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Museum of the National Park Service Will be Built in West Virginia


Historic buildings line High Street in downtown Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Photo by "Eye Captain" via Flickr

A behind-the-scenes effort to both protect Harpers Ferry National Historical Park from neighboring development and obtain land for a Museum of the National Park Service has been pulled off.

The complicated deal involved the purchase of 15 parcels of land encompassing 564 acres. The dollar-amount of the deal was not immediately announced, although details are expected to be forthcoming in the new few weeks.

In recent months there had been great concern that the so-called Old Standard Quarry property adjoining the park would be turned into a sprawling commercial center. However, this purchase effectively eliminates the current development proposals for not just the Old Standard Quarry property, but also for the Buglar’s Rest, Allstadt Corners, and Benview tracts.

Engineering the land deal was Concord Eastridge, a national player in putting together public-private partnerships. One of the company's affiliates, Stonewall Heights, LLC, consummated the purchases.

Under the deal, not only will much of the land that was purchased be protected by a conservation easement, but some will be set aside for the Museum of the National Park Service with an adjoining hotel and conference center.

"This is a fantastic ending to what could easily have been a catastrophe for one of the most picturesque national parks in the country," says Civil War Preservation Trust President Jim Lighthizer. "My hat is off to the development group that has made this win-win solution possible. It is further evidence that preservation and development are not mutually exclusive, especially when both sides communicate in good faith."

The Museum of the National Park Service had been recommended to be a keystone of the Bush administration's National Park Centennial Initiative. While it was absent from a list of 201 "eligible" centennial protects released back in August, there were rumblings that efforts were being made to see this facility materialize in time for the Park Service's centennial in 2016.

According to this week's announcement, the museum should be ready to open in 2009. It will house significant artifacts drawn from national parks and is expected to become the preeminent venue for the public to experience the diversity of America’s historic and scenic resources. Those familiar with the project say state-of-the-art multimedia and virtual reality displays could attract upwards to a million visitors a year.

The purchase comes after many months of sensitive negotiations between the consortium and local developers. Numerous local officials facilitated these discussions and endorsed the ultimate outcome as a major win-win for all parties and especially for Jefferson County, West Virginia.


Thanks, Kurt. We're very pleased to see a developer working with the Park Service, instead of at cross purposes. We look forward to a community dialog about this proposal.

Joy Oakes
Senior Mid-Atlantic Regional Director
National Parks Conservation Association

Thanks Kurt, for picking up this story. The National Park Service is the first Agency in the world to attempt to preserve a Nation's legacy of natural and cultural resources. This project will be an attempt to communicate that 100 year long story.

We are convinced that this project will be very illuminating to the public and beneficial to the entire National Park Service, honoring its history, protecting its significant historical resources, recognizing the NPS organizational heritage, and paying tribute to those who have made "America's Best Idea" a reality.

"The further backward you look, the further forward you can see", Winston Churchill

This certainly seems like a desirable and ambitious project. Let's hope that the community dialogue doesn't result in delays such as the rehabilitation of Gateway's Fort Hancock has been subjected to. On that subject, I have difficulty resolving NPT's support of the Harpers Ferry project with its opposition to the Fort Hancock rehabilitation. If you compare that proposal, as described in Michael Huber's summary in his 2006 letter to the Asbury Park Press , it's difficult to understand NPT's contrary positions.

Water Witch, I guess I don't see the contradiction. In the case of Fort Hancock, you have the Park Service giving over to a commercial developer publicly owned historic buildings that he plans to transform into for-profit enterprises.

At Harper's Ferry, not only are no park facilities be turned over to private developers, but conservation easements are being purchased to protect Harpers Ferry National Historical Park from outside development. True, a museum, hotel and conference center are being proposed, but these will be built from the ground up on land outside the national park.

If there's a contradiction, I suppose it might be, "If a non-profit solution can be achieved on such a scale at Harper's Ferry, why can't a similar one be fashioned at Fort Hancock?"

So, will this "Museum of the National Park Service" focus primarily on "recognizing the NPS organizational heritage"? Will this museum be jingoistic or will we see some objectivity? Judging by Art Allen's letter to PEER, in which he states "There should be a Public facility where the people and the work of the National Park Service is explained and honored. (think legendary individuals in NPS and worldwide impact of the NPS)", I'd say the former is more more likely.

The proposal calls for "recognition of . . . National Park administrators." Notice the language used: "legendary", "memorializing", "flagship", "pilgrimage", "honoring", "esteemed". Perhaps the most telling phrase is "The celebration should be of the Service . . .". This seems a fusion of Arthurian legend and religious dogma.

In my view, the National Park Service is neither legendary or sacred; it is simply a government bureaucracy that has made more than its share of mistakes.

I won't count on any of those blunders showing up in the museum. I'm sure the Crater Lake sewage spill of 1975 won't be encapsulated in a display. Nor will the blueprints for digging a sewage line through the roots of the Grant Tree, the Nation's Christmas Tree. Nor will photos of the stump of a 2000-year old sequoia, cut to save a raggedy cabin, make it to the exhibit. How 'bout the irrigation pipes wrapped around trees in Oak Creek Canyon at Zion? The junk yards containing explosives and hazardous waste at Zion or Crater Lake? Million dollar outhouses?

