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Study: Fort Monroe would need money to be national park
By KIMBALL PAYNE and MATTHEW STURDEVANT | 247-4765 | 247-7874
NORFOLK - A National Park Service study concludes that Fort Monroe might deserve a place in the federal park system after the Army leaves – but suggests waiting until the future of the historic post is clearer before doing more analysis.
The park service conducted a “reconnaissance survey” of the 570-acre waterfront base at the request of U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake. Her district includes the post at the southern tip of Hampton.
The study examined Fort Monroe’s national significance, as well as its suitability, feasibility and need for park service management. It was made public Tuesday.
The report says that Fort Monroe has significant historic value, but given the park service’s budget constraints, it would not be feasible for the service to operate the site without strong financial support.
“It’s a magnificent resource and it’s historically important. We certainly would encourage sensitive use of it,” said Terry Moore, a Philadelphia-based park service planning chief and one of the study’s authors. “Let’s see what comes out of the planning process. It may just come out and be wonderful and we’ll say 'You don’t need us.' Or there could be a role in a partnership.”
The findings come at a critical time for the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, an 18-member board of state and local representatives tasked with drafting a re-use plan.
The board will vote later this month on the plan.
The federal government decided in 2005 to shutter Fort Monroe in order to save money. In 2011, its 3,400 military and civilian employees will relocate to Fort Eustis in Newport News or Fort Knox, Ky. The Army will leave behind more than 150 buildings and historic structures – including the nation’s only moated stone fort.
A young Robert E. Lee helped oversee construction of the fortress in the 1830s, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was held there after his capture in the waning days of the Civil War.
The J-shaped peninsula was one of the first places in the colonies where African slaves were unloaded from ships. And the post is where, even before the Emancipation Proclamation, a commanding Union general decreed that runaway slaves were contraband of war – a decision that permitted slaves to stay at the fort.
The study highlighted Fort Monroe’s historic value – pointing out that Harriet Tubman served as matron at a hospital the Union Army set up in 1865 to care for the “contraband slaves.”
“Fort Monroe is a local and national treasure, and we should all work together to see that it is preserved for generations to come,” Drake said in a statement.
Bill Armbruster, executive director of the development authority, said he envisions the park service being involved in Fort Monroe, even if the transformed post doesn’t bear a park service label.
“I’m optimistic, even though they have deferred further study, that we share the same goals, and the park service will be able to have a role,” Armbruster said.
Moore, the Philadelphia-based planning chief, said in an interview that it’s important to wait and see what Armbruster’s group decides before recommending that Congress order a special resource study.
“If the fort had a viable visitor use component, not unlike what we would do at a national park, and if the resources are protected, then we always have to ask ourselves, 'What additional benefit do we bring?’ ” he said.
The study’s conclusion was a disappointment for members of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park.
The group formed in 2006 after becoming alarmed that developers could seek the waterfront property . The group argues that Fort Monroe’s historic value is too great to cede to local or state control.
“We had hoped for a more clear-cut answer, a better answer,” said H.O. Malone, a retired Army historian who heads the group. “We think it doesn’t exclude a special resource study. It only postpones asking for that until the re-use plan is done.”
Malone hopes the authority and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine push the congressional delegation to authorize such a study.
The organization commonly cites the Presidio in San Francisco as a potential model. The Army left the Presidio in 1994; it is jointly operated by the park service and a non profit trust.
The park service currently manages 391 sites designated by Congress – 58 of them national parks like the Grand Canyon, 100 national historical parks or historic sites such as Jamestown, and 74 as national monuments.
The remaining sites have varying labels, including battlefields, military parks, national seashores and national preserves.
Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, email@example.com