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Historic Preservation at Joshua Tree National Park

Historic Preservation at Joshua Tree National Park

Working with the National Park Service, GBI has been supporting historic preservation at Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR). This cooperative agreement between GBI and NPS involves site assessments and the application of preservation and preventative treatments to a variety of historic mining and homesteading structures. These efforts fall under the purview of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which further enhanced the heritage management role of the NPS and mandates that any entity using federal funds engage in the Section 106 compliance process, ensuring ground disturbance does not affect sites eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

GBI’s Historic Preservation Technician, Matt Goldberg, started on the agreement in October 2021. Working alongside NPS Historical Landscape Architect, Genna Mason, Matt has contributed to this effort through restoration of a stone wall at Silver Bell Mine, fuels mitigation at Wall Street Mill, graffiti removal at Barker Dam, abandoned mine land surveying, and monitoring of the conditions of previously preserved sites. So far, a significant amount land has been surveyed, mostly covering landscapes where previous preservation treatments were applied to monitor conditions. Additionally, three mining sites were recorded for the first time. Happily, Matt has also been able to develop professionally, both through formal training and practical fieldwork. And he generously took the time to answer a few questions about his experiences.

What was the most interesting part of the job?

That’s tough to say. What stands out are the preservation treatments – constructing a stone retaining wall at Silver Bell Mine, fuels mitigation at Wall St. Mill and inpainting to cover graffiti at Barker Dam. The site visits requiring hikes through remote areas of the park were also great experiences; getting out to places most visitors avoid and getting to lay eyes on beautiful country that’s home to some unique historic sites. I must add though that archival research is the backbone of preservation and can be very rewarding in its own right.

Describe your relationship and collaboration with the NPS partner.

Genna Mason is the Historical Landscape Architect and runs the historic preservation program. We collaborated on a work plan for myself, tailored to the park’s needs and my interests/background. In the beginning there was a lot of reading, training and passing down of institutional knowledge. At times we were out there in the field working side by side. Other days we would have check-ins where my questions could be answered and ideas bounced back and forth. Sometimes a long-term project was assigned and I would run with it. For my tenure the entire preservation staff consisted of Genna, an intern and myself, so working as a team was vital. I was trained by and collaborated with other park staff as well, including the compliance coordinator, archaeology team and even some of the vegetation/wildlife staff.

How has the work helped you develop professionally and personally?

Well I must preface this by saying it was only six months. However, the position definitely helped fill gaps in my experience. The physical treatments were largely new to me and helped ground best practices in reality. The work on Section 106 compliance honed an important skill to the job market. Getting a peek behind the curtain of how the NPS operates – the governing body that sets the standard for preservation in this country was valuable. Overcoming the challenges of living and working in this environment, which was relatively foreign to me, proved that I can adapt to new settings – whether through quickly having to learn about mining history, NPS acronyms or simply how to live in the Mojave Desert.

Photo Credit: Alessandra Puig-Santana

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