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Updated: Five National Monuments Expected To Be Designated Next Week


This landscape in northern New Mexico is in line to be designated as a national monument next week. Photo © Adriel Heisey

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.”


Steve, I wish I could be more encouraging or had some kind of great ideas, but I don't. The battle to protect historic, environmental and other national treasures will never end. Sometimes the good guys will win, but all too frequently we won't.

About all we can do is the best we can and then celebrate the successes and try not to become too depressed about the losses.

Thanks yet again, Lee. It's great to talk to someone willing to try to engage the special complexities of Fort Monroe.

What you say about politicians calls to mind my disappointment with the Washington Post for continually missing the obvious. This new incident even involves your Rep. Bishop!

Recall, please, that the Post never did really get it about the national monument; they think that the moated fortress and the overall historic landscape are the same, so they also think that all of Fort Monroe is a national monument--a public-relations falsehood that was deliberately emphasized, including even by the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others at NTHP. (Ask me for URLs on that.)

Now the Post has said something newly disappointing. In an article forecasting the coming designations of national monuments, the Post's Philip Rucker notes that "not everyone applauds the idea." He quotes Rep. Bishop saying, “The use of the Antiquities Act cuts out public participation,” and charging "an abuse of executive privilege," and asserting that the "fact that Congress doesn’t capitulate to the president’s political whims ... is hardly justification for taking unilateral action.”

Here's what comes next from the reporter, and it's what disappoints me not about politicians, but about journalists: "But proponents noted that each of the five sites had strong support from local officials as well as conservation groups. They suggested that Obama was designating the sites by executive authority because the last Congress has failed to pass legislation creating new national parks."

Now mind you, this is an article that cites Fort Monroe, which is just outside the Post's local area. And at Fort Monroe, it was precisely because of local officials, exploiting the pick-your-battles complicity of preservation groups, that Virginia's congressional delegation engineered the fake national monument.

First Virginia's politicians at all levels dithered for six years, dodging all suggestions for a sensible hybrid national park, and disingenuously asserting that NPS didn't want Fort Monroe anyway. (In fact, what NPS wanted was a sensible process for a national treasure, but NPS could not be expected to go against the political--and Big Money--energies in Virginia. And these same politicians, as I said above, were never shy about demanding federal compliance with Virginia's desires about the homeporting of aircraft carriers. The Fort Monroe fault is not at NPS. It's in Virginia.)

Then, to get some federal largess and to marginalize us, they engineered the fake national monument. They either enlisted or bamboozled Secretary Salazar and the president. I can't tell which, but I note that former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a major perp of the failure at Fort Monroe, was Democratic national chairman at the time, in 2011. (Note: But Virginia's failure is widely bipartisan; Gov. McDonnell, for example, is also a major perp.)

But Mr. Rucker and other journalists have simply assumed the false thing about Hampton's leaders' and other local leaders'--and the state's leaders'--slating of Fort Monroe to be exploited by Hampton, as if it were a Fort Drab in a cornfield rather than a national treasure of the first order.

But then, why should the journalists not, given that NTHP and NPCA and others bought into and promoted the plan for a fake national monument? (Not even Adam Goodheart, the historian who understands Fort Monroe best, has been willing to stand up for Fort Monroe in public.) To outsiders from even as close a distance as Washington, the press-release explanations not only sounded plausible, but they had no contradiction from those the nation relies on to state the truth in these matters. It is that bad, Lee--and plenty of Virginians will say so.

As to public apathy, two comments.

First, the public helped us a lot. But over the years they grew tired, and then, as I say, they got misled by the falsehood about all of Fort Monroe having been designated a national monument. Often I have people congratulate me for the success at Fort Monroe. They don't know, since they were not accurately told, that Fort Monroe remains mainly a development plum for one city. They don't know that if you judge by the criterion of preservation of sense of place, the national monument is actually a squalid failure.

Second, people are busy. Life is hard. I know you know this too, but I must say that I hate to blame the public. What I always state is that our support on Fort Monroe is miles and miles wide--but only a millimeter deep. People have too much to juggle, and besides, the politicians have done a great razzle-dazzle to keep people misinformed. (For example, consider their outrageously disingenuous eight-year-old "public input" process, which is only friendly if you buy the foundational redevelopment-uber-alles premise--and which is outright hostile if you don't.)