No. The bureaucracy will recognize administrators and will present its best side in order to perpetuate itself. Sounds like a huge waste of tax payer money on propaganda.

Guess the devil will be in the details on where the funds to purchase 15 parcels of land encompassing 564 acres will come from, and who will get what for it. The only named participants, “Concord Eastridge, a national player in putting together public-private partnerships [and] one of the company's affiliates, Stonewall Heights, LLC,” don't sound to me like “a non-profit solution” for Harpers Ferry. The concept expressed by Civil War Preservation Trust President Jim Lighthizer that you quote, "preservation and development are not mutually exclusive,” is valid. This was similarly expressed with regard to Fort Hancock by former Sandy Hook Superintendent Russel Wilson.

The core of Fort Hancock is approximately 140 acres of the 1,665 acres of Sandy Hook parklands otherwise protected as a natural and recreational environment. With more than 100 buildings, this area has been identified for adaptive reuse since the National Park Service first began administering Sandy Hook in the mid-1970s.
The concept of creating a "Gateway Village" for adaptive reuse was formalized in the 1979 General Management Plan for Gateway National Recreation Area. The 1990 General Management Plan Amendment for the Sandy Hook unit reaffirmed the adaptive reuse plan and identified a partnership between the National Park Service and private entities as the way to make it happen. Both planning efforts were the subject of extensive public review and comment.
The goal has always been to assure the long-term preservation of these historic military buildings by adapting them for a variety of compatible uses. The James J. Howard Marine Laboratory, Brookdale Community College Oceanographic Institute, the N.J. Marine Sciences Consortium and the Marine Academy of Science and Technology have been our partners in adaptive reuse for more than 20 years. This winter, the N.J. Audubon Society joins us following its rehabilitation of the historic hospital steward’s quarters as the Sandy Hook Bird Observatory.
We began an effort to further the adaptive reuse of Fort Hancock’s buildings through the National Park Service’s historic leasing authority in 1998. This authority allows for the leasing of excess historic properties in national parks for compatible uses to both public and private groups.

I have followed this process for nearly 30 years. The present plan appears to be the best that can be accomplished. Fort Hancock covers less than 10% of Sandy Hook’s acreage. Of the more than 100 buildings within Fort Hancock, approximately 1/3 are used by the NPS, 1/3 by public “partners” as described above, and the remaining 1/3 subject to the proposed plan. Of that 1/3, 30% is required by the agreement to be used for educational purposes. This leaves about 22% of the buildings [let’s say 3% of Sandy hook] to be used for “commercial” purposes, many of which will support the existing NPS and public partners’ uses. With no new construction, and all rehabilitation conducted under the Department of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Reuse [and the even stricter ones of the NJ State Historic Preservation Office], this is a small price to pay for such an important cultural and historic resource.

It’s easy to criticize from a distance when you haven’t watched these buildings deteriorate more and more each year. From my up-close observation, I believe that public demand is just about satiated by the 60+ buildings in current use by the NPS and non-profit partners. I can’t agree with “principles” that would allow the remaining 36 buildings to fall down, or people who can’t suggest a viable alternative. What sort of non-profit solution would you propose for these 36? Should we take another 30 years to come up with one?

With budgets tight and a backlog in maintenance topping $8 billion you'd think that there wouldn't be that much money floating around to enshrine the deeds of a federal bureaucracy that is always crying poverty to the public. It reminds me of the old Soviet Union where the government built elaborate monuments to itself to convince the proletariat of its greatness while a few yards away the roads were crumbling and the sewers leaked raw waste into the Moscow River.

It is also simply preposterous to think that very many Americans would be motivated to go out of their way to visit such a place, much less the one million a year that is touted in this article. I'd like to see the market survey data that came up with that astronomical number.

Maybe they could set up a virtual reality Katmai bear shoot in their new museum. The Alaskan Congressional delegation could show up on dedication day and shoot the ceremonial opening shots. Now yer talkin'!

Or just maybe, since the NPS is so eager to spend money for the Jazz Museum in New Orleans, we can get the NPS Heritage Museum funded by the National Endowment for the Arts?

I've never been to the National Air and Space Museum, but how much floor space is devoted to the likes of the Apollo and Shuttle debacles? Although not a fair comparison because memorials for deceased astronauts are most proper versus exhibits to mismanagement and general incompetence, but hey, Trump has a tower, the Outfit has Vegas, Clinton has a library and Carter has Habitat for Humanity, so anything is possible. I hope they have the decency to show before and after pictures of what the lands were and what the NPS made them. Then the public could determine for themselves how effectively the NPS management public lands has been handled, and whether or not to maintain the status quo. Prior to inception of this undertaking, the sources for funding should be put forth for public consideration on a general election referendum, since we have one of those coming up in about a year. But that, like Beamis suggested simulation, ain't gonna happen, is it?

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