This poster was presented at A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.

By Allison Kennedy


Roads have always been, and will continue to be, an integral and crucial part of the National Park experience. Visitors traverse roads to reach their destinations within parks, or may travel a road for its exceptional scenic values. The latter roads are well known: Going to the Sun Road, Tioga Road, the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, most roads within park units are utilitarian in nature and receive little attention as cultural resources. This paper argues for the importance of both types of roads, looks at their historic design and development, and discusses resource management issues such as nomination to the National Register and maintenance best practices.

The author has been involved on Cultural Landscape Inventories and Determinations of Eligibility for both types of roads, and will reference case studies in the paper. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain NP is a road that was conceived and built as a visitor attraction. The route was surveyed and road designed by the Western Regional Office of the NPS under direction of Landscape Engineer Thomas Vint.  Small-scale features such as retaining walls were built of hand-cut stone in the Park Rustic style. Visitors continue to flock to the road for the high elevation drive that provides excitement and spectacular views of the Rockies. The significance of the road adds to its complexity in terms of cultural resource issues. Curve design, placement of guardrails, etc. was not done with today’s vehicles in mind. Finding a balance between safety requirements and historic preservation responsibilities can be challenging.

Many more humble roads form networks across the large western parks. Quite a few follow historic and even prehistoric routes across the landscape. Because they were created for the purpose of moving people and goods rather than for tourism values, they are often overlooked as assets, both in the sense of potential attractions and as resources to be managed. They are not maintained to any historical standard, nor are they interpreted to the public. It is important to evaluate a park’s historic roads at least through a Determination of Eligibility. Because many were formed either by repeated use or with rudimentary equipment such as Fresno scrapers, they were not engineered to the standards of scenic roads. Typically they lack associated features such as drainage structures. Still, many have lost integrity due to continued use and change. It can be additionally difficult to define these types of road alignment as often they have shifted over time, following a corridor rather than a set course. The author would like to encourage greater awareness and documentation of these historic resources as landscape elements.


Allison Kennedy grew up in New Mexico and has an abiding interest in and respect for the unique landscapes and cultures of Southwest. Allison serves as the Historic Structures Specialist at Joshua Tree National Park, CA, and has previous project experience at multiple park units. In addition to NPS, she has experience conducting historic preservation work through the Drachman Institute of the University of Arizona, including documentation, physical stabilization, and service-learning field schools. Allison holds a BA from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and a Master’s degree in Landscape Architecture with Graduate Certificate in Heritage Conservation from the University of Arizona.

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