And yes, the historian of science Catherine Westfall is an ally, and so is Sheri Bailey, who has commented before at NPT. Sheri is an activist leader of those who celebrate Juneteenth, the commemoration of emancipation. She and I co-authored an op-ed about the self-emancipators; it's linked from the web site that I keep citing. Catherine and Sheri often comment publicly on Fort Monroe.

And man, do I ever know what you mean when you say, "That's why [politicians] really don't like people like you who can't be easily manipulated." Earlier I mentioned a backstory, explained in a long note starting at the bottom of the home page at There's no point in flogging the issue here, except to report that the ruthlessness that I've witnessed (and have been subjected to) has come from politicians, from public officials, from officials of the developer-sympathizing National Trust for Historic Preservation, and even in one shocking case from a prominent talk show host whose journalistic ethics should have stopped her from her ethical lapse. I don't ask to air these disappointing stories in any detail. However, I also don't shrink from charging that that's the ethical level on which Fort Monroe's true defenders have gradually been marginalized in the squalid Virginia failure.

Lee, you advise repeatedly not to give up. I'm with you. But I report, again, that it only makes things worse not to understand that a bizarrely split, fake national monument is about to be cemented in Virginia. We have all but certainly lost. At Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park--the tiny, public-excluding, self-appointed committee that I co-founded--they still operate on a naive faith that somehow Virginia's politicians will listen to us after all.

But the politicians do not intend to listen. They have been plain about that for eight years. Moreover, they marginalized us by masterfully engineering and carefully mis-publicizing a fake national monument. They marginalized us by persuading the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Washington Post (and the NPCA, I'm afraid I must say) that theft of precious public land by Hampton's and Tidewater's leaders is somehow a good thing.

So yes, no one should give up. But similarly, no one should place any more faith in Virginia's leaders to do the right thing.

I must say it again: This is a national issue. It is profoundly connected to 400 years of American history, and to both the start and end of slavery. It is profoundly connected to the new birth of freedom, cited at Gettysburg, whereby this nation founded not on ethnicity but on ideas belatedly but beautifully began to stand up for its founding principles. If Fort Monroe is to be saved at the eleventh hour, it can only be saved by national attention that involves the shaming of Virginia's leaders for their squalid failure, and that thereby re-opens the question of sensible federal stewardship of the red spot seen at a glance in the illustration at

As the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot's editors put it, without unification of the split national monument to include that omitted land, Fort Monroe will remain forever "degraded."

Again I thank you, Lee, for this conversation.

P.S.: Often in this kind of conversation, a new voice pops up to protest that we can't afford to do right by Fort Monroe. Usually the voice represents valid, respectable, important concern about the country's financial state. I respect that protest. But I have lots of answers for it, starting with this: Except for near-term expenses that are going to be incurred anyway, to treat Fort Monroe financially responsibly means precisely the opposite of consigning it to selfish parochial short-sightedness.

Steve, I fully understand the frustration you feel and the battle you're waging. It's being repeated constantly in many places with many people involved. I have to admit that I don't understand Virginia politics because it's a long way from here to there and I haven't been to Virginia for at least twenty years -- and then only to visit. But believe me, I'm fully behind you. At least insomuch as may be possible from 1700 miles away and almost total ignorance of the specifics of Ft. Monroe. Honestly, I've learned more about that place in the past two days than ever before.

It's tragic that those who have the money have the power. That seems to be a universal law. Even more tragic is the fact (yes, fact) that our legislators everywhere in both major parties are openly for sale. Sheri's "bi-partisan" comment just above reflects that.

I wish I had good answers and good advice to offer. But I don't. I don't think anyone really has the answers. We are facing a situation nationwide in which MONEY dictates virtually everything that happens in governments at any level. Worse than that, it is too often enabled by total public APATHY because, for the moment at least, whatever is at issue is not directly pinching the butts of those who are content to spend their time being entertained by TV or other media. Politicians depend upon the short memories and lack of caring among most voters. That's why they really don't like people like you who can't be easily manipulated.

About all I can do is to again say, "Don't give up. Never!"

