a greater long term effect. When Trail Ridge Road
was constructed in Rocky Mountain National Park, 1929 1933, great care was taken
to minimize the damage in the short term, to the surrounding tundra. Only what was
necessary for the width of the road bed was cut away. The resulting road banks,
which were very steep in places, are, today, continually sloughing and will only, very
slowly, if ever, revegetate themselves.
2. CHANGING VISITOR DEMOGRAPHICS, VALUES AND EXPECTATIONS
As the population changes, so do the services that the national parks must provide.
A few decades ago, the National Park Service was trying to encourage visitors to get out
of their cars to see their parks more intimately. Following that decade, came an
increased use of the backcountry. Now, those backpackers, who have grown up and have
children, as well as their parents who have retired to large R.V.s, are needing more front
country facilities again. Current trends indicated by the 1985 and 1986 President's
Commission on Americans Outdoors show that with more women entering the work force, the
per capita disposable personal income is rising, but that the amount of leisure time is
declining, so that while Americans take more trips, the average duration is shorter.
Visitors' expressed desires and values often conflict with their actions, such as wanting to
slow down and get away from crowds, but never actually getting more than 100 yards
from any trail head and still complaining about the lack of solitude; or supporting the idea of
less developed campgrounds in the front country for a more rustic experience, but then
complaining that their car can't get close enough to their tent.
3. THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
The often experienced, but usually only subconsciously acknowledged, noticed or assessed by
the park visitor, is the entire network of systems contructed to meet visitor, park
administration, park maintenance and park protection needs: the roads, the bathrooms, the
pullouts, the offices, the guard rails, the signs, the fire hydrants, the retaining walls, the
transformer boxes, the power lines, the sewage treatment plants, the water storage
tanks, etc. In 1987,287 million visitors visited the national parks system. ( /987Annual
Report, National Park Service, in a letter from Director Mott, p. 5 ) It is hard to think of
the superlative beauty of a national park in conjunction with 10,000 toilet flushes a day,
or more than two million visitors a year, the majority of which will want to walk over
the same ground to see the same sights, will be looking for the same informational signs,
will be needing to sit on benches in the very same spots and will need a place to walk their
dog about the same distance into their journey.
The task of maintaining park facilities that are sustaining tremendous use volumes is
enormous. With time constraints, manpower constraints, financial constraints and lists of
needed repairs very long, ctecisions are made, often out of seeming necessity, to fix
something as quickly as possible with what materials are on hand, though not necessarily
matching color or style exactly or the parks design theme.
4. THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT CONCESSIONERS IN PARKS
Even before Yellowstone, the first national park was designated as such, there were
already entrepreneurs offering food and lodging to its visitors. These early concession
operations bear little resemblance to current facilities in Yosemite National Parks limited
valley floor. As of 1974, in addition to more than 1,498 lodging units, there were:
3 restaurants; 2 cafeterias; 1 hotel dining room; 4 sandwich centers; 1 seven-lift
garage; 2 service stations with a total of 15 pumps; 7 gift shops; 2 grocery stores; 1
delicatessen; 1 bank; 1 skating rink; 3 swimming pools; 1 pitch-and-putt golf course;
2 tennis courts; 33 kennels; 114 horse and mule stalls; 1 barber shop; 1 beauty shop;
and 13 facilities for the sale of liquor. (National Parks for a New Generation. Visions.
Realitites. Prospects. The Conservation Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1985, p. 173)
Theoretically, concessions in parks offer services that are necessary and appropriate to
the particular park. In some cases, concessioners rent park buildings and in other cases
construct and own the buildings out of which they operate. Also theoretically, all concessions
operations are subject to the approval of the park service, though this has not always been the
case in large concessioners who enjoy extensive political influence. A large percentage of park
visitors spend a large proportion of their time in the concessioner operated facilities: eating,
buying souvenirs, staying overnight, or in the case of Yosemite, playing tennis, skating or
getting their hair styled. Visually, then, the role a concessioner plays in forming the park
visitors' experience is major through the atmosphere created and its relation to the park: the
interior operations' orientation to outside views, the color combinations, the furniture styles,
the uniforms, the artwork, the objects for sale, their display, the signboards, the dishes, and,
on a much larger scale in the case of concessioner-owned buildings, the architectural themes,
building locations, materials the upkeep and maintenance, down to each and every small
detail, interior and exterior of those buildings and their surroundings.
5. PARKS AS NEIGHBORS/ NEIGHBORS OF THE PARKS
This two way, complex relationship is often love/hate. Parks take actions that directly affect
their neighbors and vice versa. The neighbors can be adjacent gateway communities that often
base their economy on tourism which exists, in large part, due to the national park. In the sense
of larger ecosystems and resources that cannot be restricted within park boundaries, such as
air, neighbors can be a large metropolitan center hundreds of miles away. Often the neighbors
are other federal land management agencies like the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land
Management, who are responsible for administering their lands according to their own
particular legislated mandates.
Visual issues involving parks attempting to affect the actions of their neighbors, can
Include clear cuts and logging operations visble from within popular park locations, a point
source of air pollution that affects park vistas, low flying sightseeing aircraft or private
developments such as a shopping center or housing project closely visible from within a park.
Recently, a large shopping center was proposed that would have been a dominant visual element
seen by visitors to Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia. After Intense, drawn out
political negotiations and strong citizen support, Congress signed a bill which led to a
legislative taking of the property adding it to the park. (Ranger, The Journal of the Association
of National Park Rangers, Vol. V., no 1 .Winter, 1988/89, p. 4)
The approach to a park, visually, helps to set the tone for a visitor's actual in-park
experience, especially for parks in wilderness setttings. A visual conflict exists in gateway
communities between merchants trying to attract tourist dollars by erecting bigger and flashier
signs and attractions and the park preferring a less confusing scene at its front door. While not
the norm, some gateway communities, as a whole, have just started to become aware of their
visual state of affairs, such as Estes Park, adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, that, as a
town, just voted to disapprove the construction of a carrousel just outside the main park
Visual Issues that Involve park neighbors Influencing park, actions can be local or even
national, as in the case of fire policy, which was seen very clearly during the summer and
autumn of 1988, as smoked-in and fire-threatened adjacent communities to Yellowstone
National Park, all the way up to Congressmen in Washington D.C., demanded accountability for
the park's actions. Outside of all the positive ecological implications of fire, park neighbors
still visually associate green with beautiful and burned with ugly.
The influence that park neighbors exert on parks has not always been adversarial, as in the
case of creating a ski area in Rocky Mountain National Park. While the local community
pressure for opening a ski area in the park was very strong, the superintendent at the time also
supported the issue. (C. W. Buchholtz, Rockv Mountain National Park. A History. Colorado
Associated University Press, Boulder, 1983, p. 197)
In the early days of creating national parks, most of the land designated was already public
land. Curently, the National Park Service uses the term, inholding, to mean any privately
owned land within the boundaries of a park established before July 1,1959. The Park Service
tries to establish cooperative agreements and usually will not attempt to acquire these
inholdings unless the owner wishes to donate the land to the park or if a proposed use is
Incompatible with the purpose of the park. In addition to land that is privately owned, some
privately owned mineral and grazing rights also exist within these park boundaries. (National
Parks for a New Generation. Visions. Realities. Prospects. The Conservation Foundation,
Washington, D.C., 1985, p. 124-125)
More recently created national park units have Involved a great deal of privately owned lands
challenging the park service to seek new methods for establishing cooperative agreements with
the landowners. Cape Cod National Seashore was one of the first parks units to require a huge
financial appropriation by Congress to purchase private land. Part of the resulting national
park land is immediately adjacent to land owned by Massachusetts as well as privately owned
villages. The areas are managed through strong cooperative agreements. (National Parks for a
New Generation. Visions. Realities. Prospects. The Conservation Foundation, Washington, D.C.,
1985, p. 159-162)
7) PARKS ARE POLITICAL
As the story goes, Yellowstone National Park was created due to a group of far thinking
writers and explorers who sat around a campfire and decided that Yellowstone was too special to
be privately commercialized and thus should be saved by being made into a public park. Even in
those days when people back east probably still didn't believe such things as geyser basins could
exist, it took a lot to persuade Congress to go ahead with the designation in 1872. Today,
national parks and the National Park Service are still subject to the checks, balances and
whims of the voters, the Congress, the President and the strongest political lobbies that are
succesful in bending legislators ears. Decisions made by Park Service managers are sometimes
overturned due to political pressure motivated by private interest, like private industry,
private adjacent corporate landowners or even in-park concessioners. While national parks are
not set aside for consumptive multiple use, they are often looked at as potential income
generators, in the terms of tourism or for the resources that they possess.
Mandate and Role of the National Parks and National Park Service
While usually considered as one in the same, the National Park Service was not even created
when the first of the national parks, Yellowstone National Park, was designated in 1872 and
placed under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior. It was not until much later, in
1916, that the National Park Service was signed into law. Thus, while every area administered
by the National Park Service has its own legislated mandate, as does the National Park Service,
itself, those park mandates that predate the formation of the National Park Service serve as
Following Yellowstone, which was established as "a public park or pleasuring-ground for
the benefit and enjoyment of the people (The National Parks Index 1987. Office of Public
Affairs and the Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Dept of the Interior,
Washington, D.C., 1987, p. 6) Yosemite, Sequoia and General Grant were set aside by
Congress as national parks in 1890. Sequoia and General Grant, which later were joined into
Sequoia/ King's Canyon, were created mainly to save the giant trees from the lumber interests.
Since California had already existed as a state, Congress ceded the core of Yosemite to the state in
1864, to protect its beauty as a state park, but in 1890, created a national park that ringed
the state park to further protect it.( Newton p. 522) It was only later, in 1906, that
California gave the state park back to the federal government. Mt. Rainier was added in 1899
and Crater Lake in 1902. For creating Crater Lake and Rainier, the primary motive was the
scenic quality and awesomeness, as with Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon of the
Yellowstone, and the secondary motive was the scientific potential. A third motive, historical,
for creating national parks came about, due, in large part, to the Antiquities Act of 1906, which
allowed a president, without the approval of Congress, to set aside any public land of historic or
scientific importance, though Congress still retained the sole power to create a national park.
Devil's Tower, a large volcanic plug, was the first area set aside as a national monument under
the Antiquities Act. Shortly after that, in the very same year, Mesa Verde was set aside by
Congress as a national park, to prevent the destruction of the remains of Indian civilizations.
While Glacier was established by Congress as a national park in 1910, its original mandate
allowed for leases or right-of-ways for railways, power and irrigation projects and the selling
of lumber. (Newton p. 527)
By 1915 there were 12 areas designated by Congress as national parks. Each of these
areas, though, was administered as a separate entity and operated under its own legislation.
Finally, on August 25, 1916, the National Park Act was approved by Congress and the
president. It established the National Park Service and defined its purpose:
"The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as
national parks, monuments and reservations ... by such means and measures as conform to
the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is
to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein, and to
provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them
unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."( National Park Index 1987.Office of
Public Affairs and the Division of Publications, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., p.
This wording widened the purpose of the National Park Service by specifying its dual mandate,
that of protecting the parks while providing for people to enjoy them, the parks being of
scenic, historical or scientific importance. Expanding this purpose even more, the General
Authorities Act of 1970 declared "that the National Park System, which began with the
estalishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to Include superlative
natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region... and that It is the purpose of the Act to
include all such areas in the System ... (National Park Index p. 7)
While the National Park Service now administers lands set aside for a variety of reasons and
having a variety of designations, the distinctions among the different designations are important
for managment decisions to be based upon, just as the reasons for establishing each particular
national park are important to its managment directions.
The following is a brief summary of these distinotions:( Index p. 7-8,)
national park contains a variety of (nationally significant) resources and encompasses
large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.
national monument is intended to preserve at least one nationally significant resource. It
is usually smaller than a national park and lacks its diversity of attractions.
national preserve primarily for the protection of certain resources. Activities such as
hunting and fishing or the extraction of minerals and fuels may be permitted if they do not
jeopardize the natural values.
national lakeshore and national seashore for the preservation of natural values while at
the same time providing water oriented recreation.
national river and wild and scenic riverwav preserve ribbons of land bordering on
free-flowing streams which have not been dammed, channelized or otherwise altered by
man. Besides preserving rivers in their natural state, these areas provide opportunities
for outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing and hunting. Rivers are classified, according
to their natural qualities and evidence of human presence visible from the river, as wild,
scenic or recreational.
national scenic trails are generally long-distance footpaths winding through areas of
national historic sites preserve places and commorate persons, event and activities
important in the Nations history. These range from archeological sites associated with
prehistoric Indian civilizations to sites related to the lives of modern Americans.
Historical areas are customarily preserved or restored to reflect their appearance
during the period of their greatest historical significance.
national military park, national battlefield park. national battlefield site, national
battlefield are areas associated with American military history.
national historical parks areas of greater physical extent and complexity than national
national memorial areas that are primarily commemorative, but need not be sites or
structures historically associated with their subjects.
national recreation areas originally were units surrounding resevoirs impounded by
dams built by other federal agencies. The National Park Service manages many of these
areas under cooperative agreements. The concept of recreational areas has grown to
encompass other lands and waters set aside for recreational use by acts of Congress and
now includes major areas in urban centers. There are also national recreation areas
outside the National Park System that are administered by the U.S. Forest Service.
national parkways are thought of as linear parks connecting larger expanses of parkland
or cultural features. They encompass ribbons of land flanking roadways and offer an
opportunity for leisurely driving through areas of scenic interest.
wilderness areas are designated by Congress, as a result of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
These areas are within national parks and are managed to retain their "primeval character
and influence, without permanent inprovements or human habitation... as stated by the
As of 1987, the National Park System comprised 341 areas in the fifty states, Guam, Puerto
Rico.Saioan andtheVIrnin Islands! Index d. 6. 13) Most recently, during 1988, Congress
added 15 new units to this varied system, (Ranger, The Journal of the Association of National
Park Rangers, Vol V, No. 1, Winter 1988/89, p. 4) which included the designation of a new
national park in American Samoa.
