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Park Service wants smaller park presence at Fort Monroe
HAMPTON — The National Park Service's interest in land at Fort Monroe covers a smaller footprint than envisioned by the Fort Monroe Authority.
Bills to establish the park service at the post are before both the U.S. House and Senate, and President Barack Obama has been asked to set up a national monument at Fort Monroe under the Antiquities Act.
But the area the park service wants, and that is contained in the legislation, is a smaller one around the historic fortress. The footprint now being supported by the National Park Service reverts to the smaller area around the stone fort as proposed in 2010. Additionally it includes undeveloped northern parts of the area, but the boundary would not be around the entire site.
Hundreds of people attended meetings last week hosted by the National Park Service to determine community interest.
In March the Fort Monroe Authority backed the creation of a national park with a larger footprint than recommended last year by the park service. It included a boundary encompassing the entire 565-acre Fort Monroe site, even though some areas would remain in the control of the Fort Monroe Authority.
Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, who heads a Fort Monroe Authority group working on the legislation, presented the new National Park Service map to members of the board last Thursday.
"The new map that the park service has approved actually has a smaller border and a smaller easement area. The park service border encompasses the northern beach areas and the moated fortress," she told the board.
"Within the northern beach area, what exactly the park service will own, in terms of the southern part, we have not yet fully agreed upon. We are still in negotiations," she said.
Under the new map, the park service would own about 194 acres. A National Park Service-Fort Monroe Authority easement area would comprise 130 acres. The park service's boundary would cover 324 acres, leaving about 241 acres of the total acreage of the post. Areas outside the purview of the National Park Service would be owned and administered by the Fort Monroe Authority, a political subdivision of the state of Virginia.
The service is interested in owning Buildings 1, 17 and 50 and leasing Casemate 22.
The fine details and the easements are still "a work in progress," said Bruce Sturk, Hampton's director of federal facilities support.
"It is a relatively modest park," Ward said. But she added: "There's two ways to look at it. You can look it as the glass half full or half empty."
Ward cited the recent visit of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to Fort Monroe and said she did not believe the effort would be where it now was if everybody had not come to the table and compromised.
Terrie Suit, who chairs the board of the Fort Monroe Authority, indicated the authority wants a larger national park than the National Park Service, but stressed the need to keep pushing.
"Regardless of what the National Park Service may or may not be willing to take, it doesn't mean the effort has to stop there," Suit said. "The board has a much broader vision than what we understand the National Park Service might have. We know the citizens have a much broader vision.
"Just because they may come back and only want a small portion, or have indicated in their maps a smaller portion, that doesn't mean that we end the fight there," she said.
Steve Corneliussen, co-founder and former board member of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, expressed displeasure at the park service's proposed footprint.
"Washington is considering only a bifurcated, balkanized, token national park — a split national park that doesn't even extend all along Fort Monroe's bayfront shoreline," he said. "Please create a real national park at Fort Monroe with an extensive footprint, not a token national park with a huge gap across the heart of Fort Monroe's historic landscape."
But Mark Perreault, the current president of the citizens group, said the group is supporting the national park effort in Congress. "The main thing is to get as substantial a national park as we can now," he said.
"We are still hopeful that the park will grow," he said.
See the Hampton Matters blog at dailypress.com/hamptonmatters