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Conserving Scenic Views that Extend Beyond National Park Service Boundaries

Eldorado Valley from Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, Nevada
Eldorado Valley from Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, Nevada

The National Park Service is seeking to develop a methodology that will help it identify high-value viewsheds that extend outside of NPS units (e.g., parks, monuments) and that should be considered for scenic conservation efforts.

Views of lands near the parks, monuments, and properties operated by U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service (NPS) are often an important part of the NPS visitor's experience. These lands may either form the "visual backdrop" for views of important landscape features within the NPS unit, or they may be of sufficient scenic quality on their own to become an important part of visitors' scenic experiences.

Renewable Energy Visual Impacts to NPS Units

With the recent and rapid growth of renewable energy interests in the United States, NPS units are increasingly subjected to a range of visual impacts presented by the utility-scale wind, solar, and geothermal facilities (and associated electric transmission infrastructure) that have been built on both public and private lands and waters near NPS units. Because of the large size and unique visual characteristics of these facilities, they can be major sources of visual contrast, even when viewed over long distances. Although the NPS does not administer the lands and waters where these facilities are located, large-scale energy development in these areas may reduce the quality of views outside of NPS unit boundaries that are important to NPS visitors.

Identifying External Viewsheds for Scenic Conservation

To preserve high-quality visitor experiences, NPS plans to work with other agencies and stakeholders to help conserve those viewsheds that are outside of NPS units but are nevertheless important to visitors' overall experience. However, with hundreds of NPS units scattered across the country, the process of identifying these important external viewsheds and deciding which external viewsheds are the top priorities for conservation of visual resources presents an enormous challenge.

External Viewshed Conservation Prioritization

Working with NPS staff, Argonne National Laboratory's Environmental Science Division will develop a systematic approach to identifying viewsheds outside NPS units that are important to visitors' scenic experiences and then prioritizing them for scenic conservation efforts. The approach will involve

  • determining which characteristics of an external viewshed, such as its scenic quality and the nature of any developments visible within the viewshed, most affect the NPS visitor experience;
  • developing methods to assess those characteristics;
  • determining which factors (e.g., land ownership) are most relevant to scenic conservation for a viewshed; and
  • identifying pressures that will be associated with likely future development.

The methodology will be tested at one or more NPS units and then assessed for wider application moving forward.

For More Information

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