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Fort Union Header
Fort Union Project Summary

The ruins of Fort Union now face unprecedented challenges as increased cycles of extreme weather from climate change undermine and topple walls, destroying what has stood for over 150 years.
 National Park Service Efforts
In 2012, the National Park Service (NPS) Vanishing Treasures program initiated a multi-region project to address climate change impacts associated with cultural heritage resources . Information was collected on existing and emerging tools, policies, baseline data, and context studies to serve as the foundation for an integrated framework for risk and vulnerability.
Specific tasks included:
  • Compilation of existing data (including climate models and predictions) and literature on climate change and the degradation of heritage resources by a variety of threats.
  • Identification of climate parameters that are most destructive to the built environment, especially earthen architecture

NPS completed the above work in December 2014. The products included the development of a summary document titled Cultural Resources Climate Change Strategy that reviewed and evaluated existing climate change and cultural resources information/data and identified priority emphasis areas for future project phases. This initial research was vital to the overall plan created by the Center for Architectural Conservation (CAC).

aerial view
ABOVE: A view from the height of the fort's original flagpole looking north up the Santa Fe Trail. From this perspective the Mechanics Corral and Depot buildings can be seen in the center.

RIGHT: Looking southeast as team members survey the interior walls of the Mechanics Corral.
The CAC Strategy
Starting in 2015, the Center for Architectural Conservation (CAC), in conjunction with students in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania carried out research at Fort Union in an attempt to identify visible changes in the adobe walls of one portion of the fort,  the Mechanics Corral. The goal of this research was to identify possible causes for those changes based on comparison with previous NPS data, including a 1995 NPS survey that attempted to identify wall conditions, as well as Superintendent's Reports written since the park was first established. From this early research, the work which followed included creating a terraced approach to assessment and treatment that would allow the park to independently prioritize areas in need of treatment for the entire site through the use of a comprehensive rapid assessment survey.

Hospital walls
The walls of the hospital building range in height from non-existent to over 20 feet. In several locations they have been braced to keep them from collapsing.
A Large Scope
The majority of the existing adobe walls of the third Fort Union define the Hospital, the Post Officer’s Quarters, the Depot Officer’s Quarters, and the Mechanics Corral. A rough estimate of surviving adobe walls in these sections combined, suggests approximately 5000 linear feet of adobe wall or approximately the equivalent of one mile. While all of the adobe walls vary in height, they average five feet in height, or a total of approximately 50,000 square feet of surface area, equivalent to over an acre of surface. As weathering continues to impact the standing ruins, and the fear for catastrophic failure increases from intense weather episodes, preventive anticipatory conservation will be far more important than remedial interventions for the long-term management of the site.
In order to identify site susceptibility to weathering, the CAC is coordinating methods for the survey, analysis, and interpretation of risk and vulnerability for the ruins.  The coordinated methods include the following:

  • A field survey of the existing walls of the Mechanics Corral.
  • Environmental monitoring of wall and site conditions.
  • Preparation of architectural base drawings identifying critical aspects such as wall height, integrity, openings, wall juncture details, image comparisons, plaster location, bracing type and location, and wall deformation. 

Mechanics Corral

The end result is a framework for the identification and classification of climate-related risks associated with specific masonry and earthen (adobe) built heritage that affect durability and weathering. The end goal is to describe how different threats, including climate change, will affect different types of traditional built heritage, and especially masonry and adobe ruins. The research will essentially field test ‘proof of concept’ on the observation, measurement, and prediction of  the effects of climate change on traditional historic masonry resources in the American southwest.