Development of Valley Forge National Historical Park Inholding Gets Green Light from Planners

Is the integrity of Valley Forge threatened by proposed development of 78 acres bounded on three sides by the national historic park? Photo of General George Washington's Valley Forge headquarters by Hendricks NY via flickr.

Despite opposition from the National Park Service and park advocacy groups, a development proposed for land bounded on three sides by Valley Forge National Historic Park has been given the green light by community planners.

The decision Wednesday night by the Lower Providence Township Planning Commission to recommend approval of the American Revolutionary Center's museum development furthers the divide between the Park Service and the ARC.

For more than a decade the affair between Valley Forge officials and ARC flickered hot and cold. In 1999 the budding romance burned brightly as Congress authorized a partnership between the Park Service and the Valley Forge Historical Society, which later transformed into ARC, to build a museum dedicated to the American Revolution. At the time the project was viewed as the perfect complement to the park's Welcome Center, on the south side of the Schuylkill River.

While the Park Service still would like very much to see a museum built near the Welcome Center, the non-profit American Revolution Center is smitten with a 78-acre parcel on the river's north side that embraces meadows, wetlands, and forests cut by two streams. Known to locals as the Pawling Farm, the acreage also happens to be surrounded on three sides by the historical park and long has been cherished by the Park Service for addition to Valley Forge, if only it could ever afford it.

What greatly concerns the Park Service, and what has prompted the National Parks Conservation Association, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and even locally elected officials to challenge and speak out against ARC's decision to abandon its Park Service partnership in favor of the Pawling Farm, is what the non-profit could - not necessarily 'would,' but 'could' -- erect on that bucolic sweep of land. In all, they say nearly 20 acres, or roughly one-quarter of the 78, could be impacted to some degree by development.

A "Living History Overlay District" zoning ordinance that the opponents say ARC's representatives helped craft "allows a building footprint of over a half-a-million square feet. It allows an unlimited amount of sidewalks, plazas, and pervious paving, including parking lots," says Barbara Pollarine, the park's deputy superintendent.

During its meeting Wednesday night the planning commission recommended that the township's Board of Supervisors approve the ARC plans to build the museum complex even though NPCA officials believe the development would threaten the historic landscape at Valley Forge.

"The location, scope, and scale of this commercial development proposal will have detrimental effects on the historic character of Valley Forge," maintains Cinda Waldbuesser, NPCA's Pennsylvania program manager.

NPCA says ARC's proposal will:

* Destroy lands with historic significance. Based on his near-decade of reviewing original encampment documents, historian Dr. Wayne Bodle of Indiana University of Pennsylvania has stated the land now owned by the ARC and planned for intensive development in fact is "just as 'hallowed' as any other lands" in the park.

* Destroy invaluable open space. The north side of the park provides open space for people and the best wildlife habitat in the entire park, in turn attracting visitors. ARC's plans, according to NPCA, include disturbing approximately 70 percent of the site, leaving only a small amount of land as what most would consider as open space.

* Add noise, light, traffic, and storm water runoff, and the visual intrusion of the parking lots, buildings, and other aspects of this museum complex.

In addition, NPCA says building the museum in a location so far removed from the current center of park visitation will create two competing centers of gravity, creating a confusing visitor experience.

The planning commission did stipulate that before final permits could be given for the first phase of the project, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission must review archaeological studies of the 78 acres. The Board of Supervisors is expected to make a final decision on the development proposal as early as June 23. To review ARC's preliminary plans, visit this site.

Comments

I didn't understand this fight until I went back and visited Valley Forge over the holiday weekend with my family. I hadn't been to Valley Forge since I was a child, and WOW has the area around it grown. I would now describe it as almost a Central Park, being that it is beautiful and peaceful inside the park but the towering skyscrapers/hotels/traffic/noise/congestion/concrete jungle is in veiw in the background and it does detract from experience. The bottom line is that they didn't make the park big enough and because it is so beautiful, civilization wants to be right at the edge of it. I see now why they are fighting, because losing more area to the building/traffic/congestion/concrete jungle would honestly have a tremendous impact. I sincerely hope that when the ARC is designing their plan that they try to keep it as green as possible- not just that it is environmentally friendly, but that they literally leave it as green with nature as humanly possible.

This ARC situation in Valley Forge is a true tragedy.

It was created by the officials who run the National Park Service and the elected congressional and local government officials who have allowed this to happen, and seem unable to move against a politically popular fundraiser and gadabout and insider.

This is the sort of outrageous situation that happens when Congress fails to provide the funding – ALREADY AUTHORIZED IN LAW – to acquired all undeveloped land within Valley Forge.

The purpose of the Center is to exploit the good name of Valley Forge in American history to create a profit center to perpetuate their organization.

What is really specious is the way ARC is trying to trivialize the national park to build its convention center. By Act of Congress, ALL land within the park is sacred. ARC is trying to challenge the meaning of Valley Forge to America by trying to get the National Park Service to prove that archeological remains exist exactly where they want to build their center. All national parks would be threatened by this standard. Parks are significant AS A WHOLE; and there are good reasons why ALL undeveloped lands within Valley Forge National Historic Park must be protected.

The National Park Service and the Congress should condemn this ARC inholding now before damage is done, and before the value and cost is driven up further.

George Washington knew a thing or two when he selected this site. A river ran through it! One of the key things ABOUT Valley Forge is the encampment was straddling the river. Washington knew he was in the best tactical position if, to evade a British attack, he had the option of moving to one side of the river or the other to maneuver. As a base, he could separate his supply depot from his barracks, for maximum efficiency and hygiene. This park cannot be protected unless the visitor can see undeveloped land where ARC wants to place a $250 Million extravaganza. How degrading to the memory of Washington and those few and brave Americans who stood with him during the lowest point of American prospects. For shame.