BACKGROUND: Evolution of Visual Values in the Built
Environment of National Parks
While the term "the built environment of national parks" refers to the construction that
accomodates the visitor and administrative functions within the parks, not all of this
construction was designed and implemented with the same philosophical and experiential intent.
The visual aspects of this built environment of America's national parks can be more fully
understood by tracking that history and development. This evolution within our national parks
and the National Park Service reflects as well the transition that the nation's perception of the
natural environment has gone through. In addition to policy decisions, the actual development
and construction that took place within these areas before and after national park designation,
are direct indicators of those changing perceptions and corresponding visual values.
Design trends can be roughly grouped into five time periods that relate to America's social
and political scene and to the development of the National Park Service: 1872 1918: The
Pre-Park Service and Founding Years; 1919- 1927: The Park Service's Formative Years;
1933-1942: The New Deal Years; 1956- 1966: The National Park Service's Mission 66
Years; 1970s: The Liability. Compliability and Safety Years (time periods roughly similar in
William C.Tweed, Laura E. Soul Here and Henry G. Law. National Park Service Rustic
Architecture 1916 1942. National Park Service, Western Regional Office, Division of
Cultural Resource Management, Feb. 1977.)
1872 1918: The Pre-Park Service and Its Founding Years
American wilderness philosophy in the 18th and early 19th centuries saw wilderness as
something to be fearful of, set apart from and conquored. Man-created spaces emphasized this
by a clear formal separation of style and space from the wilderness. As wilderness was
discovered to have inspirational potential, it developed from something to be mastered into
something to be preserved, treasured and set aside for the benefit of all.
Some of the early parks that were founded before the formation of the National Park
Service in 1916, such as Yellowstone in 1872 and Sequoia, Yosemite and General Grant in
1890, were administered and protected by the army for a number of years. In Yellowstone,
this led to the building of military structures, such as parade grounds and officers quarters at
the park headquarters area in Mammoth. Privately built concessions structures, such as
hotels, at these early parks, started as minimally functional, crude, rough structures. Slowly
these structures have evolved, but early on, often lacked a relationship to park surroundings,
as in the case of the classical Lake Hotel (1890) in Yellowstone. Often these hotels were built
by the railroad companies that served the parks and brought the visitors in by stagecoach.
By the turn of the century, some concessions buildings exhibited an awareness of the
relationship between a structure and its site, an approach that seemed to appeal more to the
visitors of the day who entertained romantic images of the parks. This romantic notion held that
somehow national parks were separate and distinct from the surrounding real world,
exemplified by the large stone arch, built by the army in 1903, that marks the northern and
main entrance to Yellowstone. As more concessioner buildings, railroad stations, studios and
hotels started to be erected In national parks, natural materials, like native stone, timbers and
shingles were used for buildings and often Swiss architectural motifs that had already been
popularized in Adirondack hotels, such as steeply pitched roofs and numerous roof gables, were
copied, as at the Old Faithful Inn built in 1903. (William C. Tweed, P arkitecture: Rustic
Architecture in the National Parks. (unapproved),p. 9 ) In other parks, like the Grand
Canyon, Indian pueblo motifs were copied. Concession structures attempted to bring the rough
aspects of nature and lxal cultures inside so that guests could enjoy them in the romantic,
comfortable atmosphere they enjoyed. Some structures were sited so as to seem to grow out of
the site and to not be Intrusive in the setting. Yet other structures while still built of local
materials, were more prominantly situated, as in the case of the Crater Lake Lodge which was
placed right on the rim of the lake as well as some structures placed directly on the rim of the
Grand Canyon. In many parks, the structures that housed the support functions to the main
concession hotel, such as the laundries, corrals and butcher shops, were built without any
regard for their visual effect on the visitor or on the environment which was not yet regarded as
a precious, limited resource.
Seeing this growth of the generally unregulated development in the national parks, the
American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) became very involved with supporting the
pending National Park Bureau Bill that was introduced before Congress in January 1916 and
providing the acting director at the time, Stephen Mather, with professional recommendations as
to the development and improvement of the existing parks. Even though the park bill was
officially passed in August 1916, the first statement of policy, composed by Director Stephen
Mather and his assistant, Horace Albright, wasn't issued until 1918:
"in the construction of roads, trails, buildings, and other improvements, particular
attention must be devoted always to the harmonizing of these Improvements with the
landscape. This is a most important item in our programs of development and
requires the employment of trained engineers who either possess a knowledge of
landscape architecture or have a proper appreciation of the esthetic value of park
lands. All improvements will be carried out in accordance with a preconceived plan
developed in special reference to the presevation of the landscape, and
comprehensive plans for future development of the national parks on an adequate
scale will be prepared as funds are available for this purpose." ( William C.
Tweed, Laura E. Souliere, and Henry G. Law. National Park Service Rustic
Architecture: 1916 1942 National Park Service, Western Regional Office,
Division of Cultural Resource Management, Feb. 1977, p. 23.)
1919 1933: The Park Service's Formative Years
As visitors to the parks, in greater numbers than before, arrived increasingly by private
automobiles, the newly organized National Park Service set about trying to provide structures,
roads, trails, utility yards, housing complexes, administrative sites, and campgrounds to many
of the large western parks that sorely needed them and to supervise the design and construction
of concessioner facilities. During the early part of this period, this work was accomplished
mainly by the new Landscape Engineer, Charles Punchard, one assistant and an occasional
These park service designers started to attempt to house modern functions in structures that
had a traditional, yet non-intrusive appearance, an approach that was eventually referred to as
National Park Service Rustic Architecture. Buildings in forested settings, like Sequoia
National Park Administration Building, 1921, tended to harmonize with their surrroundings in
color, exterior textures and materials by using hand-split redwood posts on exposed frame, low
gable roofs, filling in the spaces between the posts with sequoia bark paneling and covering the
roof with shakes. The administration building at Grand Canyon NP, also in 1921, was built
with one wing of stone and several stone columns that visually tied it to the surrounding terain
as well as a mixed stone and wood frame that harmonized with the already exisitng concession
buildings. The interior floor was local limestone and used rough hewn roof beams that
reinforced the pioneer atmosphere the fireplace created. ( NPS Rustic Arch p 30-31 )
While some of these early structures seemed to harmonize with their immediate
surroundings, constructed with large timbers, shingled roofs and often heavy battered stone
bases, some were culturally inappropriate (such as an Indian Pueblo style building on fit.
Washburn, Yellowstone, a thousand miles away from any similar authentic structure), some
suffered from internal Imbalance of form and materials and some were problematic in terms
of visitor circulation and use patterns. ( NPS Rustic Architecture p 31 )
Eventually, an awareness, which attempted to build non-intrusive structures that were not
only visually harmonious with and subordinate to their immediate environment, but also
culturally harmonious with the region's hisorical patterns, produced a precedent-setting log
ranger station at Lake in 1922 in Yellowstone. It had chopped, rather than sawed exposed log
ends, a large central stone fireplace open on four sides, sawed shakes on the roof and a broad
terrace of flat stones. ( NPS Rustic Arch d. 35 ) In other parks, this inclusion of regional
cultural content produced various structures inspired by appropriate local styles such as
Indian pueblos Spanish colonial adobes and New England colonial frame structures. Another
major milestone of rustic architecture was the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, which applied the
rustic look of immense logs and stones to large structures and used more steel and concrete than
actual natural materials but made them appear to be natural. During this period and continuing
into the 1940s, signs, especially entrance signs, started to display this hand-hewn rustic
style by using rough wood panels with routed letters, heavy native stone bases and large
debarked, knobby logs.
Beginning in 1927, more funding was allocated to the parks, which meant more staff and
more construction. The NPS and its design staff, headed by Tom Vint who directed national park
design for years to come, was still smalHParkitecture. Tweed p 130) During this time, until
1932, most of the building projects completed were basic park facilities like utility areas,
employee housing, roadside visitor facilities, entrance kiosks, rest rooms, informations
stations, interpretive shelters and wilderness cabins and administration buildings. One
example of that time is the administration building at Mt. Rainier ,set among large, old growth
Douglas Fir trees, built in 1928 of large, irregular local stones and logs. In all of these
projects, the rustic theme was followed, that of non-intrusive structures which
harmonized in scale, texture, color, line, form and cultural associations and used natural
materials that were often overscaled to visually relate to the grandeur and massiveness of the
immediate environment elements. These themes were applied not only to forested mountain
parks, but also to the desert parks like Petrified Forest and cultural parks like Casa Grande.
Functionally, structures respected their locations in respect to factors such as snow load and
depth, with steeply pitched roofs being appropriate to areas of heavy snow. Other park
structures such as roads and bridges were also designed to harmonize with their environment.
On roads, straight lines were avoided. Bridges needed to be substantial and so often the internal
structure of concrete or concrete and steel would be covered with masonry in the shape of an
arch, as in the Christine Falls Bridge at Mt. Rainier or with massive river stones and logs in
the abuttements of the El Capitan Bridge in Yosemite Valley. Signs, too, especially at entrances,
were built with native materials, stone and logs, but had to be sufficiently obvious to be noticed
by visitors. It was towards the end of this period, in 1931, that the Park Service decided to
formalize its direction in development and by 1933, a plan had been prepared for each of the
1933 1942: The New Deal Years
This block of time represents the peak and fall of rustic architecture, a period directed by
economics of the Great Depression and the scale of increasing demand for facilities in the
national parks. Two factors both initiated in 1933, are significant during this era: the
Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Public Works Administration (PWA). As part of
Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal measures to rehabilitate the nation's general economy, the
PWA was charged with the awarding of grants, as quickly as possible, to various federal
agencies for constructing roads, water and sewer systems, buildings and other physical
improvements by using skilled labor. With the development plans already established for many
of the western parks, the Park Service was allocated funds for many of the proposed
construction projects. The CCC, on the other hand, was conceived as armies of unskilled young
men who would be put to work by the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to do conservation
While the label "CCC" has now come to connote craftsmanship, permanence and harmonious
development, the original intent was to use unskilled workers on labor-intensive projects like
rock walls, roads, campgrounds and trails. Due to a severe expenditure limitation, CCC
projects, at the outset, did not usually include major structural work, but instead took advantage
of their available assets: lots of workers and native materials. As organization improved and
available skills better identified, the proficiency of the work achieved high levels and the scope
of the work increased to include structures designed by the central NPS Landscape Division ,
often under the supervision of an in-park National Park Service Landscape Architect. The Blue
Ridge Parkway, one notable development that received a lot of CCC work, was started in 1932 as
Skyline Drive, the first federal parkway, ( Design on the Land. Newton p. 612) and completed
only recently. It was intended as a pleasure drive that incorporated views of the exisitng
adjacent farmlands and structures. Where fencing was required, the local techniques of split
rail, post and rail and stone wall were employed. Landscaping was all of native species and in
natural appearing patterns.
The early PWA projects during this time reflected the National Park Service's Branch of
Plans and Design commitment to the non-intrusive, rustic theme of design, with each structure
being designed for its specific site and culturally or historically appropriate motifs, such as
the pueblo style work at Bandelier National Monument.
Eventually, as theCCC was used on increasingly more complex national park structures, the
National Park Service was also asked to lend expertise to state and county park construction
projects that the CCC was involved in. This increased responsibility of the Park Service led to
an increase in the design staff, which went from 16 professionals in 1933 to 220 in 1936.
(NPS Rustic Architecture d. 92) Training new staff members in the then-accepted rustic style
of park architecture became a problem. This was addressed by a book that was funded by the
CCC, edited by A. H. Good of the State Park Division and published by the National Park Service in
1935, entitled Park Structures and Facilities, which covered the spectrum of design issues
from signs and markers, drinking fountains, fireplaces, benches, bridges, culverts, concession
buildings, shelters to recreation buildings. The design philosophy was spelled out explicitly:
"Successfully handled, [rustic] is a style which, through the use of native materials in
proper scale, and through the avoidance of rigid, straight lines, and over-sophistication,
gives the feeling of having been executed by pioneer craftsmen with limited hand tools. It
thus achieves sympathy with natural surroundings, and with the past."
(NPS Rustic Architecture p. 93 )
Other points emphasized by Park Structures and Facilities were:
- Individual park structures must be subordinate to their natural settings and the large park
- Buildings should harmonize with their physical setting through sensitive use of native and
planted vegetation and through the incorporation of natural colors into the building's exterior.
- When appropriate, rocks can be used for foundations or battered or buttressed walls.
- Stones and logs must be carefully proportioned to be similar in size to the naturally occuring
materials, but overscales in mountainous areas to harmonize with the massive nature of the
- Vertical emphasis is to be avoided.
- Use of natural materials that are too processed or too unblemished is to be avoided. Use of
logs with knots and whorls are preferred.
- Rocks should be placed along their horizontal axis to correspond to natural bedding patterns.
- In larger walls, the size of stone should decrease as the wall rises.
