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Epilogue Modern Ritual at Bent's Old Fort
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The Planning Process

With the relationship of interpretation to ritual and ideology in mind, it seems worthwhile to consider how decisions that affect a formal interpretive program at a National Park are made. The enabling legislation that establishes a National Park, which must be passed by both houses of Congress, contains the rationale for the park's existence. Generally, the legislation is quickly followed by the formulation of a mission statement, which elaborates on the reasons the park was established. It also describes the natural and cultural resources of the park and in general terms presents a plan for their protection. Having laid this groundwork, a more comprehensive planning document is prepared.

Such a comprehensive planning document, a master plan, was prepared for Bent's Old Fort in 1975. It emphasized the fort itself as a kind of museum display, describing the intent to include authentic period furniture in the fort and to reenact events that occurred during its occupation. Interpreters would be dressed and trained to act as key figures in the history of Bent's Old Fort. Interpretive strategy would capitalize upon the most striking, and most controversial, aspect of developing the historic site—the massive physical reconstruction of the fort.

Reconstructions are not often done by the National Park Service because they are only infrequently in conformance with National Park Service policy regarding the management of cultural resources. Exceptions are rare and, inevitably, precipitate a storm of controversy. Opposing positions are argued within the Park Service itself, and an antireconstruction coalition is almost always victorious. A reconstruction usually involves, and more frequently implies, a degree of speculation that the National Park Service finds unacceptable. The visitor to a National Park, so the line of reasoning goes, should be able to depend upon the fact the


materials they are seeing represent what was actually present at the time being portrayed.

Every effort is made to preserve the original materials, the historic fabric, of the site, for two reasons. First of all, historic fabric is preserved so that the visitor can feel secure that what he or she is seeing is authentic. Each incidence where this policy is not followed erodes the trust the public has learned to feel for the National Park Service and the integrity of its historic sites. The second reason has to do with the preservation mandate of the National Park Service. The original material—the bricks and mortar of a historic structure or the soil matrix of a subterranean archaeological site—comprises a kind of library for future researchers. We cannot foresee the nature of analytical techniques that will be devised in the future. For example, who would have guessed before C-14 analysis how important a fragment of charcoal, wood, or other organic material in association with a cultural feature could be in determining its precise age? Recent advances in DNA research have led to the analytical capability to identify the species of animals killed or butchered with prehistoric stone tools used thousands of years ago from microscopic traces of blood remaining on these tools.

For these reasons, the relatively nonintrusive and reversible treatments of restoration or stabilization are preferred at historic, or prehistoric, sites. These involve the preservation of historic fabric, using present-day materials and technologies very minimally to achieve this result. This, however, does not produce a completely "authentic" presentation. While we may present what fails within the scope of a historic restoration project with a minimum of speculation, other, misleading, factors are inevitably present in this restored scene. First of all, we have no control over what has transpired just outside the boundaries of restoration projects. The restored 1790S building may be located next to an 1840s home and on a modern paved street. The net effect is something quite different than what would have been presented in the late eighteenth century. In addition, while we can control what goes into a restoration project, we always leave many aspects of the true historic scene out. About some we have no knowledge. About others we may know something, but not enough to justify their inclusion in the scene at the risk of misrepresentation. Finally, the original scene itself was constantly changing. It was dynamic, whereas the restoration must pretend that it did not change. Aspects of the landscape were ephemeral: a garden here one year and not the next, a fence constructed and then allowed to deteriorate, plumbing and electricity installed, a porch added or removed, and so on. A certain point in time must


be selected to represent the entire history of the site, an action that excludes representations of the site as it appeared at other times.

At Bent's Old Fort, the year selected for representation was 1846, the high-water mark of the Bent & St. Vrain Company and the year the fort was used as the staging point for the Mexican War. The selection of this representative point was done after a careful analysis of the site's purpose, which is of course related to the Great Past. The rationale for the selection of 1846 as the interpretive year is presented in the comprehensive management document, which for Bent's Old Fort was the master plan.

Thus, such decisions form the basic structure of interpretation. They determine what is included and excluded from the historic scene, even nonverbally. The nonverbal scene not only is in many ways the most persuasive form of presentation, it is also the most ideological because it conveys what is assumed, normal, or natural—so obvious as to not be worthy of discussion. Only by further, verbal interpretation and critical discussion can such assumptions be made visible, and the restoration transformed into information as opposed to something like propaganda.

This is not to say that a great deal of critical discussion does not go on behind the scenes, and some may involve the public. In 1991, the decision was made to rework the comprehensive management plan for Bent's Old Fort. A new, general plan is produced every ten years or so for each National Park, in recognition of the fact that the social and environmental context in which each park operates changes. Full-scale comprehensive management plans are known as general management plans (GMPs). They require at least two years to produce, in large part because coordination of input to the plans from various National Park Service offices and from the public is time consuming.