And a note, perhaps your efforts here by commenting on Traveler may already have borne some fruit. Cathwestf and Sheri Bailey have offered support. If you don't already know who they are -- or if they wish to contact you, Traveler could assist. If you email Traveler using the CONTACT button, they can email the others with your contact information so you may get direct communication going. That protects all involved but provides a way to open the door if so desired.

EDIT: Ooops. I see that you and Cathwestf already know each other. If you haven't already tried, there might be someone in the Coalition of Retired National Park Employees who could help. Try

Steve Corneliussen's passion to see proper stewardship of Fort Monroe is the single strongest force that has kept Virginia's politicians and developers from being able to ignore the unique and profoundly important historical significance of that location. Here's what those looking to build "swanky condos" don't know. At the place where Fort Monroe would one day be, almost 400 years ago, in August 1619 about two dozen Africans from Angola stepped into the New World. Like many of their European peers, the Angolans worked in the Jamestown Colony as indentured servants who ultimately earned their freedom. This class of Free Blacks gave birth to the Black middle-class. As slavery laws started being added to the Virginia Codes in the 1640s, Free Blacks also lost rights. Fast forward to May 1861 -- at the beginning of the Civil War -- three self-emancipators became the first to successfully claim their American Dream. The resulting Contraband of War policy meant that tens of thousands Black Americans gained their freedom before the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. This is profoundly important American History but we Americans are so reluctant to deal with the legacy of slavery nobody knows this stuff. In 2019 on the 400th anniversary of those first Angolans in America, Fort Monroe should be the location for international gatherings focused on peace and reconciliation. Virginia has a responsibility and a grand opportunity here. The 7,000 citizens who signed a petition to "Save Fort Monroe" eight years ago also agree, but a very bi-partisan swatch of our elected and appointed leaders do not. They are adept at ignoring the voices of ordinary Virginians. Steve Corneliussen is right about the need for national attention to what is happening at Fort Monroe. If there is ever to be a post-racial America then we need a place to talk. Fort Monroe's unique history makes that the place. If you agree, please help Save Fort Monroe.

I’ve been watching the Fort Monroe situation unfold for several years, and I’ve known Steve Corneliussen for many years. (We both work in the national science community.) I’m glad that he and Lee Dalton are having this conversation, and I just want to add one thing: In my view Steve is right about the need for national attention to what Virginia is doing to Fort Monroe. Thanks.

From the article: "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 ..."

That's not entirely correct. Pres. Obama has also designatd Ft. Ord in California and Chimney Rock in Colorado, under the jurisdiction of the BLM and the Forest Service respectively.

Lee, you observed that "organizations like NPCA...are usually fighting battles on a number of fronts." That is correct. It's also why, if you look back in our conversation above, you'll see me saying this: QUOTE But because Fort Monroe is a billion-dollar-scale piece of prime waterfront, and because preservationists have to pick their battles, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) chose in 2005 mainly to try meekly to channel, rather than forthrightly to oppose, the enormous force of the development interests--a force exerted through the politicians whose campaigns the development industry bankrolls. UNQUOTE If you'd like some more background on this principle, let me know. I have eight years of it--eight solid years of weekends, leave days, and evenings. Maybe you have similar experience pressing for a hybrid, innovatively structured national park at a national treasure with international significance in the history of liberty.

As to the halls of power, besides enormous amounts of time in the local halls of power here in Tidewater, others and I have put in plenty of time over the years in Washington--which is of course not irrelevant, but it's the many times in the state capital, Richmond, that should have mattered most. However, unless you're willing to consider a fake national monument a success--and fake is what it is, whether or not that word is counterproductively startling--all of those years of going to Richmond didn't matter. Again: a national park stems not from Washington political momentum, but from political will within the given state, which then gets expressed and acted upon by the state's delegation in D.C. And the political will in Virginia has been to treat this national treasure of Fort Monroe as mainly a development project, with the addition in more recent years of the window dressing of a national monument deliberately engineered, on behalf of Big Money, to be fake. (Yes, you are correct when you write, "You're fighting Big Money, and dollars are a very powerful--too often negative--motivator.")

You also wrote, "No matter what you write anywhere, there will be some people who worship dollars, and you will really tick them off." Do you have a full week to invest full time while I tell you just the highlights of what others and I have learned about that? The irony, of course, is that what Fort Monroe's defenders advocate is actually _more_, not less, economically responsible and foresighted than is the biz-as-usual overdevelopment mindset that is prevailing.

