Visual Resource Stewardship Conference

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 10-27-2019


As the National Park Service (NPS) set out to create a visual resource management program, the first major component was the development of a robust visual resource inventory (VRI) process to identify, locate, and assess high value views, both within and near NPS units, based on both scenic quality and the importance of the view to the visitor experience. The next component in the program has been the development of a visual impact assessment (VIA) process to understand how changes in the landscape— whether inside the park or beyond its boundaries—could impact the scenic quality of valued views and visitor experience of those views. This presentation will discuss the NPS VIA process and highlight results of field-testing.

Units of the National Park System encompass a wide variety of landscape types and visual settings. Particular views are enjoyed not only for scenic qualities but also appreciated for their historic and cultural values. NPS incorporates visible elements of views into their interpretive and educational activities. As a result, the NPS VRI was designed to identify not only the visual qualities of views but also the other values that make views important to NPS and park visitors.

The NPS VRI was also built to support VIAs, both for NPS projects and actions within NPS unit boundaries, and projects and activities beyond NPS unit boundaries, where NPS is a stakeholder rather than a permitting agency. The detailed information from the VRI provides a sound basis for articulating the full effects of a proposed project or activity, which may go far beyond measuring visual contrast and other more purely scenic aspects of visual impact.

Building on the inventory process the NPS visual impact assessment (VIA) methodology identifies the expected level of visual change from a proposed project or activity, and assesses the likely effects of the change on scenic quality as determined in the VRI. The NPS VIA approach provides parks with information to pursue better planning and design for park projects and credible support for understanding and communicating the potential impacts of changes beyond park boundaries.