- Regularly shaped rock should be avoided.
These design philosophies were further supported in 1938, in a larger NPS publication that
summarized the successes of the CCC and PWA, entitled Park and Recreation Structures. ( NPS
Rustic o 96) By then, the National Park Service had responded to the tightening economy and
increased demand for park facilities by reorganizing into geographic regional offices with a
central office in Washington. This left a few resident Landscape Architects in the parks and in
general served to decentralize the idea bank for the design unit. Many designers, by this time,
had started to incorporate their awarenesses of other design philosophies which emphasized
simplicity, structural honesty, restraint and modernity, even whle using native materials.
Rustic, romantic architecture, while it tended to provide the visitor with a visible link to the
past, started to be viewed as affected, deliberate, romantic, self-conscious and anti-progress,
i.e. an extremely conservative, exaggerated pioneer image, in addition, the economic reality
of the late 1930's male the intensive use of labor, professional, skilled and unskilled,
unrealistic to meet the rapidly rising demands. Maintenance on the rustic buildings also became
problematic. Monies, men and materials were eventually diverted to the war effort. The
emerging functionalistic design approach to harmonizing with nature in the national parks set
the stage for the next large developmental thrust that occured in the mid 1950's.
1956-1966: The National Park Service's Mission 66 Years
Following the Second World War, the NRS labored under a severly limited budget and a
renewed interest on the part of Americans In their national parks, While land was being levelled
and covered with tract homes in endless housing developments of "houses made of ticky tacky all
coming out of boxes," as the song goes, Americans went on the road, took their families, pets and
barbeques and inundated the national parks in greater numbers than ever before. It was finally
in 1956, when the ten year project known as "Mission 66" was instituted, that sufficient
funding was obtained to allow resumption of park development on a significant scale. Mission 66
was an attempt to bring the park facilities, services and approach to its stewardship of the land
up to date as rapidly as possible to meet the constantly rising demands of the parks' users by
1966, the agency's 50th anniversary. It was intended to improve access to the parks, improve
services rendered to the visitors, improve administration of areas, provide for better employee
living facilities, better orient the visitor to the park through more signs and interpretive
programs and exhibits and lessen impacts on parks' environments while dispersing visitor use.
As the parks started undergoing a facelift, park designers were leaving behind the rustic
style in favor of a modern, bolder international style to update the parks. Due to this emphasis
and a greatly increased work load, the park service hired prominant architects from outside the
service for some of the larger projects. These architects, as well as the National Park Service
architects and designers at that time, felt that straightfoward functionalism and simplicity was
the appropriate role of architecture in national parks and tried to use contemporary designs,
materials and building methods. Entrance signs during this time, became larger, displayed the
National Park Service arrowhead, had cleaner lines, still used wood panels with routed letters
and attemped to impart a sense of the park, often through an irregular shape or materials such
as an adobe covering. Parking lots were expanded, roads widened and more roadside pullouts
created. A notable structure from the early Mission 66 days is the visitor center built at
Dinosaur National Monument in 1956, ( Parkitecture.p. 127) which was constructed directly
over the main working quarry. Sympathetic to the surrounding landform, yet very modern in
its clean, sharp appearance and construction methods and materials constructed of glass, steel
and concrete, the visitor center set a tone for later development. The visitor center/
headquarters building at Rocky Mountain National Park, which was completed at the very end of
this era in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, is also an epitome of this era's architecture: a long,
low profiled flat roof, large glass surfaces, heavy steel ornamentation and exterior rock that
blends with the surrounding colors. This rock, though, being sandstone, bears no ressemblance
to the local granite nor does it even hint at being structural since it is only a thin facing. The
building's orientation was reversed during construction from the original plan, leaving exterior
balconies that were designed for views, with none. Another structure from the end of this
period, the visitor center at Paradise, Mount Rainier National park, truly reflected a bold,
modern and personal architectural statement. Completely departing from the rustic style
existing Paradise Inn, the visitor center with its pagoda shape, ended up having severe
structural and functional problems due to the record-setting amounts of snow at Paradise.
Unfortunately, since this era was an attempt to accomplish a lot with minimal labor, within
a short time, it generally suffers from the reputation for die-cut employee residences, sterile
administration buildings and visitor facilities that are functional and easy to produce, yet
completely lack a sense of the particular park in which they are situated. Other buildings,
such as residences, entrance kiosks and bathrooms, of this era, often have flatter roof lines,
asphalt shingles and are built of concrete block, in addition to the steel, concrete and glass.
1970s: The Liability, Compliability and Safety Years
Increasingly, as the parks tried to bring physical facilities and services up to the demands of
the visitor, the public started demanding still more from the parks in terms of resource
accountability, EA's and EISs and eventually also, in terms of visitor safety, tort claims and
law suites. Visitor use patterns changed as demographics changed and the population started
aging, the size of recreation vehicles Increased and the number of bus tours increased as well.
Following the 1966 publication of the National Highway Safety Act and a subsequent
recommendation (1972 NPS Sign System Specifications) that the National Park Service adhere
to the standards contained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) (footnote:
National Sion System StutV. N.P.S. 1987. o. 7), park road signs were created that were clearly
visible at night, that were visible from a specified distance at a specified speed and that often
included international symbols. These signs were brown metal with white reflectorized
lettering and of a design that was standard throughout the entire park system. While safe and
easy to see, these signs appeared generically industrial, did not reflect the theme or create a
sense of the park or environment of the parks, and sometimes allowed the sign face to become
too cluttered since they were not routed.
To meet the demands of increasing numbers of in-park employees, modular homes and
trailers continued to proliferate. To quickly meet these demands of changing use patterns,
prefabricated materials such as fiberglass and plywood were used for outhouses and other
structures, often entirely prefabricated. Designs, while still clinging to the practicality and
lunctionalism of the Mission 66 style, added a new awareness of safety features,
standardization and accessibility. Roads were straightened and widened, railings erected, ramps
added to even older, historic structures, often with only functionalism in mind.
Significant Mandates, Legislation or Events Affecting Visual Management in the
In addition to concessioners in parks, historic events such as the Depression Years and social
trends, such as the post-war influxes of large numbers of visitors to the parks, there have been
other influences on park design and visual management since the early park days. Some events
have had direct effects on park management actions and others have just been part of the general
growing awareness and maturing approach to visual management.
1865 Frederick Law Olmsted's "Yosemite Valley Report", which addressed the necessity of
narrowly restricting all "artificial constructions" and preventing all constructions
that are "markedly inharmonious with the scenery or which would unnecessarily
obscure, distort or detract from the dignity of the scenery."
1916 The National Park Service's enabling legislation, its "Organic Act", addressed
"conserv[ing] the scenery".
------Individual park mandates also often include similar wording.
1962- Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission's report conducted a study of
the nations outdoor recreation needs. Proposed use zones that the National Park
Service adopted as its broad management categories.
1963 - Leopold Report recommended that national parks be managed as natural ecosystems to
maintain them "as nearly as possible in the condition that prevailed when the area
was first visited by the white men. A National Park should represent a vignette of
primitive America." (The Leopold Report, 1963, as submitted to the Secretary of the
Interior Stewart L. Udall by his special Advisory Board on Wildlife Management in
National Parks, Chaired by A. Starker Leopold) While this philosophy is curently
under review, it has influenced park decisions that involve managing visual aspects of
the natural resources, suchas vegetative management where natural succesional
processed might be stopped to preserve historic scenes.
1964 - Wilderness Act set aside areas where man is only a visitor and signs of man's
presence are minimal to non-existent. For any area to be designated as a wilderness,
visible effects of humans must be quantified.
1965 - Highway Beautification Act dealt with billboards, junked autos, but not on private
lands. Helped support the growing concern in America for scenic quality in the
1966 - National Historic Preservation Act expanded the National Register of Historic
Places, which had been initiated with the Historic Sites Act of 1935. (Subsequent
guidelines proposed for identifying visual aspects of historic structures, rural historic
districts and historic landscapes and making nominations.)
1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers equated wild and scenic with minimal or no signs of man's
presence. For rivers to be designated, viewsheds from the rivers have to be analyzed
for visible levels of human alterations.
1969 U.5. Forest Service initiated its Visual Management System.
1969 National Environmental Policy Act stated that all federal agencies should "develop
methods and procedures" to incorporate "unquantifiable environmental amenities"
1975 - the Bureau of Land Management instituted its Visual Resource Management System.
1976 - Federal Land Policy and Management Act stated that all federal lands have to
manage scenic resources.
1977 - Clean Air Act provided visibility protection for 48 national parks and national
monuments in the park system. Recognized that the quality of a scenic view can be
impaired by the air quality.
1978 - The Soil Conservation Service published its technical document on Landscape Resource
Summary: Evolution of Visual Values in the Built Environment
The design of built objects in the national parks has evolved concurrently with the value
trends of Americans, alternately one shaping or influencing the other, though which has
preceded which is often hard to determine. Though national park structures started out as rough
and minimally functional, by the turn of the century, some were already being built with a
sensitivity to location, materials and a sense of place. Concessioners, who were responsible for
most of the early built environment, soon realized that well-done built environments would
actually enhance the visitors' experience thus, ultimately benefitting the concessioner.
While the theme of nonintrusiveness has been a recurring since Olmsted's report in
1865, this has been interpreted in different ways: non-intrusiveness as to any development
being located away from main focal points, off horizon lines or hidden in vegetation;
non-intrusiveness as to the scale of the development not overpowering the natural setting or
elements in it; non-intrusiveness as to the construction materials being of an absolutely
natural character with no refinements of these natural materials visible; non-intrusiveness as
to the construction materials simply reflecting the local materials and finally,
non-intrusiveness due to a simplicity and understatement in line, form, color, and texture. The
visitors experience, stimulated by these visual aspects, seems to have cycled from originally
oeing separated from the natural park setting, in a refined sense, to being integrated with the
natural park setting, In a romantic sense, to being confused about their relationship to the
natural park setting and its significance by a variety of visual stimuli accumulated through the
years. The park service's approach to managing these visual aspects seems to have cycled from
experimentation with a few themes on a limited scale, to a thoroughly understood and
consistently interpreted mission, to using pattern books with strict themes as the area of
administration and size of the service grew, to a relative complete discarding of old traditions
and to, most recently, a subordination of aesthetics to other priorities.
Those changes reflect not only visual values but the realities of funding and available labor
and skills. No longer are there large crews skilled in rock work and log work. Budget
restrictions require that maintenance cycles be longer than what natural materials generally
allow. Managers, as always, are forced to prioritize.
Since the early park days when wilderness seemed limitless, the nation has increasingly felt
the need to press for cleaner environments, ecologically and visually. Different categories of
land preservation and zones within preserved lands were established. While the park service
adapted with the times, its official mandate had always been one of treading lightly on the land
and the magnitude of its alterations to the landscape were not great, relative to the other
agencies. Though the BLM and US Forest Service both created visual assessment and management
systems so they could comply with NEPAs requirements, their need was perceived as greater
since they were mandated for multiple use and resource harvesting. While the National Park
Service has not yet created its own system, Park Service managers are becoming increasingly
aware of the need for some kind of guidelines for visual management, as they become involved in
a variety of projects, on their own lands and with other public and private entities, that deal
with visual assessments and visual management recommendations.
VISUAL MANAGEMENT RELATED PROJECTS NATIONAL PARKS:
Precedents, Conferences and Research
Applied to National Park Units or Conducted by the National Park Service that
Relate to Visual Management and the Quality of the Visual Experience
For the last three decades or more, park design that is sensitive to Individual park themes and
the local environment has been overshadowed by the need to provide safe, standardized and
functional facilities. Increasingly, though, designers are reincorporating in their work, a
sensitivity to the visual elements and their meaning in design as well as how the viewer
experiences them. Park planners, also, find themselves needing to categorize land according to
visual criteria to assist with management issues or planning and design projects.
It has become very apparent that the way in which the visual environment is managed, plays an
immense role in the visitors' experience, and that, in itself, will have innumerable spin-off
benefits for the parks.
The following is a list of only some of the more recent projects, research, documents and
conferences that, in some way, have affected the National Park Service's approach to managing
the human-altered or built visual environment, natural, cutural and historical, which by now
has connotations far beyond strict architectural elements.
1972 North Atlantic Regional Water Resources Study: Appendix N Visual and Cultural
Environment. Prepared by Research Planning and Design Associates, in Amherst, Mass, in
coordination with various governmental agencies, including the National Park Service.
A study which examined the land and water related resources of the North Atlantic Region to
guide its future resource development and management.
Method of assessing visual quality of the landscape:
1) Land use/physiographic land units were created and then rated for
2) Units were judged on -spatial variety
-degree of enclosure
-variety of shape and enclosure
3) Units that exhibited greater variety received a higher value rating.
Water was always considered a positive element.
4) Categories for managment were established: preservation, protection,
Conclusions: (from Ervin H. Zube, Robert 0. Brush, Julius Gy Fabos, Landscape
assessment: Values. Perceptions and Resources. Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross,
Inc. Pennsylvania!975, p. 167)
1 )Scenic value is a function of relative landform elevation and diversity of
land-use pattern. As relative elevation decreases in magnitufde, land use
pattern becomes more important to scenic value.
2) Water almost always enhances.
3) Landscape perceptions and aesthetic values of the professionals are consonant with
those of the majority of land viewers. (This view is refuted by the Kaplan's in
their book. Cognition and the Environment, p. 249.)
4) All landscape does not have equal potential for high scenic quality.
1975 Management Objectives of the NPS covers all aspects of park policies in a general
Key points relevant to planning for the visual experience:
1) Section II outlines four different primary management 2ones for parks and suggests
creating sub-units of these for greater management detail (also in NPS-2,1982):
-park development zone
-special use zone (for use by other agencies or for uses not permitted in the other
2) Section III states that for any construction "will be a consistent design unity
complementing the purpose, spirit and theme of an area rather than competing with or
dominating park features. ...In historic areas, no attempt will be made to duplicate or
mimic a historic design, nor shall any modern construction be portrayed to the public as
3) Section III also states that for employees, "the use of modular, pre-cut, or
prefabricated housing is encouraged." "Maintenance structures shall be designed to the
same quality as that of visitor facilities if they are necessarily located within sight of
visitor use areas along a main park access road."
4) Section IV states "conditions caused by natural phenomenon such as landslides,.. floods
and natural fires will be modified as little as possible commensurate with public safety
and the reconstructionif necessary and desirableof public use facilities in the
1979 Shoreline Appearance and Design: A Planning Handbook. Long Island Sound Study.
prepared by Roy Mann Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the National Park Service and
the New England River Basins Commission.
This study conceived by the National Park Service as lead agency for the scenic and cultural
element of the Long Island Study was a benchmark in gaining recognition for aesthetics in a
major comprehensive regional study.
The handbook introduces a shorescape planning process that, after surveying the region's scenic
characteristics and landscape problems, considers aesthetic resources in two parts, the
regional/ local setting and the site landscape.
1) Regional/ Local Setting: provides considerations that relate to policies for protecting,
conserving, restoring or enhancing the shorescapes and for determining use priorities.
2) Site Planning: provides a sequence of planning steps, planning and design guidelines and
worksheets that deal with the special problems of large-scale shore facilities.
1978 (completed in 1980) -Columbia River Gorge Study, a study initiated bv the National
Park Service. Denver Service Center that ultimately led to the creation of Columbia River
Gorge National Scenic Area in 1986.
The study is significant in that previously most federally administered areas were established
primarily because of their historic, natural or recreational attributes. The study acknowledges
those qualities in the Gorge but stresses its extraordinary scenery in proposing the Gorge as the
first National Scenic Area as well as an administrative model appropriate to the area's political,
economic and environmental complexities.
The study stresses enhancing and protecting the aesthetic qualities of both the natural
environment and the residential and commercial areas in the Gorge, placing emphasis upon:
1) High priority viewpoints and adjacent areas
2) Views along transportation corridors
3) Historic and architecturally vital townscapes
4) Development patterns of newer townscapes meeting higher standards of historic form
5) Outward appearance of large-scale facilities in industrial or commercial zones
6) Appearance of ports and portside areas
7) Prevention or removal of eyesores, discordant elements and incompatible intrusions
1979 Design Manual. Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Prepared by MTMA Design Group, PA,
Raleigh, North Carolina, for the National Park Service, Denver Service Center
The manual is to serve "as an integral element of the planning and design system" to guide design
efforts by designers and be used by administrators for facility design review and "to establish a
development theme or character for facilities within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
compatible with the Outer Banks context."
Cape Hatteras National Seashore was established in 1937 to preserve the unique flora, fauna and
physiographic conditions of the area and allow for public recreational enjoyment.
The manual stresses a wholistic design philosophy, encompassing large scale to small scale:
from geography, to the landscape, to the complex, to the building and finally to the object.
The Design Context is:
1) Natural systems
2) Existing architectural styles
The Design Guidelines consider:
1) Functions, programming needs
2) Design dimensions must be balanced: the symbolic milieu (symbolism and experience)
with the physical milieu (form and technology):
- natural conditions (landform, weather, vegetation)
- transitional (natural to constructed, people to constructed)
- visual (views, impacts)
- educational, pertinent to purpose of facility
- integrating functions into landform and into other facilities
- using appropriate scale/ appropriate architectural forms and details
- screening with vegetation
- screening with landform
- climate control inside/outside structures
using alternative sources of energy for interiors
- effects of elements on structures
1979 (1965) The Sec, of the Interior's Standards for Historic Preservation Projects, with
Guidelines for Applying the Standards (Standards were prepared originally by W. Brown
Morton 111 and Gary L. Hume in 1979)
The Guidelines list recommended and not recommended methods of protection, stabilization,
preservation and reconstruction.
Calling attention to every detail in every possible procedure, these guideliness create a
heightened awareness of exactly what makes the historic structures unique and how important
it is to be absolutely precise and accurate in every procedure. This specificity definitely has
transfer value for sensitively designing new structures that are near historic ones. The General
Standards state that "in the event [historic] replacement is necessary, the new material should
match the material being replaced in composition, design, color, texture and other visual
1982 (1975 original) Planning Process Guideline National Park Service- (NPS-2)
discusses the Statement for Mangement process, the General Management Plan process, new
area studies process and transportation planning. Appendix B, March 1977, page 11 states
that for new area planning, methods for identifying, quantifying and evaluating landscapes
(natural beauty) are being identified by the National Park Service for use in Level B studies ,
and by other agencies and private concerns. Acceptable methods need to be established by the
National Park Service and included in the information base to be used as a basic planning tool.
(Chapter 5, p. 15) Facilities for visitor use should be located and designed to bring visitors into
the park environment rather than sheltering them from it. Natural features such as slope,
aspect, elevation, water sources and protective vegetation as well as distances to existing
utilities should be considered in determining sites for visitor use and other park structures.
1984 Cultural Landscapes: Rural Historic Districts in the National Park System. hv Robert
Z, Melnick. Park Historic Architecture Division. National Park Service a report that
"provides tools for the park manager to identify, evaluate, register and manage" areas within
National Parks that are designated "rural historic districts."
Various means of protecting Rural Historic Districts are also presented as alternative methods
for privately owned lands to be managed in concert with National Park Service goals but without
having to own the land.
An approach for evaluating rural historic districts is outlined. It is noted that a
visual assessment system based on landform, such as the USFS or BLM models, is not
appropriate since they do not address the complexity of cultural and historic meaning in a
landscape. A flat expansive agricultural landscape may be rated as low in scenic value by
one of those systems, when the landscape may actually have significant cultural value that
is displayed visually. Rural Historic Landscapes, instead, are rated in terms of
integrity, which is manifested in seven ways:
1) location the place that the series of historic events developed.
2) design the composition of elements that comprise the form, plan, space, structure
and style of a district. It also concerns visual rythms of features in a landscape
such as massing, arrangement of spaces, textures and colors of surface materials,
amount and style of ornamentation, seasonal variations of planting materials and the
relationships of building to landscape.
3) setting the physical environment of a rural historic district. Concepts to use for
assessing the integrity of the setting are geographic context, response to natural
features, boundary demarcations, vegetation related to land-use, cluster
arrangement, historic views and other perceptual qualities.
4) materials the physical elements that were combined or deposited in a paticular
pattern or configuration to form a district, site, building, structure or object in a
particular period in the past. Buildings, structures, objects and plant materials
should be assessed for their integrity of materials that each element has retained.
5) workmanship the physical evidence of the crafts of a particular culture or people
during any given period in history. Examples could include construction techniques,
planting techniques, pruning or fence construction.
6) feeling the quality a rural historic district has in evoking the aesthetic or historic
sense of a past period of time. Feeling depends upon the presence of physical
characteristics to convey the historic qualities that evoke feeling.
7) association the direct link between a district and events or persons for which the
district is significant. Land use categories and activties can be used to evaluate
It is suggested that Design Guidelines be developed that will address compatible changes to
prevent detrimental impacts to the integrity of the site. It is stressed that change per se,
should not be discouraged, only change which drastically alters the character of the
landscape and is a threat to the integrity of the district. Provisions for monitoring
allowable activities will range from large-scale concerns (the agricultural scene) to
intermediate scale (croplands or pastureland) to detailed concerns (no dogs allowed or
proper repairing of a fence).
Factors that can be used to identify and monitor change are identified as:
-landscape spatial organization (placement of features in the landscape)
-land use: categories and activities (the processes of landscape modification
-circulation networks (the way that people move through the space
-cluster arrangement (the organization of each farm or cluster)
-vegetation related to land use (the way that trees and shrubs were planted, either for
functional or ornamental purposes)
1985 Development Concept Plan (DCP) for Old Faithful. Yellowstone National Park.
Wyoming. a document prepared by the Denver Service Center, National Park Service, to be
used as a guide for future development of the area.
The congressional mandate for Yellowstone National Park states that it was "set apart as a public
park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people... for the preservation,
from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities and wonders of
said park in their natural condition." The DCP also lists the interpretive themes, as identified
by the draft Interpretive Prospectus: 1) the processes and products of the thermal basins and
their interactions with the park's other natural resources, and 2) the inspiration, circulation
and subsequent development of the National Park concept, and the growth of tourism in
Yellowstone through construction of the Old Faithful Inn.
The report addresses existing problems of development such as visitor accomodations and
employee housing, encroaching upon the geyser basin a prime resource area. It also addresses
a confusing pedestrian and vehicular circulation problem. Issues in the report include:
1) Supporting a "continuous tenet of park management" of minimizing "permanent human
influence" and limiting unnecessary development near prime resoures. "Although, NPS
has, regrettably, not always adhered to these principles." The law of 1883 that set the
minimum distance for development from any geyser at 1 /4 mile was changed to 1 /8 mile
in 1894 allowing the Old Faithful Inn to be built in its present location.
2) Mandatory compliance with NPS 28, the National Park Service Cultural Resource
Management Guildeline, in regard to compatibility of any new architectural elements with
the historic ones. NPS 28, Chpt. 6, pp 17-19, "Compatibility in Historic Zones", defines
requirements for scale, texture, continuity and addresses use of natural materials (i.e.
logs, timbers, wood shingles, stone masonry) and design features of steeply pitched roof
gables, wooden window sash, exposed rafters and pulin tips, stone buttressing and piers.
3) Removal of structures within the designated historic district that would "improve the
aesthetic quality of the Old Faithful Geyser Basin by restoring a more natural appearance.
The possibility of visually interpreting the historic role of those structures is
The main substantiating reasons for removing the structures are based upon the
incompatibility of adjacent uses, such as visitor and employee housing intermixing, and
the poor condition of the structures and high cost for rehabilitating the structures to meet
4) Using "intense landscaping" to screen development and "orient pedestrians toward the
natural features and visitor services. (The DCP does not identify if the Old Faithful Inn is
considered to be "development")
One of the problems identified in the "Background" section, the visitor-recognized visual
incompatibility of an existing interstate-style highway interchange with the wilderness
setting, is not addressed by the plan, since its removal was not the administration's preferred
alternative in the Environmental Assessment stage, (as explained by the DCP team member)
1987 Boxlev Valiev. Buffalo National River. Arkansas. Land Use Plan/ Cultural Landscape
Report. National Park Service a report that supplements the 1975 Master Plan and provides
more detailed guidance on resource management, land use, visitor use, development, and land
management agreeement for the valley."
Buffalo National River was established in 1972 to conserve and interpret an area of the river
that contained unique scenery and scientific features, and to provide for the benefit and
enjoyment of present and future generations. At that time, Boxley Valley, was identified as an
area to remain in private use to retain its rural agricultural setting and pastoral scene, and that
would be subject to "scenic controls and necessary right-of-way for roads and trails." As a
historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, modifications to historic
buildings must comply to those standards set forth in the Secretary of the Interior's "Standards
for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings."
The overall management issue is how to perpetuate Boxley Valley as an agricultural community
in a manner compatible with other objectives of the national river, which entail balanced
visitor use, historic scenic qualities and continued agricultural uses and local community
character of the local residents.
The management concept implemented in this plan is new for the Park service in that it protects
the natural and historic character while allowing and encouraging a relatively "natural"
evolution of the rural landscape, balancing resource preservation and private use. The plan
directs change rather than stopping or ignoring it.
In assessing the individual significance of buildings and the extent to which they contribute to
the Boxley Valley historic district, four categories were created that relate to different
levels of preservation:
1) historic structures of individual outstanding architectural and/or historical value and
which contribute to the integrity of the historic district.
2) historic structures which do not possess individually outstanding or unique
characteristics but which contribute to the integrity of the district.
3) non-historic structures of no architectureal significance possessing modern or
common-place characterstics but which serve as the spatial envelopes for living
4) structures that are intrusions, that is, modern structures that do not contribute to the
historic scene of the district and detract from those qualities, tangible and intangible,
that make Boxley Valley eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
To establish management districts, the following resources assessments were made and
1) geographical, regional context
2) characteristic viewpoints from the existing road,"intrusions, such as house trailers,
excess cars and farm equipment
3) percent slope of the land
4) the extent of open fields visible from the road
5) vegetation, geology, floor plain and soils
6) cultural resources, existing land use, existing land ownership
The management districts (which correspond to management zones) created offer directives
regarding levels and types of:
1) protection of natural resources
2) visitor recreational uses and facilities
3) private uses, such as haying or grazing
While specific visual priorities for each district are not listed, agricultural use policies are
provided that affect other resources, including visual; architectural historic preservation
guidelines are reprinted from NPS 28, the Cultural Resources Management Guidelines; and
Standards for Managing Historic Rural Landscape Districts, from Melnick's 1984 study, are
listed in the appendix:
1) Landscape use should be compatible with its historically intended purpose, with
minimal alteration to its distinguishing natural and cultural components.
