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.

National Parks Gem: San Antonio Missions

The U.S. national parks system certainly isn’t lacking in fantastic destinations for summer escapes. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, there are enough natural and historical wonders to delight and enthrall travelers of all ages. But there are also a number of lesser known parks that are worth visiting as well, offering up their own unique experiences and lasting memories.

Take for example the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Located deep in the heart of Texas, the park is home to four Spanish missions, the first of which was built in 1690, more than 85 years before the United States started down the path to independence. Those missions were originally built to bring Christianity to the local population and prepare them to eventually become Spanish citizens, and they were used for decades in a variety of capacities, even after Spain and Mexico abandoned their claims on the territory.

Located within the park are Mission Espada, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Each has been preserved to one degree or another, and each offers an intriguing look at a chapter in early-American history that is very different from the Colonial Era settings found in the New England states. Visitors can stroll the grounds, discovering what life in, and around the missions, was like in the 18th and 19th centuries, while admiring the historical architecture as well.The missions have played a vital role in the San Antonio community for centuries delivering a religious and cultural impact on the residents that continues even to this day. But they have also proven to be an economic boon as well, as a recent study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has discovered. According to the study, for every federal dollar invested in the park, $20 in local economic activity is generated. In 2009 for example, $8.2 million in funds from the Park Service, and its local partners, was invested in the park, which created $98.8 million in revenue for the surrounding community and directly impacted more than a 1100 local jobs.

Despite this indelible legacy however, the Missions are facing some challenges to their future. In that same report, the NPCA recommended seven initiatives that if enacted, would help preserve the missions for future generations, while also increasing the economic impact of the park even further. Those recommendations included building a new park headquarters to help enrich the visitors experience, linking the park to the nearby San Antonio river via trails to further connect it to the community, and developing new cultural demonstrations to further immerse visitors in the historical setting. You can read the full NPCA report and recommendations by clicking here.

Like so many of the national parks in the United State, San Antonio Missions is a unique experience unlike any other. It truly is one park that needs to be visited to be fully appreciated. It is a great historical destination that is often overlooked, but when you’re passing through central Texas, take a little time away from the Riverwalk to enjoy a walk of a different kind. One that takes you back through history in a fascinating and unique setting.

[Photo Credit: Liveon001 via WikiMedia]

San Antonio Missions need a restoration fix

Even though there is National Park status for the San Antonio Missions, and they are of the 14 U.S. sites on the tentative list for possible World Heritage distinction, the money to restore them and preserve them is not enough—yet. So far $4 million dollars has been raised with another $11.5 million to go.

The missions were established almost 300 years ago, as Catherine mentioned in her post on them in our series of the World Heritage tentative list. In U.S. history–(not counting places like the Hopewell Culture sites or Anasazi ruins like Mesa Verde) that’s ancient. One thing I enjoyed about these missions when I visited them is the chance to learn more about the Spanish and Catholic influence on the development of the U.S. When one grows up in the midwest or the east coast of the United States, these are details that can be overlooked. Places like Mt. Vernon and Boston Harbor get more press.

The fund raising effort for the missions is being done by Las Misiones. The organization has the right idea about caring for those things that are important. Although World Heritage status would be terrific, not having it yet is not the worse thing. The missions included in the fund raising effort are: Mission Conception, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada.