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Cultural Resource Management in California State Parks

California State Parks is the steward of many of California’s most significant cultural treasures. Whether preserving historic structures, archival documents, shipwrecks, gold rush towns, ancient villages or museum collections, the job of managing heritage resources can be described in three steps.

Joss House interior

The first step is to compile a comprehensive inventory and thoroughly document the resources. Curators, historians and archaeologists research our parks, often working in teams to locate and describe the physical remains of past human activity. They may find archaeological deposits, ruins, abandoned mines or standing features. The same area often produces evidence from different time periods. Park specialists record, describe and map existing heritage resources, providing a baseline for future comparisons.

Archaeological excavation

Evaluating the resources and determining their condition is the second step in cultural resource management. Museum curators study objects to assess their significant and relationship to historic events, places and persons, while historians and archaeologists use criteria developed for the National Register of Historic Places to evaluate historic structures, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes.

Then staff identify outstanding characteristics, assess threats and prepare reports. Historic structure reports define the original historic fabric of structures and recommend how best to preserve them. Artifact condition reports document the status of individual objects.

The Archaeology, History and Museums division assists in providing active stewardship of cultural resources.

Finally, active stewardship ensures that resources are preserved, protected and made available for public understanding and appreciation. Cultural resource specialists take proactive measures, such as removal of graffiti from an ancient rock art site or stabilization of historic features, to rescue the heritage resources of our state parks from decline and decay, and to ensure that these resources are available for future generations.

In its new acquisitions as well as its management, California State Parks is committed to preserving the diversity and antiquity of human experience in California. Understanding this rich historical legacy gives our citizens a sense of place and continuity in the modern world.