Delaware officials campaign for first national park
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 02:05
Delaware, the first state of the United States and the home of the first state delegation to sign the Constitution, is last to have a national park. Although the second smallest state boasts several museums, parks, wildlife refuges, lighthouses and other historic sites, there are currently no sites designated as national parks, seashores, battlefields, memorials or monuments in the state.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) says millions of people visit national parks across the country each year, generating at minimum $1 million in direct economic benefits for their state.
“We are losing out on tourism dollars and letting Delaware’s important story in America’s history go untold,” Carper says.
Delaware’s size is no longer an issue, he says—there are 44 National Historic Landmarks and two National Park Service-administered areas in Rhode Island, the smallest state in the nation, smaller than Delaware by 740 square miles.
For nearly a decade, Carper has been working with federal and state officials, activists and community leaders to establish a national park in Delaware. In 2002, Carper started an initiative to assess public support for the creation of a national park unit. After extensive public surveys, he found there was significant interest in the project.
In 2003, Carper hand-selected a group of 12 noted Delawareans, led by university political science professor James Soles, who died in 2010, to create a proposal that would garner support from the National Park Service and Congress.
Soles created a design for a decentralized park with sites in all three Delaware counties, Carper says. The sites include Ryves Holt House in Sussex County, Dover Green and John Dickinson Plantation National Historic Landmark in Kent County, the Old Sheriff’s House, Old New Castle Courthouse and Fort Christina and Old Swedes Church National Historic Landmarks in New Castle County.
“It was a design that ultimately became our park proposal,” Carper says.
Larry Windley, Carper’s state director, says Soles has been his mentor and friend for more than 30 years.
“Having a national park in Delaware would just be one more crowning achievement for a very special man,” Windley says.
Shortly after, on Nov. 10, 2011, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved the First State National Historic Park Act of 2011. The historic legislation, coauthored with the other members of Carper’s congressional delegation, would authorize the creation of a national park honoring early American Dutch, Swedish and English settlements and Delaware’s role in the events leading up to the signing of the Constitution, Carper says.
Katie Wilson, Carper’s press secretary, says the bill is now heading to the Senate for a floor vote.
“A time has not yet been set for this vote but we’re hopeful that this will happen by the end of the year,” Wilson says.
In March, the National Park Service proposed a project that would allow 200-foot towers and power transmission lines to run across the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, the Middle Delaware Scenic River and through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
The plan, proposed by the Obama administration, was announced as the National Park Service’s “preferred alternative” and is not a final decision. Members of the National Parks Conservation Association argue final approval of the project would impair visitors’ experiences of the parks’ scenery and resources.
The agency will make a final decision on the construction in a Record of Decision that will be issued 30 days after the public release in September of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
Tim Slavin, director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, and his team have provided Senate staff members and National Park Service personnel with information for the last few years about historic sites in Delaware as they relate to the stated themes for the proposed park. He says he also testified before Congressional committees about the project.
“Passage of the act will be a huge accomplishment for us,” Slavin says. “This has been an extraordinary venture and one that, I’m quite sure, will result in great things for Delawareans.”