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Backers look to Fort Monroe as a national park
By Kate Wiltrout
It can take years - and multiple acts of Congress - to add a new national park to the lineup that includes Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
A legislative effort to create a park honoring Harriet Tubman, for instance, began in 2000 and only now is nearing completion. Even asking the National Park Service to study a potential addition requires congressional approval, and those studies often take years to complete.
None of that scares Bill Armbruster, executive director of the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority.
Armbruster is leading the effort to have at least part of the Army base - including its moated stone fort - designated as a unit of the national park system when the state assumes control of the 570-acre property in late 2011. He has been busy since Nov. 19, when the authority's board voted unanimously to pursue national park status.
In December, Armbruster went to Washington to talk to local legislators about sponsoring a resolution supporting that goal.
Clark Pettig, a spokesman for Rep. Glenn Nye, whose district includes Fort Monroe, said Nye plans to introduce a resolution within a month supporting park service involvement.
Armbruster got Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to invite Jonathan Jarvis, director of the Park Service, to tour Fort Monroe, and hopes to host a meeting with Jarvis and members of the congressional delegation in the coming months.
Armbruster envisions negotiations later this year among the park service, the state and the state-appointed authority. His timeline calls for having Congress implement the legislation in the first half of 2011.
"We have moved rapidly, and I think it took some folks by surprise," Armbruster said Thursday. "We wanted to keep that momentum going, particularly before the Kaine administration left."
In the meantime, he has worked to brief Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell's team and said he's confident that McDonnell supports a park service role.
He noted that as attorney general, McDonnell has overseen the legal ramifications of the base's pending transfer to state ownership.
The transfer date - Sept. 30, 2011 - is a major motivator.
"We want to have this thing done by the time the Army leaves, and have the National Park Service ready to take on that management responsibility," Armbruster said.
To help achieve that goal, he has the assistance of a three-member task force that includes John Reynolds, former deputy director of the park service. Reynolds spent time as interim director of the Presidio, a former Army base in San Francisco that's jointly managed by the park service and The Presidio Trust. He thinks the Presidio is a good model for Fort Monroe. With the money generated from renting out its buildings, it is on track to become a self-sustaining entity.
Reynolds said the current leaders of the park service embrace forming partnerships with other entities and finding new ways to manage historic assets. "I call it the new National Park Service, or the 21st-century National Park Service," Reynolds said.
He's confident the service will embrace a role at Fort Monroe.
"They believe very deeply that this is a very important part of America's story," Reynolds said.
Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, firstname.lastname@example.org