STATEMENT OF BRENDA BARRETT, NATIONAL COORDINATOR FOR HERITAGE AREAS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 2388, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO STUDY THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF DESIGNATING CERTAIN SITES IN THE HISTORIC DISTRICT OF BEAUFORT, SOUTH CAROLINA AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM.

 

JUNE 20, 2002

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 2388.  This bill would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of certain sites in the historic district of Beaufort, South Carolina, relating to the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era.

 

The Department supports S. 2388, with amendments described in this testimony.  However, the Department did not request additional funding for this study in FiscalYear 2003.  We believe that any funding requested should be directed towards completing previously authorized studies.  Presently, there are 37 studies pending, of which we hope to transmit at least 7 to Congress by the end of 2002.  To meet the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, we must continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.  Thus, we have concerns about potential new funding requirements for new park units, national trails, wild and scenic rivers or heritage areas.  To estimate these potential new funding requirements, the Administration will identify in each study all of the costs to establish, operate and maintain the new site.  At this time, those costs are unknown.

 

S. 2388 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of historical sites in the historic district of Beaufort, South Carolina, relating to the Reconstruction Era. The study would evaluate the sites’ national significance and the suitability and feasibility of designating them as a unit of the National Park System.  The bill calls for the study to be conducted in accordance with P.L. 91-383 (16 U.S.C. 1a-1 et seq.), which contains the criteria for studying areas for potential inclusion in the National Park System, except that it requires the study to be completed within two years after funds are made available for the study, rather than three years as the law provides for.

 

The Reconstruction Era is generally considered to be the period between 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, and the withdrawal of Federal troops from the South following the Compromise of 1877 that resolved the contested presidential election of 1876.  The term “Reconstruction” reflects both the literal rebuilding of the war-ravaged South and the more metaphorical rebuilding of the Union following the divisive and destructive conflict.  It was a controversial, difficult, and violent period in American history characterized by the adoption of new constitutional amendments and laws, the establishment of new institutions, and the occurrence of significant political events all surrounding the efforts to reincorporate the South into the Union and to provide newly freed slaves with political rights and opportunities to improve their lives. 

 

The Beaufort, South Carolina area contains a number of sites that are associated with events and individuals significant to the Reconstruction Era.  Among these are the Penn School on St. Helena Island, the location of an important educational experiment in that era; the Freedmen’s Bureau, located at Beaufort College, where the Federal Government conducted official business regarding emancipated slaves; the Freedman’s Village of Mitchellville on Hilton Head Island; and sites associated with Robert Smalls, an African-American who served in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Reconstruction Era.

 

The Department recommends several amendments to S. 2388.  Most significantly, we believe that it would be appropriate to add an authorization of a National Historic Landmark theme study on the Reconstruction Era that would be conducted in tandem with this proposed special resource study.  A theme study would enable the National Park Service to establish a context for determining the significance of different sites related to Reconstruction in relationship to one another.  Although historians generally view the Beaufort sites that would be studied under S. 2388 as historically significant, the National Park Service has not determined how significant these sites are in comparison to other sites associated with Reconstruction.  A theme study would help provide that information.    

 

In addition, we recommend the following changes to S. 2388:

 

First, we recommend that the short title in Section 1 be changed to reflect that the study would center on sites in Beaufort County, South Carolina.

 

Second, we recommend that the seventh finding in Section 2 be deleted.  That finding says that “the National Park System does not have a park or historic site that focuses primarily on the preservation and interpretation of the Reconstruction Era.”  This is a factual matter that has yet to be verified.  The existence, or lack, of Reconstruction Era resources in the National Park System would be investigated in the study as part of determining whether the Beaufort sites would be a suitable addition to the National Park System.

 

Third, we recommend that the language defining the study area in Section 3 should be revised to be consistent with the specific sites cited.  As drafted, the bill says the study area means sites in the historic district of Beaufort, but then it names several sites that are outside of the city of Beaufort.  This matter could be addressed by referencing the County of Beaufort, which encompasses all the sites named in the bill.

 

Fourth, we recommend that the timeframe for the study provided in Section 4 be lengthened from two years to three years, and that the study be required to determine the “national significance” of the area as well as its suitability and feasibility for inclusion in the National Park System.  These changes would be consistent with P.L. 91-383, as amended by the National Park Service Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (P.L 105-391).

 

We would be happy to work with the subcommittee to develop amendments for the purposes described above.   

 

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.