STATEMENT OF JEFFREY K. TAYLOR, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE AND CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2623, A BILL TO DESIGNATE THE CEDAR CREEK BATTLEFIELD AND BELLE GROVE PLANTATION NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM.
The bill would also establish the Cedar Creek Battlefield and Belle Grove Plantation National Historical Park Advisory Commission to ensure local, regional, and national involvement in the preparation and implementation of a management plan for the national historical park and to identify additional sites of significance outside the park boundary. Finally, S. 2623 would authorize the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with private landowners, non-profit organizations, governmental entities, and others for the purpose of preserving, interpreting, operating, maintaining, and managing park resources.
For over 135 years there have been local efforts to protect the Civil War heritage of the Shenandoah Valley. Numerous States have acknowledged the importance of the Shenandoah Valley by placing monuments and memorials on the historic landscape to honor the lives lost in battle.
The Battle of Cedar Creek, also known as the Battle of Belle Grove, was a major event of the Civil War and the history of this country. It represented the end of the Shenandoah Valley campaign of 1864. This victory by Union forces had major political implications, as well in contributing to the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln. With President Lincoln’s reelection, the resolve of the Union side to continue the war was assured.
The Plantation of Belle Grove was at the center of the decisive battle of Cedar Creek. In addition to the value of the site itself, the Belle Grove Plantation permits the story of the battle, the Shenandoah Valley, and the way of life in America before, during, and after the Civil War to be told. The site also includes a significant Manor House and a slave cemetery, among many other important elements. As such, the recognition in this legislation of both the battle and the way of life at that time enormously adds to our appreciation of the significance and meaning of the Shenandoah Valley and the Civil War. The park boundary represents portions of the historical core of the battlefield and includes the remaining earthworks, the Vermont Monument, and the New York Monument.
The Belle Grove Plantation Manor House was built in 1797 with design assistance from President Thomas Jefferson. The Manor House was saved by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has been open to the public as a National Trust Historic Site and private museum since 1967. Several other private historic homes within the boundary are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Historic Register. In addition, in 1969, the National Park Service formally honored the national significance of the Shenandoah Valley in the Civil War with the designation of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historic Landmark.
Due to a unique combination of natural features, the area around Cedar Creek has a nearly uninterrupted history of human occupation, as evidenced by archaeological remains. The park also memorializes the important stories of the area including how Belle Grove Plantation was constructed and operated by African-American slaves who also used caves and caverns in and around Cedar Creek as part of the Underground Railroad.
The legislation would permit the Belle Grove Plantation and the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation to continue to privately own their respective resources critical to the story of Cedar Creek, while permitting the National Park Service to acquire adjacent lands within the boundary from willing sellers only. The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation may continue to conduct its reenactments, a primary purpose of the Foundation. It is anticipated that these organizations will remain as full partners within the boundary, working together with the National Park Service and other partners in a regional collaboration.
The legislation also fully implements the purposes of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District and Commission Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-333, Title VI, Section 606) and strengthens the already valuable partnership between the National Park Service and the recently created Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. It responds to the findings of the previous Special Resources Study, prepared by the National Park Service, and the Foundation’s approved management plan for the National Historic District.
After the Civil War Advisory Commission recognized the significance of and threats to a great number of battlefields in the Shenandoah Valley, Congress responded with legislation to establish a national park unit that could have potentially included 12 battlefield units in excess of 100,000 acres. The National Park Service, at that time, opposed this as the wrong approach to protecting this historic landscape, and recommended a heritage partnership instead. As a result, Congress established both a National Historic District to function as the heritage partnership, and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to prepare a Special Resource Study to determine “whether the District or components thereof meet the criteria for designation as a unit of the National Park Service.”
The Special Resource Study analyzed an approximately 93,000-acre region including 10 battlefield sites. It determined that that there is a current need for direct National Park Service management on core portions of the Cedar Creek Battlefield within a study area for that battlefield that consisted of 15,000 acres. The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation and other non-profit and public entities will preserve lands at other battlefield sites in the National Historic District.
The bill is supported by the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Belle Grove Incorporated, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, and the Counties of Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren, as well as the towns of Strasburg and Middletown, demonstrating that the park proposal has broad local backing.
Should the Committee proceed with the legislation, we believe some amendments are needed to clarify various provisions and to conform the language to that used for other units of the National Park System. We look forward to working with you and the sponsors if this bill moves forward.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be glad to answer any question that you or members of the subcommittee might have.