While I am still enjoying the holiday high (and feeling blissfully stuffed), I am also looking forward to the many initiatives the PA SHPO has in the works for 2024.
Small but mighty.
The Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office is a relatively small government bureau. A staff of just 28 carry out responsibilities of nearly twenty federal and state historic preservation programs as well as deliver training and education programs to the public and partner agencies. In 2023, PA SHPO staff engaged with over 30,000 people at 450 different events.
Routine work at the PA SHPO is anything but routine, yet we strive to continually improve to ensure we are using our resources effectively to help the commonwealth’s constituents achieve their preservation goals. PA SHPO’s 2023 accomplishments are being compiled and more detail will be published in the upcoming months.
A sneak peek of PA SHPO’s priorities for 2024…
Some initiatives started in past years and will come to fruition in 2024, those include:
- Pennsylvanian’s new statewide historic preservation plan! The new plan will be adopted in December 2024. Public engagement is ongoing. If you have not yet taken the online survey, you still have time – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PAPreservationPlan2024.
- Baseline Survey is nearly completed. Historic properties are currently being documented in the final two counties, Butler and Lawrence. A story map is under development to illustrate and communicate some of the historic places uncovered from this survey effort.
- We are preparing to reopen the Historical Marker program for new nominations. Updated guidance on how to nominate a marker subject is being drafted.
- A pilot survey to document historic resources located on state owned lands began in 2022. To better assist commonwealth agencies in their project planning, PA SHPO developed a methodology with the goal to balance program and agency needs alongside preservation considerations. The focus of the pilot project was the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). The evaluation of twelve DOC facilities will wrap up in 2024. Plans to document historic resources, including crafting archaeology constraints analyses, in partnership with additional state agencies are underway.
Previously completed initiatives resulted in recommendations and several follow-up tasks. A SHPO’s work is never done! The next grouping of priorities will contribute to the implementation of a plethora of preservation goals.
- As part of the county final reports prepared for Baseline Survey, survey contractors were asked to include recommendations for further survey. Over 1,000 recommendations were received. A rubric is being developed to help us prioritize and address the recommendations. PA SHPO will allocate resources to continue the proactive documentation of historic places in Pennsylvania through #6 and #7:
- Additional field work to continue baseline survey efforts, identify areas for evaluation-level survey or research, and locate potential historic districts.
- Nomination of underrepresented resources to the National Register of Historic Places.
- Digitization of the PA SHPO’s tax credit and historical marker paper records.
- Take steps to implement the Deindustrialized Communities Market Study. The full study can be found on our website under County and Regional Plans.
- PA-SHARE 2.0 is ongoing and as enhancements are being made, help materials will be updated to improve the user experience.
- Pennsylvania’s current statewide historic preservation plan, #PreservationHappensHere, discusses several preservation trends, challenges, and opportunities. Tool kits will be developed for a couple of those themes and will include an overview of lessons learned and guidance for how to make preservation happen in your community. Tool kit topics we plan to draft in 2024 include #12 and #13.
- Historic cemeteries and burial places.
- Historic communities vulnerable to flooding.
- Education is always a top priority for the PA SHPO. As part of the process to develop the next statewide historic preservation plan, we are preparing an engagement strategy to solicit broad stakeholder input. Engaging with the public and our partners is one way we promote awareness and the benefits of preserving Pennsylvania’s older and historic places.
PA SHPO is under the umbrella of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), therefore we work in tandem with our sibling bureaus to help move the needle on agency goals. The few we are working on this year include:
- Continuing survey of PHMC-owned properties. This effort began in the spring of 2022 to document and update historic and archaeological resources on PHMC-owned properties to be used in future project planning activities. In 2024 we will begin the effort to develop a map highlighting archaeological potential (constraints analysis) for each PHMC-owned property. The constraints analysis will gather available information on previously recorded archaeological survey and sites on the property and assess the potential for the presence of archaeological resources.
- Developing a plan with The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology on how best to connect data from compliance archaeology collections with PA-SHARE environmental review project records.
- PHMC was a recent recipient of a Semiquincentennial Grant from the National Park Service to support the rehabilitation of several buildings at Ephrata Cloister, Lancaster County. A portion of the grant is dedicated to updating the 1967 National Historic Landmark (NHL) documentation. SHPO’s National Register staff will be guiding the NHL update for Ephrata Cloister in partnership with the PHMC’s Bureau of Historical Sites and Museums.
On the horizon…
And the list goes on! There are many more important activities that we hope to complete, or have a solid start to, in 2024.
- Draft PA SHPO’s Policy Update for State History Code Consultation.
- Evaluate the Keystone Historic Preservation Grant Program partner to understand possible gaps and identify potential needs that the grant program may not be serving of current preservation trends.
- Develop a plan to establish a PA SHPO Archaeology Program that will guide education and outreach efforts, research and survey, and collaboration with partners.
- Tackle data clean-up of geomorphology reports and survey mapping in PA-SHARE.
- Revise PA SHPO’s Historic Preservation Planning guidance.
- Investigate updating the statewide pre-contact probability model to include current site data.
- Continue to strengthen relationships with agencies to improve management of historic resources.
PA SHPO welcomed five new staff members in 2023, four of whom joined our team within the past four months. In addition to onboarding new staff in this new year, this month we are also preparing for Noël Strattan’s retirement after a career of nearly 33 years at the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office.
Noël is among our senior archaeology staff and oversees the PA SHPO’s M.A.R.S. Section. She managed Cultural Resources GIS for almost 20 years and has been instrumental in the development of PA-SHARE. Filling Noël’s shoes should perhaps be priority #1!
My personal priority is to invest in PA SHPO staff – expand professional development opportunities and cross-training, continue to improve internal processes, and implement measures to maintain quality data. Having something to look forward to is a good motivator, and I believe the aforementioned twenty-four things (+ a few others) will help advance preservation in Pennsylvania and will keep progress and positive preservation outcomes in the forefront of all that we do.