Park Service Retirees Urge Interior Department to Halt American Revolution Center

Interior Secretary Kempthorne is being asked to step in and prevent a non-profit group from building a museum complex on land surrounded on three sides by Valley Forge National Historical Park. Photo of misty trees at Valley Forge by rodeomilano via flickr.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, saying a development proposed on land surrounded on three sides by Valley Forge National Historical Park would "desecrate" the park, wants Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to intervene.

The American Revolution Center wants to establish the country's first museum dedicated solely to the Revolutionary War on the 78-acre plot. It also envisions a conference center and associated hotel. But the coalition fears the group has loftier visions, calling it a "Disney-style private hotel-tavern-restaurant-convention-center-museum complex."

In calling on Secretary Kempthorne to get involved, the coalition says he can, under the National Park Service Organic Act of 1916, intervene and stop the controversial project.

“We are concerned that to date the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior have not taken more pro-active steps to stop this project. We know the NPS expressed its concerns to ARC both privately, then publicly when its concerns remained unaddressed, and to the local township authorities who have the power to stop this project," Bill Wade, who chairs the coalition's executive council, wrote in a letter to the Interior secretary. "But we also understand that the ARC and the local township majority have ignored those concerns and are moving ahead. We know that the NPS has the authority, under the NPS Organic Act and the ‘property clause’ of the U.S. Constitution, to stop the development, if it comes to that. We believe you have the responsibility to protect Valley Forge National Historical Park.”

In the letter Mr. Wade refers to scholarly studies that indicate the 78 acres in question did play a role in General George Washington's winter encampment at Valley Forge.

Studies by Professor Wayne Bodle, who reportedly has spent 10 years studying original historical documents in the possession of the park, "clearly dispute ARC’s claim that there are no significant cultural resources on the parcel they propose to develop. In the face of this evidence and that in the General Management Plan for [Valley Forge], we are stunned that ARC continues plans to build on such a historically significant site," wrote Mr. Wade. "The site plans show that construction would entail major earth movements, retaining walls, water collection basins, and major areas set aside for bus and automobile parking lots. Desecration of the cultural resources and context of this parcel would be a national outrage.”

The ARC purchased the land after it broke off negotiations with the National Park Service to place a museum in conjunction with the park’s existing Welcome Center because it failed to accept the agency's requirements for the museum.

ARC officials are incensed by the opposition that has mounted to their plans and are adamant that their admirable intentions to raise the nation's first museum to the Revolutionary War are being greatly misconstrued.

“There’s no campground. The restaurants will be within the museum, as with most museums. There is an education conference center that may have some number of rooms associated with it," says ZeeAnn Mason, a senior vice president for external affairs with ARC, told the Traveler earlier this year. "I think there is a lot of confusion by people that maybe don’t understand ordinances. This is an overlay ordinance that is connected to four underlying ordinances. It’s very complicated stuff. But what the ordinance allows, and what our plans are, as with any ordinance, are two different things.”

On May 5, 2008, the local township gave ARC preliminary approval of its development plans, and the township is now being asked to give final approval to part of the building plans, a process likely to be completed in the next two months or so.

Comments

What gets lost in the discussion is that the land in question is within the boundaries of the park, the NPS was attempting to purchase it when the ARC bought it, and that the site is archeologically-rich with evidence of the historic encampment commissary. A mueum of the American Revolution at Valley Forge is a fine idea -- but putting it at that site desecrates the very values it professes to want to preserve and protect.

Lest we forget, Valley Forge was a state park until the Bicentennial when the state decided it was cheaper to let the federal government have it. It's surrounded by hotels, shopping centers and houses.