And you wrote, "Be prepared for a lot of blowback." Blowback indeed. Tell me about it! For the backstory on that, please read the note that begins at the bottom of -- and please read the entire note, including the "more" link. You advised, "organize some other like-minded people to approach some potential helpers in person" -- as indeed others and I did, starting in 2006, my second year of activism in this. The note tells that backstory, and explains how ruthlessly NTHP (and NPCA and others) fought for the fake national monument that the organization I co-founded, Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park (CFMNP), now hopes, almost certainly in vain, to repair. Over my strong dissent in late 2010, CFMNP chose to gamble, hoping that a fake national monument could later be transformed into a real one. They didn't understand that NTHP and others (including NPCA, unless they have repented) had no intention of ever pressing toward creating a real national monument or national park,with its sense of place respected rather than "degraded." But now, in 2013, when it's probably too late, at CFMNP they understand that it's almost certainly not going to happen.

Here's something I'm trying to say: You sound like a good man. You sound like someone who wants to help. But with all due respect, you have very little idea what has gone on here in Virginia for the past eight years. The struggle has been enormously complex. But it's all but over, and is now all but lost. We've all understood the kinds of stuff you're talking about. It's good stuff, and we knew about it too, and we've worked hard on it. But Big Money is about to win, and sense of place at this national treasure with international implications is about to be lost forever. The only chance now is national media intervention to expose what has happened and what is about to be cemented. It's a long shot. Very long.

And as to "bizarrely broken," I agree that with some audiences, it's best to use duller language, as indeed I do, though not in NPT. Two thoughts:

First, If you want to see how I usually speak in public about this, while at the same time seeing why it's internationally important, please invest three minutes and watch the brief YouTube at . It's an excerpt from a local PBS show.

Second, please look at the map-and-photo illustration at . To us in Virginia, it is self-evidently preposterous that the center of the sense-of-place-defining bayfront was omitted just to serve Big Money.

Yes indeed, the fake national monument is bizarrely broken. Eight years of decorously speaking less than the truth didn't stop us from losing. I will be damned if I will now go to my grave without at least standing up, now that we are in extremis, to tell the plain truth.

Thanks very much, Lee, for your concern, attention, thoughts and forbearance. If you think we're right in Virginia, please contact someone not in Congress, but in the national media. The politics is already set, and is sick. But the context for the politics could still conceivably become healthy.

There's a big national story here, central to the Civil War sesquicentennial, to the issue of unwise coastal development, and to the issue of Big Money pushing the rest of us around.

Steve, it sounds as if you really have a big job ahead of you. You guys are fighting the same dragons park advocates face nationwide. I'm in Utah so approaching any of my Congresscritters would be a complete waste of time. (Rob Bishop is my "representative." That should explain it all if you know anything about his history.) Probably the only reason the entire state of Utah hasn't been sold off for development and mineral extraction is the existance of a dedicated group called the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and some others who have learned to fight a good fight.

One word of caution in whatever you do: Turn down some of the inflammatory language as you write. Words like "fake" and "bizarrely broken" may tend to push some people away. (If you've read much of what I've written here you'll know that I have a tendency to do the same thing. It may help release frustration, but sometimes turns others off.) No matter what you write anywhere, there will be some people who worship dollars, and you will really tick them off. Be prepared for a lot of blowback.

Another problem is that organizations like NPCA or SUWA are usually fighting battles on a number of fronts. Their reactions may reflect that their troops are already too thinly spread and they may simply have trouble taking on yet another war. Instead of writing angry letters, maybe see if you can organize some other like-minded people to approach some potential helpers in person. Face to face is usually much better than just a collection of verbs and nouns and adjectives. See if you can persuade any of them to meet with you on site so you can do a big show and tell.

You're not far from Wash DC, so maybe some personal journies to the Great Halls Of Power might help. Maybe approach National Geographic or Smithsonian and see if they might help. One of my most satisfying triumphs came a few years ago when we loaded a prominent editor into a truck and hauled him out to see first hand a parcel of land that needed protection. He is still helping us by providing some columns in one of his publications -- even though he lost a couple of large advertisers. You're fighting Big Money, and dollars are a very powerful -- too often negative -- motivator.

Churchill said, "Never give up!" Don't.

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