Maintenance Deferred: Adjusting Plans for a Historic Preservation Project during a Pandemic
Within the New River Gorge National River, the National Park Service is responsible for maintaining a staggering number of assets and resources. This list includes 27 administrative buildings, 9 campgrounds, 11 public restrooms and 16 vault toilets, 5 staff housing units, 2 year-round and two seasonal visitor contact stations, 131 miles of trail, and 35 miles of roads. It requires a huge amount of labor, money, and time to maintain the assets listed above, and much of the park’s maintenance staff and budget are devoted to that purpose.
Not listed above, but certainly worth attention, are the three historic farmhouses that the NPS owns on River Road near Hinton. For my civic service project, I planned a project to stabilize one building at one of these three historic farms. The plan was to install water bars and a French drain around a spring house to prevent the continued accumulation of sediment on and around the building. Carpentry repairs would also be made to the buildings walls and door, which had rotted from prolonged exposure to sediment and water. This work, like a lot of small but important tasks at the park’s lesser-known historic sites, would go a long way towards preserving the building.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the project, and I was left wondering if it could be completed at all. In mid-summer, the project was revisited and re-imagined. It was deemed unsafe to work with volunteers, but the park’s maintenance staff and an AmeriCorps crew from the Appalachian Conservation Corps were available for the task. With these resources we were able to expand the scope our project to include not only one building at one farm, but the entirety of all three farms on River Road.
On the day of the project, we had over 30 people working on different tasks between the three farms. Downed trees were cleared, grass was mowed, gutters were cleaned, ivy was removed from the outside of buildings and debris was cleaned from their insides. The stabilization work at the spring house also went off as planned. These tasks, though small, are often lost in the shuffle of the park’s busy day-to day maintenance operations. The day also provided the park’s maintenance staff a chance to safely work together on a common project in a year where large gatherings of people could not be held. Some people involved in the project had never been to the farm where they were working, and I really liked how this work day allowed them a chance to learn about and appreciate another site in the place where they work.
Though my civic service project did not go the way of my original plan, I was very pleased with how it turned out. In a year where so many things had to be cancelled or set aside, it felt good to work with the staff at the park to adapt to challenging circumstances and develop a plan to safely carry out an effective project to care for some important, though sometimes overlooked, historic resources.
Will was the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the New River Gorge National River's Maintenance Division during the 2019-2020 program year.
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