The first step in the preparation of a GMP is the formulation of a document called a Task Directive, which presents the problems and issues inherent in the management of the park area and the form in which these will be addressed in the GMP. In effect, this is a contract for services between the staff of the park for which the GMP is being prepared and those most actively involved in its preparation. These people are generally from the appropriate regional office and the central planning and design office for the National Park Service, the Denver Service Center.

A team captain is appointed who is then responsible for the preparation of the task directive and the production of the products laid out there. (The team captain for the Bent's Old Fort GMP was Cathy Sacco; she is bright, energetic, and articulate, as people chosen for these lead positions tend to be.) The team captain is responsible for explaining the purpose


and, as it takes form, the content of the document to the myriad of offices, "publics," and individuals who will become involved in the preparation of the GMP, and in making sure that their involvement is fairly represented there. Individuals are assigned to the planning team from the various offices that will be involved with the formulation of the GMP; again, these are usually the Denver Service Center, the regional office, and the park. This task directive may go through several drafts. There must eventually be a consensus on the acceptability, of the plan by the superintendent of the park, the regional director, the manager of one of the geographically based teams (eastern, central, and western) of the Denver Service Center, the Washington Office, and the manager of the Harpers Ferry Center (the office that has responsibility for producing interpretive materials—films, brochures, posters, and so forth—for all the National Parks).

Once agreement has been reached on this basic document, public input is sought. This input has, at times, resulted in the reformulation of the task directive and necessitated reagreement about the altered document by all involved offices. The team captain and planning team endeavor to notify the public of the impending planning effort in a variety of ways. Besides placing notices in newspapers and at the park, an attempt is made to identify as many as possible of the "publics" who might have an interest in the future of the park. These groups are varied and surprisingly numerous for every park. They generally include Native American groups; naturalist organizations like the Audubon Society; groups interested in the history of the park, such as the Civil War Roundtable or Fur Trade reenactors; those with recreational interests such as organizations of hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, motor-cyclists, fishermen, boaters, and snow-mobilers; groups with special needs such as the blind, deaf, or paraplegic; and organizations who want special access to the park for ceremonies or demonstrations. This latter public has included not only the obvious Native American groups that have traditionally attached sacred significance to landforms in National Parks, but also New Age organizations who request access to mountain peaks, and, recently, a neo-Nazi organization that has claimed Zion National Park as their homeland. All of these groups will bring to the park their own version of history.

Brochures based upon the issues and problems identified in the task directive are sent to the various publics. Input is solicited in writing and, almost always, at public meetings where issues and problems in addition to those identified in the brochure are raised by the publics and recorded,


as are any comments. This record of the meeting and a reformulated list of problems and issues is made available to all the publics soon after the meeting, along with a request for further input. Several meetings are sometimes held.

The planning team then compiles a number of alternative means by which the issues, problems, and comments so far received might be addressed. This list is reviewed by the concerned offices and frequently the publics. Often another public meeting is held at this point, and input on the alternatives is requested. Following this, the planning team selects a preferred alternative and makes it known, along with a rationale, to the concerned offices, and sometimes again to the publics. All concerned National Park Service offices must agree on the selected alternative. Vociferous objection to the alternative on the part of any public can prompt a reformulation of alternatives or a refinement of the preferred alternative.

Once National Park Service offices have agreed upon an alternative, an environmental impact statement (EIS) is written by the planning team, a document that addresses all of the foreseeable impacts of the alternative's implementation. Such impacts might be on the biological, cultural, or social environment. The EIS is then disseminated to the public for review. Frequently, there follow several cycles of comments, revisions, more comments, and more revisions until the alternative is satisfactory to all concerned and the selected alternative is transformed into a GMP.

Based upon this document, an interpretive plan and then a statement for interpretation are formulated. Each of these goes into progressively greater detail about how the interpretive program at the park will be operated. Nonetheless, the essential aspects of the interpretive program—themes and approaches—are laid out in the GMP.

Bent's Old Fort is located (as are many national parks) in a relatively remote and unpopulated area. The park has many strong supporters who desire to be involved in the planning there, even though they live at some distance from the park itself. The Santa Fe Trail Association membership, for example, tends to reside in areas all along the length of the trail, from Independence to Santa Fe. In part because of this reason, public meetings were not held. Nonetheless, a good deal of input was obtained from interested parties. Over 1,000 brochures describing the draft GMP were sent out, and almost two hundred attached questionnaires were returned.

Not surprisingly, the GMP for Bent's Old Fort emphasized the fort's association with the Santa Fe Trail. The plan also highlighted its role in the "opening of the West" and its impact on the indigenous populations of the area, particularly the Hispanic and Native American groups there.


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Epilogue Modern Ritual at Bent's Old Fort
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