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By Katherine Calos
Fort Monroe commemorates the 150th anniversary of a Civil War milestone on the eve of a milestone of its own.
The fort that has been home to active-duty troops since 1823 will be decommissioned Sept. 15. Virginia's Fort Monroe Authority will take control of the site.
Its future is likely to be a national park to preserve the areas with the greatest historical and environmental value. Virginia's U.S. senators and representatives are working out the details of legislation. It's also on a short list that President Barack Obama is considering for designation as a national monument.
"I've never seen as much consensus about a proposed National Park Service site," said Alan Spears, legislative representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, an advocacy group for national parks.
"There's not anyone who's a serious player who has an alternative vision.
"The challenge is working out the final details, not the size of park but the nature of the partnership between the National Park Service and the Fort Monroe Authority. Those are the details in the grasps of the people working on it now."
The authority anticipates that all 565 acres will be designated a national park. The National Park Service is likely to manage the historic inner fort and environmentally sensitive beaches. The Fort Monroe Authority will manage various degrees of development in other sections.
The Casemate Museum will continue operating with interpretations of military and contraband history. A cell where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned after the Civil War is also preserved.
The mix at the fort could also include a unit of the Museum of the Confederacy, which is expanding beyond Richmond, but that's in a holding pattern, said Sam Craghead, museum spokesman. "It depends on the agreement the park comes up with," Craghead said.
The authority divides the property into several management zones in its 2008 plan.
¤ In the inner fort, historic preservation will be key. As the largest stone moated fort in North America, built between 1819 and 1834, Fort Monroe is a National Historic Landmark. Adaptive uses could include historic interpretation, museums, offices, lodging and residences.
¤ The historic village area includes the former Chamberlin Hotel, which has already been converted into upscale age-restricted apartments as a compatible use.
¤ The entry gate, where current visitors get a security screening before entering the military base, will be reconfigured to create more than one entrance. The north gate area, which the Army used mainly for utilitarian functions, will preserve access to Mill Creek with limited development to keep from overshadowing the fort. Both areas will have a mix of commercial and residential uses.
Dog Beach and other undeveloped areas connecting to Buckroe will be natural areas.
The Fort Monroe Authority already has taken over management of Army apartment units in Wherry Quarter, which it continues to rent to soldiers at the basic housing allowance rate. Officers' quarters will be handled the same way.
The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which has been based at Fort Monroe, is moving about 20 miles away to Fort Eustis, still within commuting distance. Military families will continue to have precedence for housing, said William A. Armbruster, the soon-to-retire executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority.
"We are very excited about the partnership to help protect this legacy," Armbruster said. "A key part of our commitment is to maintain the legacy, keep it as a vibrant community and open it up for others to enjoy."