America is endowed with places that embody a rich geoheritage, from sites where indigenous people subsisted for millennia, to mines that furnished the raw materials that built U.S. industry, to mountain ranges and river gorges with unparalleled recreational opportunities, to field sites where students can truly understand a geological process, to places of aesthetic or spiritual value, and many more across all states and territories. The Geological Society of America (GSA) defines geoheritage as “sites or areas of geologic features with significant scientific, educational, cultural, and/or aesthetic value.”1 Geoheritage sites may extend for hundreds of miles or just a few acres, may be located in remote regions or along busy highways, and be heavily visited or almost devoid of people. That very variety and scope represent their significance to the nation.
In establishing Yellowstone as a National Park in 1872, the United States was the first country in the world to recognize the unique features of a landscape and purposefully protect it from future human development and resource exploitation. The National Park Service Organic Act of 1916 declared that the National Park Service has a dual mission, both to conserve park resources and provide for their use and enjoyment “in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired” for future generations.2 Subsequently, many local, national, and global efforts to identify and protect exceptional places have taken place, although often not explicitly labeled as “geoheritage.” At the same time, natural and human-caused pressures, including climate change and urban encroachment, threaten the integrity or existence of many such sites. Efforts to inventory, study, and protect geoheritage sites are being conducted by government agencies, educational institutions, professional societies, concerned citizens, and others, as reported more fully below.
The current workshop was designed to refer to, but also move forward, the agenda of a previous effort that influenced geoheritage in the United States for almost a decade. In 2013, an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) convened the original “America’s Geoheritage” workshop. Participants in that workshop—the first of its kind in the United States—included staff from U.S. government and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, museums, academia, and industry.3 In addition to a
1 Geological Society of America’s Position Statement on Geoheritage (adopted April 2012, revised May 2017), https://www.geosociety.org/gsa/positions/position20.aspx.
3 For the proceedings of the 2013 workshop, see https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/03-18-2013/americas-geologic-heritage-a-workshop.
formal National Academies’ workshop summary, the National Park Service (NPS) and the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) produced an award-winning publication titled America’s Geologic Heritage: An Invitation to Leadership.4 The first workshop broadly assessed the status of geoheritage and the activities of its practitioners in the United States at the time. Many of the principles and ideas shared during the 2013 workshop and publications remain relevant, but social, political, and environmental changes called for a fresh look at geoheritage in the United States.
For this reason, the Advisory Group on Geoheritage of the U.S. National Committee on Geological Sciences organized this second, follow-on workshop with these goals:
- Survey and share current strategies and approaches to identify, inventory, and characterize geoheritage sites across America;
- Discuss possible protocols, common terminology, and best practices for documenting and developing geoheritage sites;
- Consider suggestions for future work to encourage development of geoheritage sites as appropriate in diverse local and state settings;
- Create a community of geoscientists and collaborators from the public and private sectors dedicated to identifying and preserving geoheritage sites across America; and
- Explore ways to encourage geoscientists, educators, and the general public to use geoheritage sites in their scientific, educational, informational, and leisure activities.
Given the limitations imposed by COVID-19, the workshop took place online in two distinct parts. From September to December 2020, a Distinguished Speakers Webinar Program composed of eight webinars provided an overview of geoheritage initiatives, as well as focused presentations on geoheritage related to federal and state lands, cultural heritage, education, research, and economic development and geotourism (see Appendix A for list of speakers and topics). In January 2021, 101 land managers, state geologists, educators, researchers, and members and staff of professional societies and nongovernmental organizations participated in a virtual writing workshop to aggregate and organize community input on strategies and best practices in developing geoheritage sites across the United States. The participants (see Appendix B) were divided into focus groups that roughly aligned with the topics explored in the fall 2020 workshops (see Appendix C for a list of focus groups). The groups worked synchronously and asynchronously over the course of a week, then presented their ideas in a plenary session. In addition to the formal program, the workshop included virtual “happy hours” to encourage further informal discussion. Additional topical groupings emerged from those informal interactions which explored geoheritage in coastal areas, arts and humanities, culture, and ethics.
The workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation with additional funding from the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey. It was sponsored by the American Association of State Geologists, American Geosciences Institute, Geological Society of America, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, and the National Earth Science Teachers Association. In keeping with National Academies guidelines, the workshop made no
4 A copy of the 2015 NPS/AGI publication is available at https://www.earthsciweek.org/sites/default/files/Geoheritage/GH_Publicaton_Final.pdf.
attempt to achieve consensus or recommend specific courses of action. Because of the workshop’s unique structure, this proceedings departs from a chronological account to consider topics raised across the sessions. For a more chronological account, see the full agenda, presenter slides, and video presentations of the plenary sessions on the workshop website.5
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