STATEMENT OF DURAND JONES, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1943, TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARY OF THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BIRTHPLACE NATIONAL MONUMENT, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting the National Park Service to present its views on S. 1943, a bill to expand the boundary of George Washington Birthplace National Monument. The Department supports the enactment of this bill.
This bill would authorize the addition of approximately 115 acres to the National Monument (Muse property). It also authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire lands or interests in lands within the boundary from willing sellers by donation, by purchase with donated money or appropriated funds or by exchange. Finally, it directs the Secretary to preserve and interpret the history and resources associated with George Washington, and the generations of the Washington family who lived in the vicinity, as well as their contemporaries, along with 17th and 18th century plantation life and society. Land acquisition costs are estimated to be $700,000. Operational costs are estimated to be $20,000 per year.
The Department remains committed to the President’s Initiative to reduce the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service. While the Department recognizes that this legislation may divert funds from this effort, the acquisition of the Muse property is essential to the viability of this nationally significant resource.
George Washington Birthplace National Monument was established as a unit of the National Park System in 1930 to preserve the grounds and structures associated with the birthplace of George Washington. It was here, along the lower reaches of the Potomac River that the man who was to become our Nation’s first president was born in 1732. At that time, this site was known as Popes Creek Plantation, owned and operated by George Washington’s father, Augustine Washington. The park is part of a cultural landscape that has remained rural 270 years after George Washington’s birth. Located in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the National Monument includes a memorial mansion with a kitchen, farm buildings, various outbuildings, an 18th Century working farm, and a visitor’s center. The park also contains woodlands, wetlands, and agricultural fields. Even today, descendants of the Washington family continue to live in the area.
This proposed legislation would include within the park boundary a privately owned parcel of land comprised of approximately 115 acres, known as the Muse tract, which is completely surrounded by the park, the Potomac River, and Popes Creek. Park roads provide the only access to this neighbor’s land. This tract has been farmed by the Muse family since 1668, was contemporary with the Washington Family farm (Popes Creek Plantation), and is historically significant since it is directly connected with the plantation. Acquisition of this tract is vital to the integrity of the park and would prevent development that could degrade the park’s pastoral setting and significant natural and cultural resources. The park’s 1968 Master Plan contained a land acquisition plan showing fee acquisition of this privately owned tract and indicated that the Muse property could be used for historic farming or could be planted to retain the appearance of a cultural landscape.
The boundaries of the National Monument have been modified numerous times since the first memorial was erected at the site in 1896. The park presently contains about 550 acres. For generations, the surrounding community has been a partner to the National Park Service in the protection of George Washington’s birthplace. Many of the landowners, such as the Muse Family, come from families that have for generations farmed the fertile soils of Virginia’s Northern Neck. It is only in the recent past that the area has started to change. Recreational use, vacations homes, and commuters to Washington D.C. and Richmond have increased the local population significantly creating development pressure that is beginning to encroach on the park. If the Muse tract is not acquired there is potential for commercial development that would directly threaten park values since the tract is surrounded by parklands. The Muse family has indicated their willingness to be included within the park boundary for eventual acquisition by the National Park Service or a park partner. The demand for land in the surrounding area is so significant that there is little doubt that the peaceful setting, the pastoral charm, and the quiet dignity of the tombs of several generations of Washingtons would be destroyed by the intrusion of modern development within the park without this legislation. Recently, a one-acre parcel of land that was proposed to be included within the park was sold.
The National Monument also contains significant natural resources. The Muse tract includes half of the Digwood Swamp (a known bald eagle habitat and nesting area), extensive grasslands, riparian and upland forests, marshes, beaches, and cliffs (most likely with significant archaeological artifacts from the Woodland and Colonial periods as well as paleontological resources) and shares the shores of Popes Creek with the park. All are relatively pristine in nature and intact ecologically. These habitats are important to wildlife found within the park that use surrounding areas as conveyances to and from feeding, resting, and breeding areas. The preservation of this national treasure can only be accomplished by including the Muse tract within the boundary of the park.
The proposal to add the Muse property to the National Monument is supported by the Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors, the Chantilly Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Parks Mid-Atlantic Council, the George Washington Birthplace National Memorial Association, and most importantly, the owners of the property.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment. This concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.