U.S. Department of the Interior considering new nominees for UNESCO World Heritage sites

The U.S. Department of the Interior is in the process of considering a number of new sites for possible nomination for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage list. That list, which currently features 936 properties from across the globe, recognizes some of the most culturally significant and naturally beautiful locations on our planet. Many of those locations, such as Machu Picchu in Peru and the Great Pyramids of Giza, also happen to be popular destinations for travelers.

Among the sites in the U.S. that are being considered for nomination are the San Antonio Missions in Texas which played a major role in the early exploration and settlement of that region. The missions trace their history back to 1690 and continue to have a cultural and religious impact on San Antonio to this day. Additionally, the four missions that make up the National Historical Park remain excellent examples of early-American architecture as well.

In total there are 13 sites being evaluated for submission to UNESCO including George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Of those, nine fall under the heading of “cultural” sites while the remaining four are in the “natural” category. To view the entire list click here.

The list is now open for public comment giving us all the opportunity to weigh in on the choices that are under consideration. The Department of the Interior says it will take into account those pubic comments, along with the recommendations from the Federal Interagency Panel for World Heritage, when making their final decision.

Once that process is complete the nominations will be submitted and it will be up to UNESCO to add these sites to its very prestigious list.

14 New National Monuments Being Considered

Last week a leaked document from the Department of the Interior gave travelers and outdoor enthusiasts a glimpse into potential plans by the Obama administration to designate as many as 14 new national monuments spread out across nine western states. And while a spokesman for the DOI was quick to point out that the memo was just a draft for internal discussion, environmentalists and conservatives were equally as quick to line up in praise, and condemnation, of the proposal.

The list of potential new monuments, and the states in which they are located, includes the following: San Rafael Swell, UT; Montana’s Northern Prairie, MT; Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM; Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA; Heart of the Great Basin, NV; Otero Mesa, NM; Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ; Owyhee Desert, OR/NV; Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion); Vermillion Basin, CO; Bodie Hills, CA; The Modoc Plateau, CA; Cedar Mesa, UT and the San Juan Islands, WA.

Many of these places are already popular destinations for hikers and backpackers, but naming them as national monuments gives them protected status and removes them from the jurisdiction of the states in which they reside. That is exactly why representatives from Utah are up in arms, and are preparing to fight this proposal to the bitter end. Senator Orin Hatch, who represents that state, has widely been quoted as saying he’ll do everything in his power to prevent the proposal from moving forward, and likewise Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert has been extremely outspoken against the plan as well, arguing that the states should be allowed to manage their own natural resources, not Washington bureaucrats who have never stepped foot on the land.Whether the Department of the Interior moves forward with the plan remains to be seen, but it seems everyone is already gearing up for a big fight. Meanwhile, the hikers that are already enjoying these public lands will probably continue to do so, and not even notice a change should they federal government take control.

For more information on this story, including a look at each of the potential new monuments, check out this story over at The Adventure Life, where you’ll also find the whole controversial document itself in .pdf format.

UPDATE: The Senate rejected a move on February 25 to bar the Obama administration from designating any new national monuments, including two in Utah, that were listed in a leaked Interior Department document. As a result, the administration is required to work closely with local communities affected by any such designation.


New “Tentative List” of sites in the U.S. being considered for World Heritage site distinction

The new “Tentative List” of the 14 cultural, historic and natural landmarks in the United States deserving of UNESCO World Heritage site consideration was officially unveiled in January, but the push to get support is beginning this month. The list was to be submitted to UNESCO World Heritage Centre by February 1, according to the press release we received from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In the effort to do our part to help Friends of World Heritage get the message out about this list, as posted earlier, we’re highlighting the 14 sites throughout February. The process of becoming an official UNESCO World Heritage Site is a lengthy one, much longer than the month of February, but the month of love seems to be a good time to send some love in the direction of these worthy places. Regardless of which ones make the official list, each deserve recognition.

Stay tuned throughout the month as we highlight these places that tell the story of the United States in a variety of ways. As cliche as it sounds, there’s something for everyone. Perhaps you’ve already been to some of them and you have your own impressions that you can add to ours. At the end of the month, there will be a contest, so keep track.

To warm up, guess which one of the fourteen sites this photograph highlights? Then continue to the next page for the new “Tentative List” for the United States. (We’ll be covering sites from other countries as well, like we’ve done in the past, but this month we’re concentrating on these 14.)

1. Civil Rights Movement Sites, Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama. This site links three locations of significance to the Civil Rights Movement. They are the three historically African-American churches: Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery and the Bethel Baptist and 16th Street Baptist Churches in Birmingham.

2. Dayton Aviation Sites. Four sites associated with the Wright Brothers’ and flight are included. All are in and around Dayton and were significant in the “pioneering efforts in human flight.”

3. Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, Ohio. Nine archeological sites containing more than 40 monumental ceremonial earthworks that date back to the Native American Ohio Hopewell culture during the Woodland Period (1,000-2,000 years ago).

4. Jefferson (Thomas) Buildings (Poplar Forest and Virginia State Capitol), Virginia. These two buildings will be added to the Jefferson buildings already part of the World Heritage listing. Monticello and the University of Virginia are on the list.

5. Mount Vernon, Virginia. George Washington’s home and its gardens.

6. Poverty Point National Monument and State Historic Site, Louisiana. Constructed 1700 – 1100 years ago, this may be the “remains of the largest hunter-­gatherer settlement that has ever existed.”

7. San Antonio Franciscan Missions, Texas. Five Spanish Roman Catholic missions that include 80 or more structures built from “1724 to 1782 on “open village” plans within walled compounds.” They highlight the influence of Spanish colonialism.

8. Serpent Mound, Ohio. This is already a state monument in Ohio and is “the largest documented surviving example of a prehistoric effigy mound in the world.”

9. Wright (Frank Lloyd) Buildings, Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. This is another multiple places historic site. These are ten properties that best represent the range of Frank Lloyd Wright ‘s work. The architect created 400. Getting the list down to 10 must have been daunting.

10. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii. “1,200-mile-long string of islands and adjacent waters represents the longest, clearest, and oldest example of island formation and atoll evolution in the world.” The islands are also culturally important because 1,000 ago people lived here.

11. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, American Samoa. This is refuge houses a coral reef ecosystem in an eroded volcanic crater.

12. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Consists of the Okefenokee Swamp is “one of the world’s largest naturally driven freshwater ecosystems.” The diversity of habitats and flora and fauna is extensive.

13. Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona. Has large deposits of petrified wood that date back to the Late Triassic Epoch, 205-225 million years ago. There are also imprtant fossils including those of dinosaurs.

14. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. Acres and acres (176,000 worth) of gypsum sand dunes, the “best protected surface deposit of gypsum sand” in the world.

** The photo is of the Hollyhock House, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s creations. This one is in Los Angeles, California.