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Site Management, Conservation, Protection

Site Management has two goals, both desirable in themselves and to be pursued simultaneously, but sometimes they must be balanced or one must take precedence in the short run so that the other can prevail in the long run.  These two goals are (a) to protect the cultural resources, for the sake of knowledge and for the future, and (b) to provide access to them for Native Americans, for the public and for researchers (who then inform the public).  Much site management is about how we influence people’s behavior at rock art sites.  Sometimes the only method available, given limited resources, is simply to not reveal the site’s existence. That view is expressed here by a former chair of the ARARA Conservation Committee.


Recording the rock art on a site is one of the most important steps in safeguarding historical and cultural information, and usually should be done well before taking actions which increase visits by the public.  You can help in your state or local area, as part of a recording project.  ARARA has a recording manual.

Visits only with Guides – and Site Steward Programs

Sometimes people are best admitted to a site only as part of a guided tour with a chaperone.  When there is a visitor center, staff or volunteer assistants can do this.  This is not possible for all sites.  Site Steward programs involve volunteers to keep watch over a site, that no harm come to it.  Sometimes site stewards also can act as docents, for which additional training is needed.  

Managing Physical Access

Automobile access all they way to a site is an advantage for members of the public who are less mobile, but it also makes access easier for those who would steal heavy rocks.  A distance from the closest road, even if wheelchair-navigable, at least means that heavy equipment cannot so easily be moved to a rock art site.

Managing Public Perception So That It Is Welcoming

Provision of excellent viewing platforms, and when fences are necessary, of holes for eyes and cameras, communicates to visitors that this is all being done for their sakes.  It avoids thoughts of “us” vs. “them”.  Writing on Stone Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada, goes a step further.  The stopping places along their trail are like mini-amphitheatres, adequate for about 20 people at a time with benches for a few.  The semicircles of posts and benches also have a very pleasing appearance, which contributes to respect for the rock art.  Beautiful presentation does have an effect.

Setting the Tone – Successful Persuasive Communication

There is extensive experience that some kinds of messages are better at enlisting co-operation.  The right kind of humor helps.  Presenting cryptobiotic soils as small beings looking up at us in fear, who will suffer if we walk on them, personalizes them, helping remind us to stay on paths.  Phrasing which treats the visitor as part of “us” can be more successful than phrasing which treats the visitor as an enemy other.  Even when threats are needed, they can avoid the feeling of personal confrontation.  A sign enlisting all visitors to help protect a site, and evidence of regular maintenance, may be more effective than merely threatening prosecution.

Guidance for Damage, Destruction, and Theft of Rock Art under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA)

Although monetary valuation of irreplaceable natural resources is distasteful to many of us, it must be done if the terms of the ARPA law are to be enforced with penalties to deter theft or vandalism. ARARA has prepared this guidance for rock art sites.

Downloadable Documents

ARPA considerations for rock art sites

Guide for Guides to Rock Art Sites
English Spanish.

ARARA Ethics statement

Public Access Guidelines for Managers of Public Lands

Rock Art Recording Manual

As an example of active management of rock art sites see this example in Arkansas.

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