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NPS Archives: What's Their Future?


    There is in Harper's Ferry, West, Virginia, a dazzling collection of artifacts and memorabilia tracing the life and times of the National Park Service.
    The feather pillow, blanket and bedroll that Steven T. Mather, the National Park Service's first director, used in the field can be found there. So, too, can be found the pen President Woodrow Wilson used to sign the 1916 National Park Service Organic Act into law, a single-shot pistol rangers used at Pinnacles National Monument in the 1930s, and approximately 3 million images in the agency's historic photograph collection.
    Within these archives are oral histories, maps, publications, annual reports, uniforms, interpretive items, artwork and more.
    I could go on, but you get it. There are some really cool items that trace the history of the Park Service at the Harper's Ferry Center.
    That said, NPS Director Mary Bomar is thinking of restructuring the oversight of these archives, possibly with an eye on contracting out the care of the museum collections. And the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees thinks that could be a big mistake.

    "One of the greatest threats to the HFC material is also common to a number of other NPS museum collections: administrative discontinuity," the retirees wrote in a letter sent to Mary the other day. "This happens when management priorities change with management turnover. The HFC material is so very important to the National Park Service that it should be insulated from the vagaries of ever-changing local priorities."
    Along that line of thinking, the coalition is worried that a restructuring of the Harper's Ferry Center could lead to the museum collections possibly being scattered about or neglected.
    "... we wanted to be certain that the importance of the collection has been brought to your attention," the group told Mary. "The CNPSR envisions the possibility that the NPS would someday (perhaps as part of the centennial observances) consider the development of a 'Museum of the National Park Service -- America's Best Idea.' Should that possibility materialize, the ingredients for the exhibits are already in your custody; all that would have to be done is find a way to put them on public display."
    Now there's a signature project for the centennial challenge, don't you think?


Excellent idea regarding the NPS museum as a project worthy of funding through the Centennial Challenge grants. I had the opportunity to see the NPS Lewis & Clark traveling exhibition. The show traveled the nation for over 2 years along the Lewis & Clark trail. I would love to see the investment made in traveling equipment (tent, trucks, etc) converted for use as a vehicle for the NPS archives to tour the country as well.

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