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NPS Status Sought As Army Readies To Leave Fort Monroe
By Scott C. Boyd
HAMPTON, Va. — The U.S. Army will leave Fort Monroe on Sept. 15. While a new National Park Service (NPS) unit incorporating the fort and some of the grounds will not be created by then, the fort and Casemate Museum will remain open to the public.
On June 29, Virginia U.S. Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner introduced S. 1303, the “Fort Monroe National Historic Park Establishment Act of 2011” to create an NPS unit at Fort Monroe.
A similar bill, H.R. 2456, was introduced on July 7 by Virginia’s U.S. Representatives Scott Rigell, Randy Forbes, Robert Scott and Rob Wittman.
The two virtually identical bills set aside considerably more land for the NPS than previously envisioned.
The concept a year ago was for the area marked by the road system surrounding the moated fort to be the focus of an NPS unit (see November 2010 CWN).
The 2011 concept adds most of the open space north of the fort to the NPS unit. A right-of-way road will connect the two areas.
The Fort Monroe Authority (FMA), a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is busy preparing for the Army’s departure as determined by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act of 2005 (see May 2010 CWN).
"We're on track to meet the date in September when the Army officially transfers its mission after a very illustrious military presence down here," said FMA Executive Director William A. Armbruster.
Fort Monroe was built between 1819 and 1834 and is the largest stone fort ever constructed in the United States. Old Point Comfort, where the fort is, has been continuously fortified since English colonists built Fort Algernourne there in 1609.
The FMA will operate and maintain the 565 acres comprising the fort and its environs at the entrance to Hampton Roads. The commonwealth, through the FMA, will lease some of the buildings for residential and commercial reuse. The total acreage includes a marina, beaches, pool, travel trailer park and recreational land.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis toured Fort Monroe on June 29, drawing attention to a possible NPS role there.
“You can read many chapters of our nation’s history in the stones of Fort Monroe, which is one of the many reasons people feel so passionately about the protection of this special place,” Salazar said after the tour, according to a press release.
“This stone fort is one of our nation’s special historic and cultural treasures, and we must work together to ensure this place is preserved for future generations.”
Armbruster said the NPS role got “great traction and visibility with the Secretary Salazar visit.” He said one of the management authority’s goals from the beginning was to expand the NPS presence and become a full park service unit.
Concern over the length of time it may take for Congress to pass legislation to create an NPS presence at Fort Monroe stirred some to look for another route to NPS status.
National Trust for Historic Preservation President Stephanie K. Meeks wrote to President Barack Obama on June 8, asking him “to utilize your authority pursuant to the Antiquities Act to create a new National Monument at Fort Monroe to commemorate the rich layers of heritage, culture, and nature which distinguish this irreplaceable historic place.”
Senators Webb and Warner made a similar request in a May 27 letter.
The legislation was also supported in a July 3 letter to Congressman Rigell by Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park President Mark Perreault.
Armbruster explained that a presidential proclamation using the Antiquities Act to designate the fort a National Historic Monument would “get us ultimately to the same destination, but it really puts it on a fast track.”
Even with a presidential proclamation, follow-up Congressional legislation would be required to complete the NPS status, he said.
In the meantime after the Army leaves, “The Casemate Museum will continue to be operated in partnership between the FMA and the Army, as it is now,” according to Armbruster.
The museum inside one of the stone casemates tells the history of the fort and its inhabitants and shows the cell in which former Confederate President Jefferson Davis was confined. It is part of the national system of Army museums.
The historic areas like the stone fort and 20th century coastal battery emplacements will be accessible. The current policy prohibiting visitors from entering or climbing the coastal batteries will continue. The open space areas at the northern end of the site will be available to the public as well.
One more change after the Army leaves is that Armbruster also will depart. He is retiring at the end of September.
“I’m just delighted to have been part of this up through the transfer. That was my commitment when I signed on three-and-a-half years ago,” he said.
The next FMA executive director will be selected by the Board of Trustees, but no decision has been made yet.