2) The distinguishing qualities or character of a rural landscape must not be destroyed.
3) Distinctive natural and man-made components will be repaired rather than replaced
whenever possible. If replacement is necessary, the new component should match the
old in composition, design, color, texture and other visual qualities such as
4) Alterations and additions to the rural landscape required to accomodate a new use is
acceptable when such alterations and additions do not destroy significant cultural
components and such design is compatible with the size, scale, color, material and
character of the landscape.
1987 Ebevs Landing National Historic Reserve Visual Compatibility Guidelines a document
produced by the Pacific Northwest Region, National Park Service, to be used by National Park
Service personnel and the Ebey's Landing N.H.R. Land Trust Board, that will eventually be
managing the Reserve.
Ebeys Landing NHR's mandate is to preserve a "rural community which provides an unbroken
historic record" of exploration and settlement up to the present.
The document intent is to provide a "source for detailed design suggestions" for
decisions that are made on a daily basis to better "reflect the unique cultural and
natural integrity" of the site and foster a cohesive appearance. At this stage, the
guidelines are geared to site furnishings, like benches, bicycle racks, signs and
parking areas rather than architecture.
1) "First scale of reading the landscape"
Primary Landscape Character Areas were established that were based on major
landforms, primary circulation networks and broad land use patterns.
2) "Second scale"
Identification of visual character based on features of the built environment and
their relationship to one another, such as fences, farm hedges, hedge rows and
open space. These are described according to location, history, context, spatial
character/scale, views/ visual continuity and vegetation.
3) "Third scale"
Sites have been designated to receive interpretive waysides are described in
terms of specific details such as colors, textures, materials, finish and
4) Detailed, scaled and annotated design suggestions that are based directly on the
described landscape character and historic precedent are offered. Suggestions
are offered as to materials, letter styles, finish and colors relate directly to
"third scale" descriptions.
1987 NPS Guidelines for Design of Fee Collection Facilities a study of exisitng and proposed
fee collection structures, design and function requirements and regulations. The problem is
recognized that now, with safety factors and operations needs so similar in each of the parks,
entrance stations have started looking alike and often also look very temporary due to the
materials used and other factors, such as seasonal changes in entrance patterns that are not
considered during the design phase. It is noted that the first step to achieving quality is
"recognizing the impression the entrance station makes on visitors".
"Quality by design"in the appearance of entrance station facilities:
1) should appear to look permanent
2) through communication between user and designer, should meet all functional and
safety requirements so no adoptions have to be added later
3) sites layout should take advantage of topography
4) should capture spirit and character of surroundings, culturally, architecturally,
environmentally. Some of the entrance stations built between 1916 and 1940, in
the Rustic Style are used as excellent examples of this. (Bandelier, Lassen,
White Sands) In those days, though, it is noted, that traffic was slower, there
were fewer visitors, traffic safety regulations were almost non-existent.
5) should relate to natural environment:
-using natural materials
-canopies and booths can be firmly planted in the ground with heavy stone piers
-heavy timber trusses can symbolize surrounding trees
-changes in roof heights can reflect the surrounding topographic patterns such as
in the proposed south entrance station for the Grand Canyon. This design,
which draws heavily from the rustic style original administration building, is
offered as an excellent example of quality. Plans for a new entrance station
for Yosemite are also shown, which again, also draw heavily from rustic
motifs. This design will be used as a standard for all subsequent design in
Yosemite Valley, with the aim towards a uniform design theme.
1987 National Sian System Study. NPS covers the history of different sign
style eras, offers examples of poor design and good design, and recommends action
toward solving existing problems with the sign program.
1) exhibit a lack of clarity and visual continuity
2) mix sign styles
3) have too many messages per sign
Other sign problems:
1) entrance signs are too standardized and often do not reflect the unqiue quality of
the individual park unit.
2) sign clutter of too many signs together
3) non-conformance of concessioners' signs
4) lack of knowledge of effectiveness of sign on the visitors
1987-88 Research to develop a model of sustainable landscape planning, conducted at Acadia
National Park. Maine on Mt. Desert Island. The study was conducted under contract from the
National Park Service to the Harvard Graduate School of Design and was directed by Carl
The mandate for Acadia National Park mirrors the NPS Organic Act, that of conserving scenery,
natural objects, historic objects, wildlife and providing for their enjoyment in a way that will
leave them unimpaired for future generations.
The study has two facets:
1 )lt establishes levels of sensitivity to development of Mt. Desert Island based on visual
preference (based on surveyed visitor preferences) and ecological integrity ( based on
mapped habitat availability of selected indicator species). Computers are used to
assist in data processing and storage, including a G1S on which the habitat analyses
2) It tests predictability of five suggested visual analysis techniques (which include the
BLM list of elements for determining scenic quality).
3) 11 combines o new list of variables and uses those to test visitors reactions to possible
visual landscape changes, then couples those results with ratings of ecological
Results of the study;
I) Since none of the existing systems tested had an overwhelming correlation with how the
surveyed visitors rated the scenes presented in photograph form, a new combination of
variables are created and used in the survey: landform, intermediate vegetation,
distant view, tourist development, absence of development (cultural modification),
water view, mystery and coastal development.
2) The results of surveying visitors about proposed landscape changes using this new
combination of variables, are coupled with the ratings of ecological integrity and
recommendations about possible development scenarios are matte to the park.
1) Visitors do not wish to see a developed or urbanized landscape or evidence of
crowded use except for coastal development, which is considered generic to the
2) Development with a distinctly "historical" character is also preferred.
3) Developing presently undeveloped landscape carries a high risk of negative visual
4) Visitors seek a sense of mystery and wish to be further drawn into the scene-
second most significant variable.
5) They like to see water.
6) They do not like to see tourist-oriented commercial development. This was the
strongest variable, with the highest predictive power not even overcome by
7) They like long-distance views, especially early in their park experience if it is an
anticipated or expected view. Opening views toward distinct land forms or water in
undeveloped landscapes will increase visual preference.
8) They like to see a"folded" landscape, typically mountains and islands.
9) They like to see a diverse and well-maintained vegetation distribution in the
foreground and middle ground view.
1987 Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. (Montana) Cultural Landscape Analysis.
Rocky Mountain Region, National Park Service a report that surveys the tangible and
intangible elements of the Historic Site, within its legislated boundaries as well as the
surrounding privately-owned lands. The purpose of the study is to assess how well the current
conditions of the site itself are meeting its mandate, how future changes outside the site could
affect meeting that mandate and to propose different approaches to preserving the character of
the land outside the site, such as easements, agreements or expanding the boundaries of the site.
Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site was established in 1972, by Congress "to provide an
understanding of the frontier cattle era of the Nation's history, to preserve the Grant-Kohrs
Ranch, and to interpret the nationally significant values thereof for the benefit and inspiration
of present and future generations.
After placing the site in its physiographic, ecological and historic context, the study
describes, then maps the development and existing conditions of the structures and the
small scale elements, circulation networks, spatial arrangements and the vegetation
related to land uses and activities. Using Melnick's (1984) criteria, the site's integrity
is judged on the basis of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and
1988 NPS Housing Desinn and Rehabilitation Guideline NPS-76-
"provides a summary/overview of the policies, regulations, planning pinciples, design guides,
user preferences, inspection requirements, building standards and cost estimating information
applicable to park housing."
The importance of matching the design to the landscape character of the region as well as that of
the particular park and its weather and microclimate factors are listed as elements in the design
process. Considerations are also listed for designing in an historic area.
The report identifies the "park design theme as being the way the park character is
manifested in site modifications and building design. The design theme may be based on
harmonizing with natural features or by historic structures. A design theme may have
established its own tradition or may be conflicting with other themes visible in a park.
Characteristics that define park design theme are listed as:
Qualities of park development
land use relationships
plant associations and distributions
street character and layout
scale and character of site improvements
Qualities of the neighborhood
rhythm of spaces between buildings
landscaping and ground cover
setback and orientation to the street
enclosures formed by walls, fences, landscape and buildings
Qualities of building form
average building height
shape of facade and building massing
Qualities of building treatment
material type, color, and surface treatment
proportion and distribution of facade openings
directional expression of facade
architectural details and embellishment
It is noted, though, that if there is no one dominant design theme, park management may
choose an existing one to strengthen.
Elements included on the Visual Analysis Checklist are:
park design theme
space large/ small / open/ closed
views good / bad
screens needed / unnecessary
forms ground plane / vertical elements
colors / seasonal changes
1988 Antietam National Battlefield Analysis of the Visible Landscape. U.S. Department of
the Interior. National Park Service a report which presents "an analysis of the visible
landscape from selected historic and interpretive sites within Antietam National Battlefield" in
The report was prepared in response to concern shared by local residents and state, local and
Park Service administrators, about nearby expanding, poorly planned suburban development
that threatens the surrounding agricultural setting which is important to the historic scene
visible from Antietam.
Antietam National Battlefield was established in 1890 to commemorate the battle of September
17,1862, by marking battlelines and command positions on the landscape. Subsequent
legislation authorized the acquisition of lands to restore and maintain the battlefield in a
semblance of its 1862 condition and to protect views of the battle site for the public.
Procedures used to determine the visible landscape:
1) Viewpoints that are important to the visitors' experience were identified.
2) Using a 6IS, the identified key viewpoints were mapped onto a base map.
3) Using Map Analysis Package, a line-of sight software program, visible areas for each
key viewpoint were mapped. Only landform was used to determine the visible areas,
since vegetation can be altered.
4) 360 photos and videos were taken from each key viewpoint.
5) Composite maps were created and broken down into categories:
foreground the battlefield and adjacent areas with the most detail
middleground somewhat less detail than the foreground but provides color, texture
and form in the landscape
background distant horizons that provides a backdrop with little detail or texture.
6) These units were further subdivided based on topographic units and land use.
A composite map was made of these final categories as the visible landscape.
7) Recommendations included:
-All foreground is sensitive since it is the focal area for the visitors experience.
-Some of the middlegound is highly sensitive since it provides the setting for the
-Of the background, the ridgelines are the most important visual features.
1988 -"View Toward Demon". Planning. Design and Visual Simulation in the National Parks -
a one to three year program, designed and implemented by the National Park Service, Denver
Service Center and applied to projects in various national parks. It includes the development of
visualization and communication tools, the integration of visualization into the design process
and the training of personnel to effectively use the tools.
"View Toward Design" is significant in that it allows quick and accurate visualization of design
and planning issues from an unlimited number of views and sequences that can be interactively
changed, immediately viewed, communicated and evaluated.
In one park where this process was applied, Manassas National Battlefield Park, Virginia, a
problem had developed due to a planned shopping centerand office park adjacent to the park and
visible from it. A study of the how visible the proposed development actually would be from one
selected key viewpoint within the park, was done with computer simulations, that showed full
foliage and winter foliage. In November 1988, Congress annexed the land in question to the
The program is aimed at:
1) Improving the quality of current and future visual design decision making
2) Improving design communication within all levels and participants in the design process
as well as the public
3) Abbreviating the design and review process by utilizing the latest in design and computer
technology, specifically three dimensional visual simulation, animation, electronic
imaging and geographic information systems.
1987/1988 National Park Service Design Workshops. Denver. Colorado the 1987
workshop covered a number of topics that included Visual Quality; the 1988 Conference focused
on the Visual Quality of the Built Environment in the National Parks.
In both conferences, a variety of ideas were presented and discussed. Speakers presented visual
management approaches from the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Highway Administration.
Park Service personnel represented different divisional approaches: interpretive exhibits,
maintenance, and administration. Road design, sign design, and administrative facility design
were addressed. Some of the more salient points made in the sesions were:
1) Gerry Patten, Associate Director, Washington Office, Planning and Development:
Visual chaos exists in parks now and the National Park Service is not meeting Its objectives
because of a few reasons: the organization has grown and new generations have been added that
don't always fit with the old; design work is often done by people who are not in the
parks; and we have no sense of how to bring new technology and material to parks, so we
slide back to the rustic style which is safe.
The pattern of place should speak to each visitor, at any scale or location, creating a whole
felt sense for the visitor.
7) Jay Bright, Assistant Manager, Denver Service Center: The most important factors in
design of roads are utility, safety, aesthetics and economy.
The purpose of roads in parks should be expressed in human standards and geared to the
visitors' experience. Improvements that overwhelm adjacent cultural landscape can
ultimately destroy the park road values. If a road has been consciously left in a technically
unsafe but culturally appropriate condition, that design decision should be documented, and
allowed, for sake of the visitors' experience.
7) General comments by conference attendees (park designers, planners, engineers, personnel
from other agencies) on problems and actions the Park Service needs to take:
- Interpretation needs to be in on the planning process.
- Design guidelines are needed for color palette/ texture palette/ materials palette/ outdoor
- Variances to the official safety standards are needed to allow visual quality to take
preference over safety.
- There must be standards to which everyone, including maintenance divisions, must adhere.
- The General Management Plan for each park should specify zones more clearly.
- Service-wide and park specific guidelines must be established. Look at the USFS, BLM and
- An interdisiplInary task force with superintendants needs to address visual quality.
- NPS, by default, has stated that all scenery is high quality.
- The client of NPS designs needs to be defined park, region or nation.
- Decisions need to be made to close over-used areas.
- The public needs to be educated about park goals.
- Visual quality is subjective, but when awareness is high, there is much more agreement.
- Visual quality must be defined visually, not just described verbally. Examples are needed,
like the bad" cloverleaf at Yellowstone and the "good" cloverleaf at Great Smokey
- Visual quality is the "litmus paper test of work done by all division in NPS.
