STATEMENT BY KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 2409, EL CAMINO REAL DE LOS TEJAS NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL ACT OF 1999.
May 9, 2000
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 2409, a bill to amend the National Trails System Act to designate El Camino Real de los Tejas (The Royal Road to the Tejas) as a National Historic Trail.
The Department supports H.R. 2409 and thanks Congressman Rodriguez for his sponsorship. This bill is similar to a proposal the Administration sent to Congress on March 3, 1999. The main difference is with language relating to land acquisition along the trail to which we have no objection.
The bill is in keeping with the findings of the National Historic Trail Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment, El Camino Real de los Tejas, Texas - Louisiana, completed in July 1998. The National Park Service was authorized to study both El Camino Real de los Tejas and the Old San Antonio Road by P.L. 103-145. The National Park Service study concluded that both roads met all national historic trail criteria as defined by the study provisions of the National Trails System Act (P.L. 90-543). The study was presented to the National Park System Advisory Board and the board concurred with the findings. We believe H.R. 2409 accurately addresses the overall national significance of El Camino Real de los Tejas and the Old San Antonio Road.
If enacted, H.R. 2409 would add the Camino Real de los Tejas as a national historic trail component of the National Trails System. It would designate a series of routes, totaling approximately 2,600 miles. The designated trail would include the evolving routes of the camino real as well as its successor, the Old San Antonio Road. The trail would extend across a 550-mile-long corridor from the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass and Laredo, Texas to Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-dish), Louisiana. The bill would provide for trail administration by the Secretary of the Interior and on non-Federal lands, the trail will be established only when landowners voluntarily request certification of their sites and segments. It would provide that no land or interest in land outside the exterior boundaries of any federally administered area may be acquired by the United States for the trail except with the consent of the owner of the land. Finally, the bill would allow the Secretary of the Interior to coordinate activities with United States and Mexican public and non-governmental organizations, academic institutions and, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the government of Mexico and its political subdivisions. These activities include exchanging trail information and research, fostering trail preservation and education programs, providing technical assistance, and working to establish an international historic trail with complementary preservation and education programs in each nation.
The story of El Camino Real de los Tejas spans 160-years between 1689 and 1850. During this time, international rivalries for domination of lands fronting the Gulf of Mexico were manifested through the development of roads across the area. The European colonial powers of Spain, France, and England and later on, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States, all had stakes in this competition. The routes of El Camino Real de los Tejas and the Old San Antonio Road served as integral parts of the geo-political and cultural changes created by this competition. Also linked to these forces and cultural changes was the future welfare of several native tribes, whose prehistoric trade routes extended from Mexico to the Mississippi and became the basis for Spanish exploration and colonization.
El Camino Real de los Tejas was the primary route between the Spanish vice-regal capital of Mexico City and the Spanish provincial capital of Tejas at Los Adaes (pronounced Uh-die-us) (1721-73) and San Antonio (1773-1821). The camino real, bringing Spanish and Mexican influences northeastward, led to the exploration, conquest, colonization, settlement, migration, military occupation, religious conversion, and cultural interaction that helped shape the southern borderlands. The Old San Antonio Road brought American immigrants and influence westward to Texas during the early 19th century. This large-scale immigration led to revolt, creation of the Texas Republic and eventually its annexation to the United States, which in turn precipitated war between the U.S. and Mexico.
While the entire route of El Camino Real de los Tejas extended over 1,600 miles from Mexico City to Los Adaes, most of the route lies in Mexico today. To understand the portions of El Camino Real in the United States requires that we understand the historical context of the whole route. H.R. 2409 would allow for collaborative programs with Mexican institutions, both public and private, that would help in fully understanding history, geography, and cultures. It would also help to better preserve trail resources. Interest has been expressed by officials in Mexico for developing preservation and education programs along Mexico’s part of El Camino Real de los Tejas. If this complementary program were implemented, an international historic trail would be created with benefits leading to an increase in mutual understanding between our nations.
Partnerships and cooperation are the keystones to the development of the National Trails System. They are essential to bring about the preservation and interpretation of El Camino Real de los Tejas resources, from trail remnants to Spanish colonial structures and archeological sites. The trail crosses public and private lands and it is important that the intent of the National Trails System Act be met by respecting private property rights. This will develop solid and long-lasting relationships with partners and help stimulate and maintain a strong, grassroots-managed trail system. It is also vital that we acknowledge the pride and stewardship of all our partners, private and public, in their voluntary and good faith efforts to preserve and appropriately share their part of our national patrimony. The National Trails System Act, through its certification provisions and other incentives, provides the means to successfully stimulate voluntary preservation and interpretation efforts and bring about appropriate public use of those sites or trail segments.
With continued and even increasing public interest and efforts to help commemorate it, opportunities for partnerships along El Camino Real de los Tejas are very promising. Long-term success of the trail will depend on continued involvement from partners as well as the States of Texas and Louisiana, landowners, and other organizations and individuals. In that regard, we would strongly encourage the early creation of a nonprofit trails organization to represent the various constituencies along the trail and to enhance the public/private partnerships that make nationally designated trails successful.
Should this legislation be enacted, the National Park Service, subject to availability of funds, would prepare a comprehensive management plan with public input to identify the goals and objectives for trail preservation, research, interpretation, public use, trail marking, and cooperative management. The required national historic trail advisory council would be established with broad representation of those interested, including private landowners, to advise on trail planning and administration matters. The National Park Service would implement the plan by providing technical and limited financial assistance for preservation, historical research, planning and design for interpretation and development projects. It would also manage negotiating with and certifying qualifying sites, trail segments, and interpretive facilities. NPS would develop and manage the official trail marker symbol marking the route; and negotiate agreements with different trail partners. This would include establishing agreements with Mexico to enrich our understanding of trail history, and to exchange information to enhance resource preservation and public understanding.
We appreciate the committee’s interest in this legislation. That concludes my remarks and I would be happy to respond to any questions that you may have.