period of rapid economic development after World War II, the federal government recognized increasing threats to historic and prehistoric properties. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended in 1992, established procedures for surveying historic buildings, structures and sites throughout the United States. In cooperation with state historic preservation offices, the United States Department of the Interior's National Park Service regulates federal activities that might have an impact on historic properties and encourages public and private agencies to preserve significant sites.
State and federal agencies work together to gather and save vital information on cultural resources that become the casualties of progress. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Program files this information as part of its statewide cultural resource inventory, a data bank that has been growing since the 1960s. Researchers studying the history of Missouri can use this information to sharpen their understanding of the state's fascinating past.
The National Park Service also keeps files on significant buildings, structures and sites in Missouri and other states. The most significant properties receive listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The process of nominating properties to the National Register involves intensive research, both in the field and in libraries and archives, to determine whether, and in what way, the property represents a significant event, theme or person in American history.
Like every other human agency, the Conservation Department has left marks on the land. Fire observation towers of wood and steel remind us of the Conservation Department's efforts to protect forests. Early metal towers came in kits, like huge erector sets. The oldest metal tower on Conservation Department land still stands in Deer Run Conservation Area, with shipping information visible on it.
Bruce Palmer, a Conservation Department information specialist, reports that the first fire towers were wooden structures. In the late 1920s, the forestry division of the United States Department of Agriculture erected the metal tower at Deer Run. Beginning in 1937, the Conservation Department constructed metal towers for fire suppression and prevention in the Ozarks.
The men who kept watch in these towers in the 1930s lived a solitary life. They had to battle not only fires but the attitudes of people who didn't see the need to protect Missouri's timber.
Modern technology rapidly is replacing the romantic old fire towers. "In parts of the Ozarks," reports Palmer, "where there are lots of remote and wild areas, the fire towers are still used." But, he says, with larger populations, telephones and better communications in most areas, the Conservation Department receives reports of fires before they are big enough to be visible from towers.
These changes and detection by aerial patrols have put many fire towers out of service. Some of these old towers are gone now. Others are falling into disrepair. These old structures remind people of the need for constant vigilance in protecting our wild places.
Whether we like it or not, the natural and the human environment are inseparable. It would be a great mistake to try to completely erase human traces from any part of the landscape. We need to protect the natural world, but we also need to protect reminders of the human past so that we can learn from them. triangle
The Land and the Law
Archaeologists study fragments of weapons, tools, pottery and other manmade objects found underground, above ground and under water. Artifacts derive meaning from their placement in the landscape. Removing artifacts from the ground, without proper documentation, robs them of their significance. Archaeologists excavating sites keep painstaking records of their activity, disturbing each site as little as possible.
State and federal laws restrict the collection of cultural property. Larry Grantham, archaeologist with the Missouri Division of State Parks, warns that the law prohibits any collecting of geological, botanical or archaeological specimens from state parks. Artifacts found on state-owned lands are considered state property. Collecting artifacts without permission of the property owner is stealing. State law protects human burial sites. It is a felony to disturb, destroy, molest or damage a burial site. The federal Archaeological Resource Protection Act prohibits removing artifacts from federally-owned property.
Human cultural remains are part of the landscape. Collectors who remove them from the land deprive future generations of the chance to discover, appreciate and understand them in the settings that give them their meaning.
For further information on the preservation of Missouri's cultural heritage, contact the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Program, P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, 65102.