Surveying Texas parks, where life’s better outside!

“To manage and conserve the natural and cultural resources of Texas and to provide hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation opportunities for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Mission Statement.

After almost 9 years working for a private environmental consulting firm, I recently joined the Archeology (that’s the official spelling here) Survey Team for the State Parks division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It’s a great career opportunity, a promotion and a raise, and involves less travel (and shorter stints), all of which were very appealing to me as I get older and want to settle down a bit.

John Lowe

Here I am, recording a rockshelter site for my new job!

But what I really like about my new job is encapsulated in our mission statement above: “manage and CONSERVE the…cultural resources of Texas.” After all, the “M” in CRM stands for “management”. I work for the people of Texas, as a steward of public lands, to help protect (manage) and conserve the archaeological record of this state.

The nuts and bolts of the job aren’t much different than private sector CRM. My coworkers and I conduct archaeological surveys of existing and proposed State Parks and State Natural Areas, where we identify and assess cultural resources (primarily, but not necessarily limited to, archaeological sites). We walk transects, we dig holes, we identify and sometimes collect artifacts, we note previous natural and artificial impacts to the sites, assess the integrity of the deposits and the potential research value. Often, this is project specific work; if a park wants to develop a new series of trails, or expand a campground, there’s a survey beforehand.

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One of the many stark, beautiful views from the canyons of the Lower Pecos region of Texas

Recently, we have been surveying a new, not-yet-opened, property in the Lower Pecos. We are helping the park planners determine where campsites, roads, and trails can be placed to have minimal impacts on cultural resources, while also allowing our park guests the opportunity to experience and explore the area. This is also something we must consider in our work, as high visibility sites (such as rockshelters, structures, and large burned rock middens) will certainly draw attention and visits, even if they’re not in the immediate impact areas. In fact, one of the criteria we use in evaluating sites is potential for vandalism (a sad, unfortunate fact of life).

Our work doesn’t stop with the planning of the park. One of the things we do is develop a cultural resources management plan for the park rangers and superintendents. This may involve a regular visit to some of the sites (the time frames differ, depending on the significance and visibility), limiting access to extremely sensitive areas (a last resort), or doing nothing. We thoroughly document the sites with maps and photographs to assist with the monitoring.

We also help with interpretation. In our reports, we try and tell the “story” of the park. We are fortunate to have access to broad yet constrained areas for our studies, as opposed to the long, narrow, linear surveys so common these days in CRM. We also have the luxury of time to do background research and analyses that can help us in our understanding of the parks; after all the resources are being protected (although our budgets are certainly not unlimited). Finally, we (as an office, it’s not really part of my job) can develop interpretative displays and materials for the parks, so that the guests can also know the story of the park, and appreciate some of the resources. We are always learning and thinking of new ways to do this.

So that’s what I do, in general. What am I doing today, on the Day of Archaeology? I’m working on a report for a survey done at Bastrop State Park following the devastating wildfires of September 2011. Right now, I’m finishing chapters on the artifact analysis and the sites that were recorded. Eventually, I will be bringing in the information from all of the previous work done in the park to tell the story of the park. I’m not even sure what that is just yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

(note: the words, thoughts, and opinions expressed above are mine alone, and do not represent the official words or policies of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, except where explicitly quoted)

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