New York sites could become national parks

(NEXSTAR) – One site to commemorate the global war on terror, one to help tell the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and one to protect the childhood home of the 43rd President of the United States. Together they could soon join the ranks of the expansive network of the US National Park Service.

NPS currently oversees 423 parks, monuments, rivers and more (all collectively known as ‘parks’) and 27 new sites could be added soon.

Those sites include six that have been authorized to be part of the NPS but have not yet been established and 21 studies authorized by Congress in various stages of progress, according to Kathy Kupper, NPS public affairs specialist.

How to become a national park

An area can only become a national park through legislation from Congress, Kupper explains.

The process for designating a national park, or any of the other titles used by the NPS (there are 423 parks with various name designations, but they are collectively known as parks), typically begins with a special resource study at the proposed site for determine if you meet specific criteria:

  • Have nationally significant natural or cultural resources
  • Be suitable and feasible to be added to the system.
  • Require direct NPS protection rather than protection by a public agency or the private sector

The Department of the Interior oversees the studies, once Congress directs it to do so. NPS can conduct smaller studies or study updates without approval from Congress. They are typically used to determine whether or not the area would be a good candidate for a full survey.

Presidents also have restricted power to add a site to the NPS.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906 signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, presidents have the power to establish or modify national monuments on federal lands to protect their “special natural and cultural features,” according to NPS. The first natural area protected by the Antiquities Act was Devils Tower, which became a national monument.

The purpose of the Antiquities Act is to use the smallest parcel of land necessary to protect the natural, cultural, or scientific resources within the federal lands in question. President Joe Biden has used the Antiquities Act three times so far: twice to change the boundaries of a national monument and once to restore activities on the land.

Congress also has the power to establish national monuments by passing laws. Since then, many of the Presidentially Proclaimed National Monuments have been expanded or Congress has changed their park designation. The Grand Canyon is one of the earliest examples of this: Roosevelt first designated it a national monument in 1908, and it became a national park 11 years later.

Sites that could soon join NPS

There are six sites that have been authorized to be part of the NPS, but have not yet been established. Three of them are awaiting the acquisition of land, while the others are awaiting a Commemorative Works Law.

Among those awaiting land acquisition is the Amache site in Granada, Colorado, which was designated a national historic site in March 2022. Also known as the Granada Relocation Center, Amache was once an incarceration site for World War II established to stop Japanese Americans being forcibly expelled from the West Coast. NPS is now working to acquire the approved land for the site.

Others awaiting land acquisition include Coltsville National Historical Park in Connecticut and the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Illinois, approved in 2014 and 2002, respectively.

The Global War on Terrorism Memorial, a yet-to-be-constructed memorial to those “who have contributed to global counterterrorism efforts since September 11, 2001,” was signed into law in August 2017 but currently awaits completion of a Commemorative Works Law. revision. The Memorial Works Act prevents the construction of memorial works near the National Mall in Washington, DC and on federal land in the National Capital Area, unless approved by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission.

The Desert Storm/Desert Shield Memorial and the Adams Memorial, approved in 2014 and 2001, respectively, are also pending review.

On May 12, Biden signed legislation not only to redesignate the Brown v. Board of Education to make it a National Historical Park, but to expand it to include two South Carolina schools to be acquired by NPS.

There are also 21 studies authorized by Congress at various stages of the process. According to Kupper, this includes potential new parks and additions to the National Trails System, new National Heritage Areas, and affiliated areas.

Among them is Fort Ontario in New York, a star-shaped fort dating from the early 1840s. The site was occupied by the US Army during World War II before serving as the the country’s only refugee camp for victims of the Nazi Holocaust. It later served as a home for World War II veterans and their families and has been a state historic site since 1949.

In 2018, Congress requested a special resource study at Fort Ontario. That study is still in progress, according to NPS.

Here are the remaining sites NPS is currently studying under authorization from Congress, as well as a link to more information about the study, if available:

  • Flushing Protest Special Resource Study in Flushing, New York
  • Rota Special Resource Study in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Mississippi Civil Rights Sites Special Resource Study
  • Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refuge Museum Special Resources Study in Oswego, New York
  • Special Resource Study of the George W. Bush Children’s Home in Midland, Texas
  • Golden Spike National Historical Park, Transcontinental Railroad (RR) in Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California
  • Pike National Historic Trail Feasibility Study in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana
  • Finger Lakes National Heritage Area Feasibility Study in New York
  • Special Resource Study of President Street Station in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Thurgood Marshall School (PS 103) Special Resource Study in Baltimore, Maryland
  • Special Resource Study of the James K. Polk Presidential House in Columbia, Tennessee
  • Kentucky Wildlands National Heritage Area Feasibility Study in Kentucky
  • Special Resource Study of the Ocmulgee River Corridor, Between Macon and Hawkinsville, Georgia
  • Texas Emancipation National Historic Trail Feasibility Study
  • 1908 Springfield Race Riot Special Resource Study in Springfield, Illinois
  • Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Schools Special Resource Study in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
  • Special Resource Study from Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama
  • Special Resource Study of the Battle of Matewan in Matewan, West Virginia
  • Thematic study of the sites of the Cold War
  • New Philadelphia Special Resource Study in New Philadelphia, Illinois
  • Amache Special Resources Study in Colorado (the study for the aforementioned Amache site)

A study, like any of those listed above, does not guarantee that the site will become a national park; only an act of Congress can make that happen.

While becoming the newest member of the NPS can be an honorable moment, it can also be a sign of a great need to protect the site.

“In general, additions like a new park will not be recommended if another arrangement can provide adequate protection and management of resources and opportunities for public enjoyment,” explains Kupper. This could include a site affiliated with NPS but managed by other agencies as part of a cooperative agreement.

And even if these sites receive national park status, they could easily lose it. There are several reasons why a site loses its NPS status, but the most common is to transfer it to a different agency or to the state in which it is located. For example, in 2004, the Oklahoma City National Monument commemorating the deadly April 1995 bombing was de-authorized as a park. Instead, it was transferred to the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation and declared an NPS affiliated area.

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