Editor's note: This corrects that only three of the monuments will be placed under the National Park Service.
Five national monuments, including one in Delaware, the only state without a National Park System presence, are expected to be designated next week by President Obama.
The president has been criticized in the past for failing to designate more national monuments -- so far he's designated Fort Monroe National Monument in coastal Virginia and César E. Chávez National Monument in California -- and some residents of "the First State," as Delaware is known, have lamented its lack of a national park.
The monument coming to Delaware will be known as the First State National Monument, and will protect, in part, the Woodlawn Property, an 1,100-acre tract along the Brandywine River in Delaware.
Also expected to be designated through the president's use of the Antiquities Act are the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state, and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio. Colonel Young was an African-American soldier who in 1903 was appointed acting superintendent for Sequoia and General Grand national parks in California.
Two of the anticipated monuments, Rio Grande del Norte and San Juan Islands, are expected to be managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with the other three managed by the National Park Service.
Working to make the Woodlawn and Tubman monuments possible has been The Conservation Fund. Prior to the presidential proclamation that is scheduled for Monday, the Fund owned the Woodlawn property, which it donated to the National Park Service thanks to a donation from Mt. Cuba Center.
President Obama’s executive designation will honor the Woodlawn property along with the Old Sheriff’s House, the Old New Castle Courthouse, the New Castle Green and the Dover Green as a National Park Service unit.
Originally acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682, the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property lies on the banks of the Brandywine River, primarily in Delaware and extending north into Pennsylvania. Nearby, in 1777, General George Washington’s troops defended against British forces in the largest battle of the American Revolution. Since then, the Brandywine Valley’s natural beauty has inspired generations of artists, including acclaimed painter Andrew Wyeth. Today, however, rapid development is squeezing the pristine open spaces that remain.
Thanks to an unprecedented private contribution in excess of $20 million by Mt. Cuba Center, The Conservation Fund was able to preserve the Woodlawn property and champion its inclusion in the National Park System as a national monument or park. For more than a century, the land has been managed as a wildlife preserve and open space for public recreation. With Mt. Cuba’s foresight and commitment of resources, the Fund was able to donate the property to the National Park Service, making its designation as a national monument possible.
“History will be made in the place where it all began,” said Blaine Phillips senior vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional director for The Conservation Fund. “President Obama’s designation of the Woodlawn property as part of the First State National Monument will be a celebration of Delaware’s rich contributions to American history and its inherent natural beauty. It’s only fitting that here in our nation’s first state, the National Park system will be made whole, representing every state in the country."
Located within 25 miles of more than five million people, the national monument at the Woodlawn property will preserve the beautiful natural landscapes and historical character of one of the nation’s founding rivers. The Woodlawn property straddles the historic demarcation line known as the “12-mile arc,” which established the boundary between New Castle County, Delaware, and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in the 17th century.
The Fund also played a role in the designation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that pays tribute to an American hero who escaped slavery but returned repeatedly to lead dozens of family members and friends to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
Specifically, the Fund donated a property to the Park Service, adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, that once included the home of Jacob Jackson, a former neighbor and free black who used coded messages from Ms. Tubman to help free her brothers just before they were due to be sold. This site, together with additional historic lands to be included in the monument, tells Ms. Tubman's story where it happened and in a landscape that still looks much as it did during her famed journeys.
“One hundred years after her death, we still look to Harriet Tubman as an American symbol of heroism, equality, justice and self-determination. President Obama’s designation of a national monument honoring her life and legacy will be a testament to Harriet’s courageous efforts and the dedicated work of so many to preserve the landscape where she made her mark on history,” said Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “The Conservation Fund is thrilled to facilitate the protection and donation of a significant property to the National Park Service for the new monument designation in her honor.”
Born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Ms. Tubman spent nearly 30 years of her life as a slave. She escaped in 1849, at age 27, but returned to Dorchester and Caroline counties an estimated 13 times over the next decade to help slaves escape to the North. While estimates vary considerably, potentially more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad.
The Fund has partnered with the State of Maryland and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to protect more than 7,000 acres within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and along the Eastern Shore. The Fund and its partners have protected roughly 155,000 acres across Maryland.
The Rio Grande del Norte area in New Mexico lies 28 miles north of Taos and just south of the Colorado border. It long has been protected by the BLM as a national conservation area, and is popular with kayakers, birders, anglers, hikers, and equestrians. There also is a rich cultural history here, with some archaeological sites dated back 11,000 years.
“Today’s designation of Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument is a result of the commitment and passion of our people for this landscape we call home," said Taos Mayor Darren Córdova. "For years, our community of sportsmen, ranchers, small business owners and other citizens across northern New Mexico has worked collaboratively with our members of Congress to protect it. Now we can rest assured that Rio Grande del Norte’s majesty will be preserved for generations to come.”
At New Mexico State University, Christopher A. Erickson, a professor in the Department of Economics and International Business, said, "For a state like New Mexico, preservation and improvement of recreational opportunities is critical both for attracting new business to our state as well as safeguarding quality of life for our citizens. National monument designation of The Rio Grande del Norte can play a critical role in ensuring continuation of New Mexico's well-deserved reputation for natural beauty, serving as a beacon for economic growth."
At the National Parks Conservation Association, President Tom Kiernan applauded The Conservation Fund for its work in making some of these monuments possible.
"These important additions to our National Park System would not be possible without the generosity of The Conservation Fund," Mr. Kiernan said in a prepared statement. "As we look to the 2016 centennial celebration of our National Park System, diversifying our national parks to more adequately reflect our cultural heritage, and connecting urban populations to our national parks are important goals that we share with the Administration and the National Park Service. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, First State, and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monuments create our 399th, 400th, and 401st national park sites, and enhance our National Park System, from the inside and out.”