I grew up in New Jersey, so I have no qualms about questioning the efforts by the Garden State's congressional delegation to force the National Park Service to add a 70-foot waterfall and some dilapidated buildings to its collection of sites.
This is just the latest instance of politicians simply looking to bring Park Service pork closer to home for economic benefits. Sadly, the House of Representatives yesterday voted 256-122 to create the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.
"A Paterson Great Falls national park designation represents countless economic, recreational, cultural and educational opportunities for one of America’s most densely populated, diverse and historic urban communities," says U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, who sponsored the legislation.
If this is such a great site, why can't it stand on its own by drawing tourists without having to resort to the NPS logo and annual infusions of federal funds?
Before moving on, let's look at some of the history of the site, which is somewhat notable.
According to the U.S.G.S., "the potential power of the Great Falls of the Passaic River so inspired Alexander Hamilton that he organized the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and planned America's first industrial city. Pierre L'Enfant, the planner of Washington, D.C., designed a complex three-tired system that harnessed the falls and supplied water power to several industrial mills. The city of Paterson became a thriving industrial center known for the manufacture of silk and locomotive parts. Today, the old industrial complete has been partially restored."
That's all very nice, but there are countless places in New Jersey -- indeed, in the original 13 colonies -- that have historical significance. Google "Washington slept here" and in a third of a second you'll be directed to more than 3.5 million links. Should all those that actually point to a house or barn where George rested be absorbed by the National Park Service?
And really, at a time when the Park Service is wallowing in red ink, why should the agency be saddled with a rundown 109-acre site that the number crunchers say will cost the Park Service $22 million to manage from 2008-2012, and then $1 million a year thereafter?
Back in 2001 when this proposal came before the House national parks subcommittee, Interior Department officials asked that action on it be put off until the Park Service could make further progress on eliminating its maintenance backlog. Well, in 2001 that backlog was estimated at about $5 billion. Today it's pegged at $8 billion.
More recently, a Park Service study into the suitability of a Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park concluded that the site should not be added to the park system
While the Great Falls Historic District has many resources relating to the thematic concept of Developing the American Economy, it does not appear to have particularly unique resources unlike those already represented in the national park system or protected and interpreted by other public and private entities.
Based on the analysis of many comparable resource types and interpretation already represented in units of the national park system or protected and interpreted by others, this study concludes that the resources of the Great Falls Historic District are not suitable for inclusion in the national park system.
In noting that the state of New Jersey already has a number of state parks that protect slices of American history -- in particular sites of Revolutionary War significance as well as those that protect pieces of New Jersey's industrial past -- the NPS study suggests that the Great Falls be turned into a state park.
But I guess that's not good enough for Mr. Pascrell and New Jersey's other politicians.