These conferences did serve to bring into an open forum issues that obviously have been
frustrating designers, planners and managers. All National Park Service personnel are familiar
with having to choose, consciously or subconsciously, among legitimate values that come into
conflict in any particular case and though each decision, while not necessarily of great
individual significance, forms part of the sum total of all decisions that are made on a daily
basis concerning a visual aspect of the built environment. Compounded over time and place
with each visitor, though, these decisions begin to assume a visual message that is much greater
than any of the individual decisions themselves.
While the conference sessions spent a lot of time on various aspects of visual quality, why it
is important and how it can be accomplished, a clear, simple definition, or policy statement of
what visual quality means specifically for the National Park Service was never offered, leaving
attendees, in a sense, with an improved means to an unimproved end" (a passage from Walden
as used in an article by Catherine Howett "Second Thoughts, Landscape Architecture Magazine,
July/August 1987, in describing her reaction to a conference she attended), though actually,
even the means, of how it should be accomplished, was not clearly defined.
The issue of actually defining the premises upon which the National Park Service, as an
agency with different objectives than the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management,
should base management judgements concerning visual quality was skirted, though these agencies
were often referred to. Direct efforts at defining visual quality still illicited responses of
Well, it can mean different things to different people! or !t means minimizing the visual
impact of built structures!" While any efforts at trying to use synonyms for visual quality
often settled on "harmony" or "compatibility", there seemed to be an overt recurrent sense,
even alluded to by some of the speakers, that visual quality for the National Park Service means
more than just harmonizing with the natural existing scenic landscape or being compatible with
exisiting structures, though these are absolutely essential elements. Probably almost all park
managers and designers, throughout the history of the National Park Service, have felt they
were providing solutions of high visual quality, even when they were making those bold
statements of the late 1960s. The fact is, that although during these conferences some excellent
thoughts were expressed and that these conferences took place after and during a period of some
exemplary National Park Service visual management work, there is still confusion and
frustration being expressed in regard to visual management. This emphasizes the need for some
sort of unifying visual management process for all parks that can guide and communicate
procedures for conducting assessments and creating objectives for decisions. It seems that the
next logical step, after these conferences, should be an attempt to coalesce the individual ideas
and procedures to arrive at a systematic approach that defines what visual quality means
uniquely to the National Park service and then how it can be assessed, achieved, managed and
r\fcUATfe|? ProJECfS? |kJ
VISUAL MANAGEMENT RELATED PROJECTS OTHER FEDERAL
To approach visual management from a national park frame of reference, it is helpful to
understand how other large federal agencies, that manage land or serve as consultants in the
managing of land, have established procedures and systems to deal with the visual aspects of
development as they relate to each agency's specific mission and mandate. Having systems most
established and in use, the three agencies selected for the purposes of this study are the
Department of Agriculture US Forest Service, Department of the Interior Bureau of Land
Management and the Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service. Other systems that
are in use seem to follow patterns similar to those established by these three agencies. The
US Forest Service was the first of these agencies to formalize a system.
U.S.Forest Servlce(USFS), Department of Agriculture
MANDATE OF THE US FOREST SERVICE
After Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, proclaiming that any president could
set aside and reserve public forested land, millions of acres were set aside as forest reserves
by successive presidents saving exceptional tracts from homesteading and forming the basis of
American's national forests. (Newton, Design On the Land. Harvard Univ. Press, Massachusetts,
1971, p. 523.) Then, in 1905, the U.S. Forest Service was created with the passing of the
Transfer Act, which transferred those forest reserves from the Department of the Interior to
the Department of Agriculture. The Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act, passed by Congress in
1960, redefined the functions of the national forests to today's integrated management system of
renewable natural resources: wool, water, wildlife, range for grazing, recreational resources
and mineral resources. Later in 1976, the National Forest Management Act required aesthetic
values be considered equally with economic values when it defined the type of management plans
required at each level of the organization. (Smardon, Palmer and Felleman, Foundations for
Visual Project Analysis. Wilev and Sons, New York, 1986, p. 83-84)
APPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE VISUAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
The U.S. Forest Service's Visual Managment System is a system used in managing the visible
aspects of any changes to either the land and resources or the activities which occur on it, both
existing and proposed. Applications include human-caused land modifications and uses such
as utilities, range, mining, roads, timber harvest, prescribed fire, ski areas and other
recreational uses. Non- human-caused, natural disasters such as fire, insect, disease,
avalanche slumps, slides, floods or deposition would be addressed as categories of rehabilitation,
along with any human-caused categories of rehabilitation such as any unacceptably extensive
land or vegetation modification. (Pacific NW USFS 1972 July, "The Visual Management
HISTORY OF THE VISUAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Forest Service designers in the 1960s, working on recreation facilities, became aware that
some form of landscape management was necessary, to both inventory the resources and provide
measurable standards for their management. The Forest Service National Landscape
Management Program began at a national meeting of Forest Service landscape architects and land
managers in 1969, which was preceeded, though, by a study on visual quality done one year
earlier, by Burton Litton of the Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station.
(Richard C. Smardon, "Historical Evolution of Visual Resource Mangement within Three Federal
Agencies", from Journal ofEnvironmental Managements^), 22, 301-317)) The Forest
Service then began publishing a series of volumes that each covered different aspects and
applications of the Visual Management System, yet each continuing the same principles. The
most recent of these volumes, Volume 8 on Recreation, was just published in 1987.
The VM process involves inventory, analysis, determination of visual management objectives
and provides for those objectives to be applied to an integrated decision making process. In the
inventory and analysis phase, all lands are identified and delineated on maps to show both the
Variety Classes (levels of scenic quality based on the degrees of variety found in the land's
physical features) and the Sensitivity levels (the extent to which an area is viewed and the
distance it is viewed from). The synthesis of this information is used to determine the Visual
Quality Objective( VQO) for management, which represents the management standards of
acceptable alteration. The land's Visual Absorption Capability is also considered for any
MAJOR PREMISES OF THE SYSTEM
1. Man is the focal point of all management practices. It is for mans benefit,
directly or indirectly, for utilitarian or cultural rewards, that we
manipulate or preserve our natural resources. (Forest Landscape Mgmnt
Volume 1, USDA- USFS Northern Reg Feb 1972)
2. Landscape with the greatest variety and diversity has the greatest
potential for high scenic value.
3. Artificial objects can be harmoniously integrated with natural forms and
processes by emulating them and the appearance of discordant objects can
be improved through sound management decision
4. Land that is unique or highly scenic can be reserved for public cultural
benefit and other lands can be managed for recreation or utilitarian uses.
5. Retention of character of land that is scenic or unique is desirable, but
alteration of character may be desirable where variety can be
6. Factors critical in determining visual impacts:
a. types and numbers of viewers
b. duration, distance and angle of view
c. focus of view (dominance and arrangement of elements, enframement,
axial patterns, focalization)
d. character of management activity
e. capability of landscape to absorb alteration without losing its visual
7. We receive 87Â£ of our impressions of the world around us by sight.
8. Our responses to natural objects are more predictable than our responses
to artificial objects.
9. Visual perception relies on visual stimulation. Seeing and perceiving are
simultaneous, not independent.
10. Visual perception may be altered by exposure to facts relating to the
objects can alter our concepts about them both positively and negatively.
11. Management of the visual resources is necessary.
SUMMARY OF THE USFS VISUAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
The Sequence of the USFS VM Process
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DETERMINING VISUAL QUALITY OBJECTIVES Product for Management
The Visual Quality Objective, or management guideline for the degree of acceptable visible
alteration of the landscape, is determined by combining a few different factors in a matrix that
has the Variety Classes on one side and the Sensitivity Levels / Distance Zones on the other.
VARIETY CLASS Physical Features
The area of land being considered for alteration is rated for its degree of scenic quality using
its physiographical character type, subtype or characteristic landscape as a frame of reference.
The land is then rated for the amount of variety or unusual features in its naturally established
landscape elements: landform, rockform, vegetation, waterforms lakes, waterforms -
SENSITIVITY LEVELS AND DISTANCE ZONES Human Perceptions
The Sensitivity Level is a reflection of the areas amount, length and type of user, sightseer
or worker and cultural or scientific importance. Since it is assumed that all land is seen at least
from the air, all lands are assigned some sensitvity rating but ratings are based primarily on
what is viewed from roads, trails, campgrounds and developed recreation centers.
The Distance Zones are divisions of the landscape into foreground, middleground and
background according to where it is viewed from. Where an area is seen from more than one
viewpoint, the more conservative sensitivity level is usually applied. The foreground applies
up to 1 /2 mile, where individual boughs of trees form texture. The middle ground is up to 5
miles where texture is uniform tree cover. The background is from middle ground to infinity
and texture in uniform tree cover is weak or non-existent.
VISUAL QUALITY OBJECTIVES
The matrix that combines the factors of Variety Class and Sensitivity Level (Including Distance
Zone) produces five visual resource mnagement goals (Visual Quality Objectives VQO's):
Preservation, Retention, Partial Retention, Modification and Maximum Modification. There are
also two short-term management goals of Rehabilitation and Enhancement.
APPLICATION OF THE PRODUCT FOR MANAGEMENT: Visual Absorption Capability
The Visual Absorption Capability process asseses the land's capacity to absorb development
or change without significantly affecting its visual character and to determine the degree of
difficulty in meeting the Visual Quality Objectives. The three main factors considered are the
1) site conditions, 2) the observer-related perceptual factors and 3) the proposed activity
factors. Site conditions are slope, soil stability, vegetation regeneration potential, vegetation
diversity and soil and rock color contrast. Perceptual factors are distance, visual magnitude
of the proposed activity, observer position, number of times the activity would be seen, nmber
of viewers and duration of view. Proposed activity factors are scale and nature of the proposed
development and the aesthetics.
FURTHER MANAGEMENT EXTENSIONS OF THE EXPERIENTIAL AND VISUAL ELEMENTS
Experience Levels: Recreational Opportunity Spectrum (ROS)
While the Visual Resource Management (VRM) System is based upon the inherent scenic
quality of the land, the degree of alteration of that resource and the amount of use of that scenic
resource generated by travel routes and use areas, it does not specifically deal with the range of
experiences for recreation that will be created or desirable due to specific visual and other
management actions. To address this gap and to provide for a wide variety of recreational
preferences in the overall planning/ management system .which the one of the main emphases of
the U.S.F.S, the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) was developed in the late 70's early
80's. The ROS provides a macro framework for stratifying and defining classes of outdoor
recreation environments, activities and experience opportunities provided by the:
1) physical setting (visible alteration, distance from roads)
2) social setting
3) managerial setting
The ROS arranges these settings along a continuum divided into six classes: Primitive,
Semi-primitive Non-Motorized, Semi-Primitive Motorized, Roaded Natural, Rural and Urban.
Instead of viewing recreation opportunities primarily as participation in a recreation activity,
the ROS identifies specific indicators of these opportunities that make distinctions among the
oportunities possible. For each opportunity class, specific standards have been identified
regarding: 1) evidence of human modification of the environment; 2) interaction among user
groups; 3) managerial regimentation; 4) size or extent of area of opportunity and 5)
remoteness. (Driver, Brown, Stankey andGregoire, "The ROS Planning System: Evolution, Basic
Concepts, and Research Needed", reprinted from Leisure Sciences, Voi 9, 1987. p, 206)
The ROS framework is concerned only with those recreation experiences that are affected by
activities and setting, since it classifies resources according to their potential to provide
different recreation opportunities defined in terms of relationships between activities, setting
and experiences. Family kinship, physical exercise, education, expanded awareness or
possibly even feelings such as tranquility can be realized from many different activities or
settings and so can not be dealt with in the ROS, whereas opportunities to experience isolation
or undeveloped natural environments can be applied along the spectrum.
VRM and the ROS, used in conjunction, can complement each other, (The 1986 Ras Book.
United States Forest Service,with introduction by Roy W. Feuchter, Director of Recreation
Management, page II 14) though they do seem to overlap a bit. The indicators for the
recreational experience opportunity, that are identified by the ROS,must comply with the Visual
Quality Objective for the area, so the planning process is an integrated one. The VRM system
provides a method of inventorying levels of user concern for the visual elements and for
measuring the degree of visual alteration from the area's Visual Quality Objective.
Experience Monitoring: Levels of Acceptable Change
Concerned with determining a management process that would prescribe actions to protect or
achieve the indicators and conditions specified by the ROS process, the U.S.F.S. developed the
Levels of Acceptable Change (LAC). LAC was developed as a wilderness recreation management
tool, so it applies generally only to the Primitive and Semi-Primitive Non Motorized categories
of ROS. Primarily, the LAC process consists of four major components: 1) the specification of
acceptable and achievable resource (the physical setting) and social conditions, defined by a
series of measurable parameters; 2) an analysis of the relationship between existing
conditions and those judged acceptable; 3) identification of management actions necessary to
achieve the desired conditions; and 4) a program of monitoring and evaluating management
effectiveness. The visual parameters, once determined as being appropriate for a particular
desired opportunity class, can be monitored in very specific terms, for example, not accepting
any amount of devegetation of campsites in a Primitive Opportunity Class that exceeded
10OO square feet. (Stankey, Cole, Lucas, Petersen Frissell, "The Limits of Acceptable Change
(LAC) System for Wilderness Planning, U.S.D.A., Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and
Range Experiement Station, Utah, General Technical Report I NT 176, Jan 1985., p. 29) In
essence, the LAC System takes the ROS one step along in the deliberate management towards a
sustained yield of desired land use and visitor experience.
Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior
MANDATE / ROLE OF THE BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
The Bureau of Land Management, (BLM), established in 1946, was originally responsible
for large tracts of land in the west used for grazing. Since then it has expanded the amount of
land it administers as well as its duties. Now, on lands totalling more than two hundred and
seventy million surface acres mostly in the west, far west and Alaska and over five hundred
seventy million acres of federally owned mineral estate, the BLM manages for multiple use of
both renewable and nonrenewable resources and sustained yield that maintains both
productivity and environmental quality. Thus, the BLM often encounters conflicts between
priorities for one activity conflicting with those of another.
More recent legislation has further clarified the BLM's responsibility to certain resources.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 affected the BLM as it did other federal agencies
in underlining the federal government's responsibility in assuring Americans "aesthetically and
culturally pleasing surroundings" and in developing methods and procedures to integrate those
considerations into land management. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976
specified that "scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric,
water resource and archaeological values"be preserved and protected where appropriate. It also
required that resource management plans identify and give priority to certain areas to protect
"important historical, cultural, or scenic values.
APPLICATIONS FOR BLM VISUAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
The BLM applies its Visual Resource Management (VRM) System to a wide variety of
activities that include Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Statement
Procdures, in an attempt to mitigate, reduce or eliminate negative visual impacts without
reducing the overall productivity of the land. The process, used as a design tool during the
project planning, can save time and money in later mitigation. Applications of the VRM System
Include energy related activities such as the production and transporting of coal, petroleum,
hydroelectricity, nuclear energy, solar energy, wind and geothermal energy. Other management
activities include timber, wildlife, grazing, communication sites, cultural sites and recreation
HISTORY OF THE BLM VISUAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
As an outgrowth of its Recreation Program, in 1965, the BLM started its scenic quality
component, then called the Recreation Information System. In the early seventies, a full
review of the visual and scenic assessment process and existing systems was undertaken,
including a review of the U.S. Forest Service's system. The BLM felt they needed a system that
would not only inventory and evaluate landscape quality but also be used for broad land use
planning, specific project planning, design, monitoring and quality control. In 1975, the BLM
Visual Resource Management system was endorsed by their director and staff training sessions
implemented. Publications that came out in 1980 included an overview of the VRM system and a
manual on visual simulation technologies.
BLM VRM SYSTEM OVERVIEW
The BLM recognizes that the land it manages has a variety of visual values and warrants
different levels of management, so its Visual Resource Management system starts with an
inventory of all these levels of scenic quality. This rating is then combined with ratings for
visitor sensitivity, distance zones and then assigned a Management Class that dictates broad
visual objectives. Then any proposed development is contrasted, often using visual simulations,
against these Management Classes and given a Contrast Rating which can lead to mitigation or
modifications of the project.
MAJOR PREMISES OF THE BLM VRM SYSTEM
1. While beauty "is in the eye of the beholder" and the subjective input from viewers is
important, research demonstrates a consistent level of agreement among individuals
asked to evaluate visual quality.
2. Recreational sightseers may be more sensitive than workers who pass through an
3. The impact that adjacent land uses create depends on the nature of activity within
4. Modifications in a landscape that repeat the landscape's basic elements are said to be
in harmony with their surroundings, though this can be accomplished at different
levels of harmony.
5. The greater number of viewers, the greater the sensitivity, but sensitivity can
depend upon distance also.
6. Special areas like Wilderness Areas, Natural Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers may be
7. Cultural modifications to the land can detract or add favorably to the visual variety.
BLM VISUAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM SUMMARY
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DETERMINING MANAGEMENT CLASSES
The BLM process for determining the Management Class for an area of land involves inventory-
ing and evaluating 1) the scenic quality, 2) the sensitivity level and 3) the distance zones.
SCENIC QUALITY Physical Features
For scenic quality inventorying and evaluating, similar physiographic regions are primarily
used as broad units of comparison and then smaller units of comparison, as small as one hundred
acres or less, are determined according to landform, vegetation and manmade modifications.
These units, referred to as Scenic Quality Rating Units, are then rated according to landform,
vegetation, water, color, adjacent scenery, scarcity and cultural modifications. The rating is
based on a commulative point system, but not all elements are equally weighted. For example,
negative cultural modification is an extreme detractor and the lack of water or lack of positive
adjacent scenery detract slightly more than the other lowest ratings.
The BLM system recognizes that user reation can be increased or lessened by the distance of a
particular area from the major viewing areas and that atmospheric conditions can also change
the apparent distances. The categories used are 1) foreground/middle ground up to five miles
where texture and forms of individual plants are no longer seen, 2) background five to
fifteen miles, where vegetation is seen only as patterns of light and dark and 3) seldom seen -
which is beyond fifteen miles or obscured from view at close range.
SENSITIVITY LEVELS Human Perceptions
The sensitivity level, or regional and individual attitudes toward the land, is measured
according to use volume and the user or public reaction, since each viewer brings perceptions
formed by individual influences such as culture, visual training, familiarity with local
grography and personal values. User reaction is determined through requests for reactions to
specific projects and through concern expressed through letters and newspapers.
MANAGEMENT CLASSES Product for Management,
The Scenic Quality, Distance Zones and Sensitivity Levels are combined in a matrix to
determine the Management Classes, which are then used in planning decisions and to assess the
visual impact of proposed development. The Classes are:
Class 1 Special areas, such as wilderness areas or wild and scenic rivers where only
limited management activity is allowed that will still" preserve" the existing character of
Class 2- Contrasts due to management activities are seen but must not attract attention and
changes must repeat the basic elements of the natural features so that the existing
character is "retained".
Class 3- Contrasts can be evident but subordinate to the landscape so that the character of
the land is "partially retained".
Class 4- Management contrasts can attract attention and are dominant in terms of scale so
that there is "major modification" of the landscape.
Class 5- This is an interim class where landscape is disturbed by development to the
point where rehabilitation is needed to bring it up to one of the other four classes.
(Recent versions of the BLM Visual Resources Management System have deformalized this
PRODUCT APPLICATION Contrast Rating
The Contrast Rating Process involves the preparation of visual simulations from key
observation points and measuring the degree of contrast between the proposed activity and the
existing landscape which is then compared with the directives of the particular Management
The contrast between the proposed development and the existing landscape is done by:
1. Breaking up the proposed developed landscape into major features of land/water,
surface, vegetation and structures.
2. Each feature is then broken down into the basic elements of line, form, color and
texture. Each proposed elements degree of contrast is rated (3 = strong, 0 = no
contrast). In earlier versions of this system, each factor used to be multiplied by its
assigned value with form =4, line = 3, color = 2, texture = 1.
3. Points are totalled up and scores compared to allowable numerical contrasts assigned
to the Management Classes.
4. The amount of contrast indicates whether to continue with the project, mitigate,
redesign or abandon.
Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Dept, of Agriculture
MANDATE / ROLE OF THE SOIL CONSERVATION SERVICE
The Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was created in 1935 after the Dust Bowl years. It
paid destitute farmers for their destroyed farms and then embarked on a massive effort to
reclaim the land. Initiating and directing a national program of soil and water conservation, it
took charge of advising farmers about better farming practices .flood prevention, water-
conservation, animal husbandry, fish and wildlife managment, recreation, community
development and land use.( "Soil Conservation Service Landscape Resource Management by
Sally Schauman and Carolyn Adams from National Conference on Applied Techniques for Analysis
and Management of the Visual Resource. Incline Village. NV, 1979, p 671.) In addition, it was
responsible for enforcing required farming methods to prevent wind transport and loss of
precious topsoil. Subsequent enabling acts, passed by every state, organized rural citizens into
soil and water conservation districts.
The SCS, now, does not own nor manage any federal lands. It has an advisory role in rural
communities and serves as a consulting and information agency. It educates and influences
private landowners to use suggested land use and landscape resource management techniques for
identification and conservation of important farmland. Ultimately, SCS techniques aim at the
development of rural areas to improve their economic, environmental and social values. This
means that the scale and methods of application of visual resource management of the SCS is
different than those of the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Nevertheless, the process of arriving at decisions regarding visual resources is in-depth,
comprehensive and appropriate to the agency's mandate and role.
The SCS covers an extremely wide range of activities, from cranberry production, to
construction of dams and channels, scenic designations, pond construction, windbreak
plantings, agricultural land conversions, erosion control and reclamation of abandoned mine
lands. Applications of the SCS Landscape Resource Management process usually involve
consulting with communities on issues regarding human-modified land, usually dominated by
patterns of human activity. The Process allows SCS to help communities determine where their
most scenic resources are and what makes them scenic. The process is not yet uniformly used
nor are all local SCS offices even aware of it. The SCS office in Denver, Colorado uses some
visual criteria developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of their Habitat
Evaluation Procedures and Habitat Index Suitability. (phone conversation to SCS office
HISTORY OF SYSTEM
In 1972, in response to NEPAs requirement that all Federal agencies incorporate
environmental policy into everyday actions, Sally Schauman, who was a landscape architecture
professor at the University of Michigan, first started working with the SCS to develop a
landscape resource management system. At that time it was felt that the term "landscape
resources", In terms of a composite of ecological, social and visual resources, and was more
appropriate than the USFS and BLM's "visual resources" systems since the SCS project areas
greatly varied in size, dealt with highly man-modified agricultural landscape that have very
little dramatic topographic relief and because the SCS only provided technical assistance to
private landowners. Then in 1978, the SCS technical document TR-65 "Procedure to Establish
Priorities in Landscape Architecture" on landscape resource management was published to assist
SCS personnel in assessing landscape resource management problems and to increase awareness
of the landscape resources. That work was continued in 1981 when a theoretical base and a
flexible procedure for identifying and evaluating landscape resources in agricultural settings
was developed. This initial system was field tested and, in 1985, a draft field guide was put
SYSTEM OVERVIEW AND PREMISES
The system developed for assessing the scenic quality aspects of communities follows the
traditions established by the SCS of recognizing the importance of local input while assisting
those same communities in solving local resource concerns. The system calls for the
professional to become facilitators in guiding local groups to judge scenic landscape values
rather than becoming judges of local scenic values. One or a combination of indicators are
chosen from a list of seven indicators that are recognized as being those to which most of the
scenic values of the American countryside can be attributed. In the process, local preference
changes the choice, mixture and weighting of the chosen indicators. The system is based on three
premises:( "Soil Conservation Service Landscape Resource Management" by Sally Schauman and
Carolyn Adams, presented at the National Conference on Applied Techniques for Analysis and
Management of the Visual Resource, Incline Vllage, Nevada, April 23-25, 1979, p. 672.)
1) SCS landscape architecture considers the landscape as a composite of ecological,
social and visual resources and thus the social considerations include an analysis of the
benefits, both direct and indirect, that are derived from landscape use.
2) SCS landscape exist in the countryside or suburban setting rather that in wildland or
wilderness and so all management activities are assessed within the local context.
3) The American public has expectations of countryside landscape resources that most
likely differ from their expectations of other types of landscape. SCS landscape
architects thus seeek the basis for those expectations, the elements that comprise the
local landscape and the degree of change that can be absorbed without destroying local
SCS SYSTEM SUMMARY
The system is based upon a lot of public involvement throughout the six-step process, thus
the component of Human Perception is interwoven. ("An Assessment Procedure for Countryside
Landscapes", by Gary D. Wells, Regional Landscape Architect, USDA, Soil Conservation Service,
Lincoln, Nebraska, Nov. 1987, p. 3)
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1) Getting Organized.
The process starts as a joint effort of the professionals and the locals and determines
the appropiateness of applying the countryside landscape assessment system to the
area. The purpose for applying the procedure is clarified. The local steering committe
for the project is indentified introduced to the process as well as their Individual roles
2) Understanding the Study Area.
Professionals and locals, together, determine the scope of the project and the data
3) Identifying Landscape Units Physical Features
Again a joint effort of locals and professionals, this step is the classification of the
landscape into visual and cultural units which are based upon land use, focusing on
agricultural patterns that make visual sense. Depending upon the scale of the project,
unit classifiers are arranged in a hierarchy to allow for the appropriate level of detail.
Example of some classifiers are:
General Intermediate Detailed
built-up lands--------------scattered development-----------residential including
To further define landscape units, modifiers, also arranged in a hierarchy, are used
with classifiers. Examples of some "General" modifiers are:
In conjunction with the maps derived from unit delineation through classifiers and
modifiers, locals, especially long term residents, can assist by creating cognitive maps
of the area from memory.
4) Selecting and Indexing Evaluation Indicators Human Perceptions
The SCS process identifies seven indicators as being applicable to assessing the scenic
quality of agricultural landscapes. In this step, the professionals explain the meaning of
each of the indicators to the local group and helps them choose the ones appropriate to
their particular project area. Then, each indicator is indexed by determining the range
that exists in the study area (high, medium, low).
The seven indicators are:
Character -memorability of the scene and the harmony of its elements (size, shape,
line, color, texture)
Uniqueness the relative quantity and distribution of landscape elements or
Fragility landscape's ability to absorb change without diminishing visual quality,
Fitness degree of tending, stewardship or care that the landscape exhibits.
Structure spatial qualities of the landscape.
Information the quantity and quality of message provided by a landscape to human
observers, or basically, how interesting, varied or dull the landscape is.
