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Interagency Management

Description: City of Rocks, a dramatic geological area along the California Trail in Cassia County, Idaho, has long been recognized as a place of national significance. Although attempts to create a national monument began in the1920s, the area's first official recognition came in 1964 when it was designated a national historic landmark. A National Park Service planning team conducted a field reconnaissance at City of Rocks in 1972, for a proposed City of Rocks National Monument. The study recommended a 35,000-acre national monument and close cooperation with private landowners, Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1974, City of Rocks was recognized as a National Natural Landmark.

In 1985, federal, state and county agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding recognizing the need to protect and maintain the national historic landmark during its undeveloped condition and to jointly work to conserve and interpret the area. The National Park Service (NPS) released Study of Management Alternatives for the City of Rocks Area: Cassia County, Idaho in March 1987. The study presented several alternatives for managing City of Rocks, including administration under the Forest Service, BLM, NPS, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) or Cassia County.

This led to the creation of The Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act in 1988 which established, among other NPS sites, the City of Rocks National Reserve. The law directed the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with State and Federal agencies, local units of government and local residence to prepare a Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). The law further directed the Secretary to transfer management and administration of any properties under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Interior to the State or appropriate units of local government, once certain conditions were met.

The law required completion of the CMP and enactment of rules by state and county units of government that protected the natural and cultural resources. The Cassia County Commission was not in a financial position to develop or maintain the Reserve. However in 1993, the county enacted the Historic Preservation Zone Ordinance that today regulates private development adjacent to and inside the boundary of the Reserve. Cassia County also contracted Utah State University's Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning to develop Cassia County Design Guidelines for the City of Rocks and related Areas, 1995.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) already administered a section of land within the boundary, and agreed to be the primary partner to manage and administer the Reserve cooperatively with the NPS. IDPR employed personnel to conduct visitor surveys, maintain a few primitive facilities and educate visitors on recreation and resource protection rules prior to the Reserve's establishment. The role of IDPR was formalized with the NPS in an early cooperative agreement. The agreement led to permanent on-site maintenance and some administration by IDPR beginning in 1990, though full management and administrative authority would come later.

The Reserve was officially dedicated July 14, 1990. Following the completion of the CMP and a new cooperative agreement, management and administrative authority was transferred to IDPR on May 2, 1996. The cooperative agreement outlined an ongoing relationship between the NPS and IDPR. To further clarify those roles and to improve on lessons learned, the cooperative agreement was modified in October 2003. In addition to on-site management responsibilities, IDPR implements the CMP, provides funding for management and operations of the park, and coordinates joint NPS/IDPR programs. The NPS provides technical assistance, expertise, and training in program areas such as interpretation and visitor services, resources and visitor protection, resources management, information management, facilities maintenance and development, and planning. The partners meet annually to review accomplishments and develop work plans and budgets for the coming year.

Geographic area covered: City of Rocks National Reserve consists of 8,855 acres of federal land, 4,612 acres of private, and 640 acres of state for a total 14,107 acres. The Reserve is located in the Albion Mountains of southern Cassia County, Idaho. The park headquarters and visitor center are located in the unincorporated community of Almo.

List of Partners and Relationships: The National Park Service is the primary public land administrator and steward for the Reserve. This means that the NPS is the main and larger landowner (fee title), and that the natural and cultural resource protection standards (stewardship) have first priority over state standards. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation is the secondary public land administrator and primary on-site manager. IDPR owns and operates the visitor center, employee residence and maintenance facilities. Cassia County regulates ordinances affecting private lands within and adjacent to the reserve. Ten private landowners provide stewardship over portions of the California Trail, Stage Station, immigrant signatures and geological features.

Accomplishments to date: The partners wrote and enacted a Comprehensive Management Plan, Statement for Management, Cooperative Agreement, Historic Resources Study, and plans for grazing, trails, interpretation and climbing. Camping, trails and interpretive facilities are developed, and a number of resource management projects have been completed and are underway. Approximately 87,000 visitors annually are served.

Key success factors:

  1. By sharing the costs of operations, the NPS and IDPR are able to accomplish their missions with fewer agency resources. The NPS brings professional standards of natural and cultural resource management and access to beneficial grant sources. IDPR provides a local face to government, simplified administration, personnel, and an emphasis in visitor services and recreation.
  2. Both partners are willing to work through the awkward bureaucracies inherent in a state and federal relationship.
  3. IDPR includes NPS representatives on interview panels for the hiring of permanent positions.
  4. Ultimately, the Reserve is unlike any operation in either agency. While personnel frequently speak of the operation as a square peg in a round hole, these same employees celebrate those distinctions and uniqueness.


  1. The most significant frustration for both agencies was negotiating whose administrative procedure supercedes the other. At times, NPS Director's Orders conflict with the IDPR Procedures. Reserve personnel are state employees, and are obligated to follow their agency's procedures. But they also function within the culture of the NPS. Upper management of both agencies frequently defer to the manager to determine which procedure is in the best interest of both partners.
  2. A secondary frustration is lower pay that IDPR Reserve employees receive for similar work as their federal counterparts, while simultaneously facing more complex workloads than a typical state park.
  3. Field personnel must educate new management in both agencies as to the finer points of the cooperative agreement, when expectations are that the Reserve would be run exactly like a national reserve or state park.

Most important lessons learned to date: Communication early and often is critical to a healthy partnership. The Reserve's management is committed to full and open disclosure of funds and activities, so that both agencies believe and understand that best management practices are at work. IDPR has agreed to follow NPS resource management standards and development plans inside the Reserve, and the NPS has agreed to follow IDPR procedures and development plans outside the Reserve (visitor center, maintenance facilities and R&PP lease for campground). Both agencies provide consultation and comment to the other, but the line of authority has been amicably drawn.

What would you do differently next time: Define in the organic act and/or initial cooperative agreement which partner is to take the lead on various programs. For instance, the NPS should take the lead in resource management, planning, engineering and design, because its standards and policies are better defined and supported. IDPR should naturally take the lead in facility maintenance and visitor services, as its strengths lie here. While the partners have gravitated to leading these programs, it would have lessened some of the frustrations if these roles were defined from the beginning.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study):

  1. Nomination Report for the City of Rocks National Historic Landmark, 1964
  2. Suitability/feasibility study for a proposed City of Rocks National Monument, 1973
  3. Study of Management Alternatives for the City of Rocks Area: Cassia County, ID, 1987
  4. Public Law 100-696, Arizona-Idaho Conservation Act of 1988
  5. City of Rocks National Reserve Comprehensive Management Plan, 1994
  6. City of Rocks National Reserve Historic Resources Study
  7. Amended Cooperative Agreement 1443-CA9000-0002, 2003

For more information:

Name: Wallace Keck
Affiliation: Park Superintendent, City of Rocks National Reserve
Phone/Fax: 208-824-5519 ext. 101/208-824-5563

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising __; Capital Improvements _X_; Facility Management _X_; Trails _X_; Design _X_; Program Delivery _X_; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration _X_; Cultural Resources _X_; Education/Interpretation _X_; Arts __; Information Services _X_; Transportation __; Mutual Aid __; Fire Management _X_; Planning _X_; Tourism __; Community Relations __;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Wallace Keck Date posted: 6/30/04
Phone: 208-824-5519 ext. 101

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Superintendent Jim Morris at City of Rocks transfer ceremony
NPS and IDPR natural resource planning - 2003
State Senator Denton Darrington at City of Rocks transfer ceremony
City of Rocks staff - 2004
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