NPS at 100: The National Maritime Heritage Grant Program

By Special Contributor posted 05-02-2016 11:14


By Kelly Spradley-Kurowski with contributions by Anna Holloway

In this next post in a monthly series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Kelly Spradley-Kurowski and Anna Holloway talk about the Maritime Heritage Grant Program.

In 2014 the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) re-established the National Maritime Heritage Grant Program dedicated to preserving and promoting the maritime heritage of the United States. Originally authorized by the National Maritime Heritage Act of 1994 and jointly administered by NPS and MARAD, the program is funded through a portion of the sale or scrapping of obsolete vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet. But due to environmental concerns associated with that funding source, NPS was able to advertise and award only one round of grants in 1998 before the program was put on hold. It would lie dormant for over a decade.

With environmental concerns addressed, in 2013 the NPS and MARAD re-established their partnership as well as the grant program itself. Between 2014 and 2015 NPS awarded nearly $5.2 million to 69 private, state, local, or tribal institutions that are preserving historic maritime resources and developing creative, innovative, and educational projects to teach the public about the country’s rich and diverse maritime heritage.

 Independence Seaport Museum staff work to remove nontarget-era steel deck framing from the USS Olympia at her berth in Philadelphia. | Image courtesy of Independence Seaport Museum

This grant program is an important tool for addressing threats to maritime resources. While many of the funded projects tackle physical threats to resources through preservation programs, others seek to address the unfortunate disconnect between many Americans and the country’s maritime heritage through educational projects. Grant funds are evenly split between preservation and education initiatives, but each project must include an educational plan for reaching the broadest possible audience. This can be as simple as allowing visitors to watch the ongoing restoration of a vessel, as intimate as a mentoring program, or as complex as an online research database of historic photographs.

Some projects funded in the 2014 cycle demonstrate best practices in reaching broad and diverse audiences. The  is allowing visitors physical access to their ship during hull restoration to showcase the work taking place and underline what is necessary to keep the National Historic Landmark vessel operational. A permanent cofferdam will keep the vessel drydocked in place while it remains open to the public. Alaska’s Sealaska Heritage Institute has opened sessions of a grant-funded mentorship program on the production of the Tlingit and Haida tribes’ traditional fishing technology for public viewing to spread appreciation of this traditional maritime knowledge beyond tribal borders.

David Katzeek, clan leader for the Eagle Moiety, Shangukeidí Clan of Klukwan and one of Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Council of Traditional Scholars, discusses Tlingit halibut hooks at a meeting in June 2015. | Image courtesy of the Sealaska Heritage Institute

The use of technology is also popular for its nationwide or even global reach, including web-based educational programs, development of multimedia applications, or expanding online access to maritime records and collections that have previously only been accessible in person. For example, the Penobscot Marine Museum has created a web portal for visitors to enjoy the newly digitized photographs from National Fisherman magazine. This database, initially launched with 5,000 images, will also allow researchers from around the nation access to the important visual collection. Finally, good old-fashioned footwork is also useful— grant recipients travel to conferences or local events to spread the word about what a particular project is hoping to achieve and why it is important. Collectively, these approaches promoted two forms of preservation—the ships, light stations, artifact collections, and cultural traditions are physically and intellectually preserved, and the often greater threat of apathy is addressed by encouraging appreciation for America’s critical waterways, both coastal and inland.

Divers with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology prepare for their first dive into the Shelburne Shipyard Steamboat Graveyard in Lake Champlain in June 2015. | Image Courtesy of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology

The response of the country’s maritime community to the annual requests for proposals has been enthusiastic. Each year, approximately $2 million worth of funding has been available, but NPS has received over $10 million in requests per year and anticipates that this trend will continue. This points to a long-standing need for sustained maritime heritage funding. Preservation of these sites and traditions is even more critical today given the growing threat of sea-level rise. NPS has determined that land-based maritime sites and resources are highly vulnerable to this threat, anticipating the need for more documentation and relocation projects in the coming years, and a growing number of projects are addressing the threat directly.

There is no question that the Wood Island Life Saving Station in Kittery, Maine, is threatened by the elements. Work to preserve this historic station will begin in earnest this year. | Image courtesy of the Wood Island Life Saving Station Association

However, the future of the maritime grant program is cloudy. Its funding depends on the continued sale or scrapping of obsolete vessels, which in turn depends on the notoriously volatile price of scrap metal. While previous years’ proceeds guarantee two more years of grant cycles in 2016 and 2017, a dedicated funding source independent of market fluctuations is necessary to prevent losing this important tool for safeguarding a vital and vulnerable part of the nation’s history.

Kelly Spradley-Kurowski is a staff historian with the Park History Program and manager of the National Maritime Heritage Grants Program. Anna Holloway is a maritime historian with the Park History Program. For more information about the National Maritime Heritage Grants Program, contact Kelly at Kelly_spradley-kurowski@nps gov or Anna at

#PreservationTools #Funding #NationalParkService