STATEMENT OF KATHERINE STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING S. 213 and H.R. 37, TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM ACT TO UPDATE THE FEASIBILITY AND SUITABILITY STUDIES OF 4 NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAILS AND PROVIDE FOR POSSIBLE ADDITIONS TO SUCH TRAILS.
April 26, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 213 and H.R. 37, bills that would amend the National Trails System Act to update the feasibility and suitability studies of the Oregon, California, Pony Express and Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trails (NHT).
Both S. 213 and H.R. 37 would update the feasibility and suitability studies and make recommendations through the examination of additional routes and cutoffs not included in the initial studies of all four trails. The Secretary of the Interior would determine if any of these routes and cutoffs are eligible as additions to the four NHTs at the completion of these studies. Further, both bills would authorize the Secretary to make authorization of any of these additional routes and cutoffs if she found them eligible.
The Department supports both bills. However, the Department did not request additional funding for updating these studies in Fiscal Year 2003. We believe that any funding requested should be directed towards completing previously authorized studies. Presently, there are 40 studies pending, of which we hope to transmit 15 to Congress by the end of 2002. New studies can eventually result in new designations, and we believe that it is important to focus our resources on working down the deferred maintenance backlog at existing parks. Of the studies underway during the ten-year period between 1989 and 1998, NPS has transmitted 79 studies to Congress. These 79 studies resulted in 15 new NPS units, 14 heritage areas, and 10 other types of designations or programs. To plan for the future of our National Parks, the Administration will identify in each study the costs to establish, operate, and maintain the site should it result in a future designation.
The feasibility study for the Oregon NHT was completed in 1977, the study for the Mormon Pioneer NHT in 1978, and the one for the California and Pony Express NHTs in 1987. Since those studies have been completed, additional routes and cutoffs were identified, and may qualify as parts of these trails. The National Trails System Act makes no provision by which such additional routes and cutoffs may be evaluated and added to national historic trails.
The Oregon NHT, authorized in 1978, commemorates the "primary route" used by emigrants beginning in 1841 between Independence, Missouri and Oregon City, Oregon. Traveled by thousands, the trail contained many routes and cutoffs used through the years. These secondary routes had substantial emigrant traffic over several decades that demonstrate historical significance and are thus worthy of examination in an updated study.
The authorization of the Mormon NHT in 1978 commemorates the journey of the pioneer party in 1846-1847 from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah. As with the Oregon NHT, emigrant traffic occurred on many additional routes during the Mormon migration westward. Similarly with the other trails, these routes are more often than not coincident or shared with one another. Preliminary data indicate traffic along those routes during the historic period and there are additional routes to be studied for these two trails.
Authorized in 1992, the California NHT commemorates the gold rush to the Sierra Nevada. Dozens of routes and cutoffs were traveled by thousands of pioneers, but no single route dominated.
The Pony Express NHT was included in the same authorizing legislation as the California NHT. It commemorates the efforts of this nation struggling to establish a system of communication across the Trans-Missouri west. The trail primarily follows routes beginning at St. Joseph, Missouri and ending in San Francisco, California. The firm of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, a western Missouri freighting company, set up and operated the Pony Express for one and a half years before it fell on hard times and ceased to exist. A short section of the trail, from the Missouri River into Kansas, maybe worthy of study and is included in both S. 213 and H.R. 37.
All four trails overlap one another in many locations and several of the routes and cutoffs proposed for study in S. 213 and H.R. 37 are already part of designated trails. These shared routes are prominent where the trails depart from various points along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, particularly in the Kansas City, St. Joseph, Nebraska City, Council Bluffs and Omaha areas. Several other shared locations include routes in western Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and California. Study and multiple designation at the appropriate time of several routes and cutoffs would assure greater historical accuracy along the trails.
The National Trail System Act requires that studies of lands proposed for trails be made in consultation with federal, state, and local agencies, as well as nonprofit trail organizations. Between 1994 and 1999, the National Park Service—in collaboration with the Bureau of Land Management, USDA Forest Service, trail advocacy groups and others—completed the Comprehensive Management and Use Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (1999) for the four trails. This was the initial plan for the recently established California and Pony Express NHTs as well as a revised plans for the earlier established Oregon and Mormon Pioneer NHTs. S. 213 and H.R. 37 would allow for the consideration of these additional alternates and cutoffs by authorizing an update of the original studies done for these four trails to evaluate which ones are eligible for designation as NHT segments. S. 213 and H.R. 37 would authorize the Department of the Interior to work closely with federal agencies, state, local and tribal governments, local landowners and other interested parties.
Historic trails cross public and private lands and the intent of the National Trails System Act is one of respecting private property rights. In so doing, the development of strong partnerships is critical to administering and managing the historic trails and achieving preservation of trail resources and interpretation of the trail to the public. The four national trails included in this legislation demonstrate existing public and private partnerships.
This concludes my testimony. I would be happy to respond to any questions that you or members of the subcommittee may have.