How could the leadership of the National Park Service and the Congress forget about the fight only a few years ago to prevent the Toll Brothers from building on land in the park only a stone’s throw to the East, on the same side of the river? At that time, the National Park Service had to admit that the Toll development would conflict with the Park’s Land Protection Plan, a plan that calls for the protection of ALL undeveloped portions of the land on the north of the river?? By the time Secretary Norton was forced to agree to acquire the Toll Brother’s property, the price had soared to over $9 M. Yet she and the Director of the National Park Service did nothing to acquire the rest of the privately owned, undeveloped land. This Administration seems unable to learn from its disasters. Why aren’t the current Secretary and the current Director capable of learning from what happened at the Toll Brothers site and ACT PROACTIVELY?

There is nothing comparable in this situation to the development of the visitor center at Gettysburg on private land. In the case of Gettysburg, the development concept was first included in park planning and park Environmental Impact Statement, reviewed by the public and approved by the Regional Director of the National Park Service. The NPS then conducted a search for an appropriate partner to develop and raise funds for the center, and after competition, a partner was selected. NPS then negotiated with the partner to modify the proposal so that how the center was designed, built and managed would be consistent with the congressional purposes of the park. The agreement provided for a means for the ultimate transfer of the center to the NPS. Everything was subject to NPS approval.

None of these conditions apply to this rogue development proposal by political players who know how to compromise a national park supposedly set aside for all Americans, and compromise political appointees of the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior, and compromise the elected officials who should be vigilant to protect the site of the birthplace of the U.S. Army.

OUR OFFICIALS MUST STOP THIS TRAGEDY AND DISHONOR TO THE U.S. ARMY AND THE MEMORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON NOW !


1. It is interesting what you find when you look at park planning documents, or the language Congress uses when directing the National Park Service.

This is some language I found in for Valley Forge:

". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .the authorizing legislation of 1976, which defined the purpose of the park, the
Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs noted in House Report No.94-1142, May 14, 1976 that; ' the restoration
and strengthening of the historic integrity of the Valley Forge site should be the first priority for any Federal
management of the area. The Committee expects the Secretary to take early and positive steps, once the
National Park Service assumes operational responsibilities, to manage the park with increased emphasis on the
restoration and maintenance of the historic scene. Nonconforming recreational uses are to be phased down or
relocated. Non-historic technological intrusions such as grass mowing are to be eliminated where possible and
appropriate, and the rerouting or elimination of inappropriate and unsafe roadways is to be undertaken, as it is
possible. '"

It seems pretty clear from that it is the responsibility of the National Park Service to "restore and maintain" the historic scene within the park boundary. That would seem to mean the park service director must prevent new development, such as the ARC museum on undeveloped land. Even if the NPS is short of money, they should submit the priorty request to purchase the property if necessary to prevent threats. And NPS knew it was a threat, because it was negotiating for years with St. Gabes to buy the property.

2. I also found on a website for the Philadelphia radio station WHYY (NPR outlet) a statement from their reporter that ARC stated ARC was encouraged by the park service to build on historic Pawling Farm. THIS SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE. It would be impossible to even approximate the maintenance of the historic scene, as Congress intended, if it were built on. It does not appear that the Director has either denied or confirmed that the park service encouraged ARC to build at this site, but clearly it would be against the intention of Congress, as reflected in the committee report when the NPS took over the park from the State.

How could NPS have thought they were simply making this problem go away, or sweep it away, by building on private undeveloped land? Unless pressured by an uninformed political appointee, no experienced NPS professional could have. Congress intended NPS to protect all land within the park boundary whether private or not. So ARC's statements quoted to WHYY seem either impossible, or someone at the park service is behaving inappropriately.

However, now that we are hearing of scientists in NASA or EPA being forced to "restate" their professional opinions under pressure from the Bush Administration, or FAA air traffic controllers who raise safety concerns being crushed, or accountants at the defence department being pushed aside for not paying unjustified bills from cronies of the Vice President Chaney, we cannot just assume that Bush appointees in the park service did not cause this problem, in support of political cronies and against the duties of the National Park Service. The NASA thing was so bad that the supposedly qualified "NASA Official" who was rewriting professional opinions even was lying about his college degree.

NPS Director, a new Bush appointee with the thin credentials, should confirm or deny that she encouraged ARC to build on that site. Or to find out and assure us that none of the Director's subordinates did.

Better yet, protect the land at Pawling Farm ! If NPS cannot protect the birthplace of the American Army what can it protect?

As a brief note on the above, the quotation comes from the Report Language that accompanied the establishment of Valley Forge NHP. As such, it does not have the force law - which is a shame, as otherwise it could potentially make a strong case for a legal injunction against this development.

I just stumbled upon this, and it is just sad and depressing that someone wants to do this. It's bad enough that every last vestiges of farmland and other open spaces in Southeastern PA are being consumed for eyesore housing developments or commercial retail buildings, but now they actually have the audacity to try to build on Pawling Farm, a national landmark? This is truly a beautiful, albeit small area, a refuge from the jungle march of excessive progress, tucked within that very jungle.

Like the poster before me said, this is a thinly veiled attempt to capitalize on the name of valley forge, without regard to the impacts a construction project would have on the farm. They can argue the benefits all they want, but they'll still be permanently altering an historical and beautiful piece of land cherished by the surrounding communities.

Plus where will I mountain bike??