Sacred Places

IMG_5248_previewLake George
Human Accumulations: Magic Forest, Lake George, August 2017 © Alan Gignoux

Of the five places that we have decided to visit for Human Accumulations, four are to some extent protected by conservation laws.  The immediate area around Niagara Falls on the American side is a State Park, founded in 1885, deemed to be the oldest in the USA. Part of the White Mountain region was designated a National Forest in 1918 as a result of the Weeks Act (1911) – within the forest there are wilderness areas, where human activity is severely restricted.  A part of the Lake George region falls into the Lake George Conservation Area, while Mammoth Cave is a National Park (since 1941), a World Heritage Site and an international Biosphere Reserve.  The events which resulted in the protected status of these places are instructive episodes in the historical battle between the high ideals of preservation and conservation and the reality of the pressure to make use of natural resources or safeguard the local economy with commercial development.∗

All five areas are included in John F. Sears’s account of American “sacred places” in his book by the same title – national sites which have symbolic or spiritual significance for Americans.   Sears describes the gradual transition of these places of exceptional natural beauty into tourist sites on the American Grand Tour.  He points to the role played by artists and writers of the nineteenth century in both conferring value on the scenes they represented and in giving them meaning, thus making them places worthy to be seen.  Indeed, it was because they had been identified as special that efforts were made to protect them from exploitation.

This particular inheritance – to have been designated one of America’s sacred places – continues to determine the evolution of the five sites that we are visiting.  The need to balance the ideals of preservation and conservation with the often opposing needs of tourism and industry remains.  We are interested in how the people living in these locations now respond to the responsibility of their inheritance and in how the meanings attached to these sites relate to the national culture today.

We will start our journey at Niagara Falls.


∗  American public lands explained

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