Meaning the value of the landscape from cultural interpretations by individuals or
5) Developing assessment Criteria- Human Perception
The community and professionals, working together, determine the relationship and
factor weighting among the chosen and indexed indicators to identify the combination
that leads to the most scenic rating and the one that leads to least scenic rating, (exp;
high character, medium structure and medium information could be highly preferred)
6) Evaluating Units and Mapping Visual Quality Product for Management
The criteria for scenic quality having thus been established through a joint effort of the
local community and the professionals, the units are then rated and mapped for levels
of scenic quality through field reconnaissance, aerial photos and computer analysis.
The maps then provide a base for local or county decisions to be based on, such as
development, land purchasing or acceptance of land donations.
Systems Commonalities, Contrasts and Criticisms US Forest Service, Bureau
of Land Management, Soil Conservation Service and Other Researched Methods
Each of these three systems of visual analysis reflects each agency's own management and
operating structure, is geared toward each agency's own legislative mandate and type of land
administered and represents an effort to quantify and break down the landscape into components
that, as a sum, determine visual quality. Visual quality assessment, in all of these systems,
seeks to determine the relative location of different landscapes along a dimension of scenic
beauty. The mandates of the USFS and BLM lend themselves to a service-wide visual management
system since all BLM lands, like all USFS lands, are administered under one mandate, particular
to each agency. Both agencies have a hierarchical system of central offices to local offices.
Generally speaking, both agencies manage primarily natural landscapes, with the USFS lands
more forested and containing greater topographic relief and the BLM lands being more open,
flatter shrubland. SCS land is generally agricultural and while it maintains central to very
local offices, landscape management consulting could come from a variety of levels, usually
technical centers. Each of these three systems are used to determine landscape categories
which then influence the nature of visual changes to that landscape and management / land use
alternatives and options. Each is appropriate to its particular type of land's relative visual
composition, character, existing and allowed uses and intended users and uses of the visual
All three of these systems carry through three phases: 1) inventory of the landscape,
2) evaluation and assessment of the landscape, and 3) prescription for management. More
specifically, each nf these systems contains an existing physical features component, a human
(users and viewers) perceptions component, and a product for management component. The
USFS adds to this an assessment of the land's capability to absorb visual change and the
BLM finishes with an assessment of how the proposed changes will contrast with the existing
landscape and its assigned category.
Of the three, the USFS and the BLM systems are most similar, but all three systems
inventory landscape physical features on a relative basis and try to establish comparative
units, physiographic, in the case of the USFS and BLM, and based more on land use in the SCS
system. Both the USFS and BLM systems tend to favor areas with strong topographic relief and
lots of water, and both use variety as an indication of scenic quality. The USFS system rates
only natural features whereas the BLM categories also include scarcity and cultural
modifications. The BLM system defines "cultural modifications" as "the addition of a structure
which creates a visual contrast to the natural character of a landscape," but it does distinguish
between a negative and a positive cultural modification that can actually add to the area's scenic
quality by "adding variety and harmony." ( p 15 BLM YRM 1980) Both systems incorporate
some sort of inventory of the amount of user sensitivity towards the landscape with viewing
distance zones to determine the level of visual management, though the BLM's distance zones are
geared more toward the macro scale, due to its more open landscape types. The USFS sets a
rating for the land's ability to absorb change and the BLM actually rates the specific project's
contrast with the surrounding landscape.
The element of human perception or sensitivity to the landscape is perhaps the most
ambiguous of the three main components. One of the main goals of the USFS and BLM in creating
a system to assess visual quality of exising and proposed landscape changes, was to
be able to quantify landscape visual quality and create an understandable dialogue about it that
would be objective and easy to understand. The USFS and BLM originally approached the human
perception element by using mainly only observable and demonstrated behavioral data, such as
numbers and types of users, length of stays and distance and angles from which the landscape
was being viewed. Assumptions were made regarding the sensitivity of the type of user to the
landscape, i.e. worker versus tourist, and reactions to proposed landscape changes were
solicited. In essence, the BLM and USFS realize that visitors have an image of what they expect
to see, and the systems aim at fulfilling that image. The USFS further defined recreational
experience levels by various criteria: visual, social and managerial. The SCS, like the other
two, incorporates an element of human perception of the landscape, but becomes much more
involved with direct and repeated interaction and input from the most affected public group, the
residents. This results in no surprises for the locals from the end product map that rates the
scenic quality for the entire area being considered. As for incorporating outside visitors'
perceptions of land viewed that is affected by work directed by the SCS, certain assumptions,
based upon research, are made about Americans conceptions, in general, in regard to rural and
In the history of attempts to quantify and manage visual quality, there have been other
approaches to the difficult issue of human perception. There is experimentation in the USFS to
further objectify this issue, with an idea called Visual Magnitude. This procedure actually
measures the size of proposed landscape changes (like a timber cut) in a computer simulation
and compares that against a theoretical size limitation. Other agencies have incorporated
concepts less tangible and less easily measured, similar to the SOS's indicators, into their
systems. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) uses vividness (how memorable or
breathtaking a scene is), intactness (the presense of an encroaching element or something taken
away) and unity (how the elements complement and balance each other), with these concepts all
being able to be applied to landscapes that are not necessarily strong in topographic relief.
Ground work for the FHWA system was originally done by Jones and Jones of Seattle,
Washington. They felt that since aesthetics is concerned with the quality of the visual
experience, that both the viewer and the visual resource must be understood and that the project
must be evaluated on three levels: 1) internal aesthetics (visual consistancy of details);
2) rational aesthetics (between the project and specific elements of its suroundings) and
3) environmental aesthetics (how the project affects the total environment). This process of
incorporating human perception, while incorporating those three different concepts, involves
assessing scenes using professionals and soliciting some viewer groups' preferences, similar to
the procedure used by the USFS and BLM.
Other methods that have been experimented with rely heavily upon testing visual
preference for scenes by having different groups rate photographs of various scenes according to
specific criteria. The Psychophysical Model seeks to determine mathematical relationships
between the physical characteristics of the landscape and the perceptual judgement of human
observers, (eds. Irwin Altman and Joachim F. Wohlwill, Behavior and the Natural Environment.
Plenum Press, New York, 1983, vol. 6, p. 56) The Psychological Model refers to feelings and
reactions evoked by various landscapes that are viewed. Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, both
professors at the University of Michigan, who are responsible for a lot of the work done using
this model, feel that if patterns In natural or man-man landscapes consistently elicit a specific
response, that this knowledge base could help in making design decisions.(eds. Altman and
Wohlwill. Behavior and the Natural Environment. Plenum Press, N.Y., 1983, vol. 6, p.70)
The visual quality indicators they use in their tests are mystery, coherence, complexity, and
legibilty. Another type of system used, called the Ecological Model, is based on the assumption
that landscape quality is directly related to naturalness or ecosystem integrity. ( Altman and
Wohlwill. Behavior and the Natural Environment, p 47) Land is classified in terms of
ecological function. Areas that are critical habitats, that are high in ecological diversity and that
have no evidence of disturbance by humans are rated high. Human disturbances are also then
rated on their amount of visibility.
Robert Ulrich, a geographer from the University of Delaware, researched visual properties
in the unspectacular natural environment that influence preference and came up with a
summary of those properties that lead to high preference: ( Altman and Wohwill, Behavior and
the Natural Environment. o. 105)
1) Complexity is moderate to high.
2) The complexity has structural properties that establish a focal point and other
order or patterning is also present.
3) There is a moderate to high level of depth that can be perceived unambiguously.
4) The ground surface texture tends to be homogeneous and even and is appraised as
conducive to movement.
5) A deflected vista is present, (when the line of sight, by curving out of sight
arouses one's curiosity or creates a sense of mystery)
6) Appraised threat is negligible or absent.
7) Preference will be even greater if a water feature is present.
Criticisms have been levelled at the USFS and BLM systems, probably because they are the
most widely used, referred to and represent the largest federal land management agencies. One
study done through a Swiss institute, that tried to apply the USFS system to a USFS wilderness
area, the Indian Peaks Area of Colorado, concluded that the system of assessing and inventorying
landscape to arrive at their Visual Management Objectives was addressing the individual
elements of the landscape but not integrating it with a detailed data base. This detailed data base,
which would contain such information as levels of desirability for recreation, levels of
susceptibility to instability as well as the geomorphological or vegetational character landscape
type, was felt to be essential to be able to make any management decisions related to the visual
Other studies have accused the BLM and USFS key factors for rating scenic quality of not
demonstrating a clear causal relationship to landscape preference and that perceptual variables
such as the Kaplans' indicators of coherence, complexity, legibility and mystery, might provide
a more satisfactory explanation. It has also been said that these systems, in their attempt to
objectify the procedure, have tried to replace the need for professionals who are knowledgeable
in the theory of landscape perception and assessment, which is resulting in removing the
interpretation from the context of reality. While it may be a disadvantage when, due to budget
constraints, these systems must replace professional judgements, at least these systems allow
other agency personnel to be aware of visual resource management issues. The success of the
SCS system on the other hand, actually depends upon the professionals working with the locals.
Both the USFS and BLM systems product for management, the guidelines for landscape change,
are purely visual yet allow for a certain latitude in interpretation, which probably has its
distinct advantages since it simplifies the process for the users. The inventory and evaluations
procedures can also be accomplished by a small professional staff without having to submit
photos to groups for preference rating, though computer and video- assisted visual simulations
are now allowing preparation of exceptionally realistic scenes.
These systems, while providing excellent tools for certain decisions and management
actions, do not offer a method of assessing and then planning for a landscape that will visually
invite viewers to learn, that will challenge viewers expectations and interpretations of visual
quality, on a conscious or subconscious level or that will reflect visible and invisible patterns,
forces and symbols, of natural or human origin, that all add another deeper dimension to the
visual environment. The SCS end product is a map that rates the land for scenic quality based on
the jointly established indicators which relate somewhat to how the professionals feel
landscape should be judged, but does not overtly try to influence or challenge decisions. It does,
though, through its deeper involvement with the public and perhaps more time-consumng
process, create the opportunity to educate visual sensitivities in subtle ways to bring out the
cultural symbolism and dynamism of land use. The USFS and BLM systems, perhaps by the
nature of their mandates, their managment methods, the lands they manage and the expectations
of the visitors to those lands, seem to take a more reactive approach in measuring existing and
demonstrable viewer perceptions.
The USFSs Recreational Opportunity Spectrum starts to correlate the visual environment
with the experiential on a basically macro level and the LAC is involved with maintaining the
desired experience through monitoring the visual environment. In attempting to systematize the
levels of visitor experience and the visible, tangible factors that contribute to those
experiences, they have initiated an approach to planning that is more comprehensive, more
intentional, and more involved. These approaches begin to provide a tool geared to specific
applications, that produces a greater understanding on the part of both managers and the
public, of methods to proactively and deliberately manage the visual environment based upon
people's visual experience of that landscape.
SYSTEM PROPOSAL: Introduction and Management Context
As shown so far in this thesis, visual management in national parks has been and is being
applied, in practice and in theory, on a wide range of levels. It also has been and is based on a
variety of premises and criteria. Visual management decisions, which are made by the National
Park Service Denver Service Center, the regional offices or the in-park staffs, range from the
micro scale, such as the location, color and type of garbage cans in a campground, to the macro
scale, which could involve where to site an entrance road into a park. The settings for visual
management can range from natural to developed to historic or cultural. While National Park
Service visual management does not generally deal with reducing the adverse visual impacts of
traditional multiple-use projects, such as logging, mining, power generation and transport, it
does have to deal with providing facilities for extremely high concentrations of visitors as well
as for the administration, maintenance of park areas and housing of all in-park employees,
which can present comparable, if not greater challenges, relative to the National Park Service
The process for this decision-making also ranges from one person ad-hoc on-the-spot,
all the way to Congressional review panels using computer/video generated data. While some of
the more recent National Park Service work in visual management has started to set precedents
in terms of visual communication, there is still no established system or process specifically
for guiding the management of the visual aspects of work done in the national parks. Without
specific guidelines, decisions are often based upon established principles of good design,
intuition and a variety of different NPS administrative directives. Some designers still refer to
the jointly published Civilian Conservation Corps/ NPS guidebooks. Where applicable, some
projects draw whole, partial or hybridized visual management processes from other agencies'
established systems, or from theory and research. While both the USFS and BLM interpreted the
1969 National Environmental Policy Act as calling for the development of a systematic way to
incorporate visual management into their decision-making process, the National Park Service
did not share or act upon that interpretation.
Of the variety of existing approaches to landscape assessment for management purposes
(see section on other agencies), it seems that most can be roughly grouped into either of two
general categories. Both of these general approaches attempt to determine levels of landscape
desirability, based on some sort of commonly held ideals of what a preferred landscape is. The
first approach (see following diagram) relies more on formal design principles, such as line
form, color, texture, dominance, foreground, middleground and background. This approach
usually categorizes land based on indicators that relate to how clearly or dramatically the
landscape components within a unit of land exhibit their character, relative to a regional
context. Examples of this approach would be the BLM or US Forest Service's systems. The
second approach (see following diagram) relies more on measurements of viewers' responses
to the landscape and tries to look for visual relationships, dimensions and variables that can be
used to predict preference, without looking at individual landscape components. These
dimensions can be physical, such as the "folded landscape" and "long distance views" in Carl
Steinitz's study in Acadia National Park (see section on NPS precedents) or cognitive, like the
FHWA's indicators of intactness or unity (see section on other agencies), the SCS's indicator of
fitness, or the Kaplan's indicators of mystery and complexity (see section on systems