STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 980, TO ESTABLISH MOCCASIN BEND NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE IN THE STATE OF TENNESSEE AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM.

 

JUNE 12, 2002

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 980, which would establish the Moccasin Bend National Historic Site in Chattanooga, Tennessee as a unit of the National Park System.

 

The Department recommends that the Committee defer action on this legislation during the remainder of the 107th Congress.  The Department has reviewed our progress on the President’s Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, and it is clear that we need to continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.  For this reason, the Department will only support new designations that involve no new cost or minimal cost to the Federal government for land acquisition, operations, and maintenance. 

 

In addition, with respect to this particular proposal, the Department has concerns with some of the provisions of H.R. 980 and has some recommendations for amendments to address the National Park Service’s ability to ensure the long-term protection of the resources and to accommodate public use at Moccasin Bend.

 

H.R. 980, which passed the House of Representatives on October 23, 2001, would establish a new unit of the National Park System focused on archeological resources that relate to the American Indians who inhabited Moccasin Bend for several thousands of years before Europeans came to North America.  It would also include resources related to the Union’s siege of Chattanooga during the Civil War and the 1838 and 1839 removal of Cherokee Indians from their ancestral homes along the Trail of Tears.  Most of the land that would comprise this unit is part of the area designated in 1986 as the Moccasin Bend Archeological District National Historic Landmark. The unit would also include land known as the Rock-Tenn property that was part of the Trail of Tears route and a parcel contiguous to the archeological district, the Serodino property, that appears to be a a suitable site for a visitor center.

 

The State of Tennessee and local authorities own most of the land within Moccasin Bend, although there are some private holdings in the area.  H.R. 980 as passed by the House would authorize the land within the boundary of the national historic site to be acquired by donation, exchange, or purchase from willing sellers.  It provides that the Secretary of the Interior may accept a donation of the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute—one of two major incompatible uses at Moccasin Bend—only after the facility is no longer used to provide health care services, except for any land the State determines is excess to the needs of the facility. The legislation excludes from the boundary of the national historic site the part of the archeological district that is currently leased for a golf course—the other major incompatible use—but it does allow the Secretary to acquire the golf course if it ceases to be used for that purpose. 

 

In addition, H.R. 980 provides authority for the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with other parties for the preservation, development, interpretation, and use of the historic site, and allows the Secretary to use a portion of the visitor center established for the historic site as an additional interpretive center for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. 

 

Efforts to include Moccasin Bend in the National Park System date back to 1950, when Congress enacted legislation that authorized the acquisition by donation of 1,400 acres of Moccasin Bend for addition to the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.  At that time, Moccasin Bend was almost entirely open space.  State, county, and city governments acquired property, but did not transfer any of the land to the National Park Service.  Instead, a significant portion of the land was used for other purposes.

 

The 1950 legislation was based largely on the desire to maintain the view from Lookout Mountain that was nearly unchanged from the Civil War era.  Since that time, Moccasin Bend has been recognized for its nationally significant cultural resources. Surrounded on three sides by the Tennessee River, Moccasin Bend possesses a special collection of continuous prehistoric and historic sites that chronicle important aspects of human history on the North American continent, including (1) transitional Paleo-Archaic and Archaic sites, (2) Woodland period settlement sites and burial mounds, (3) fortified proto-historic villages, (4) Spanish exploration and settlement of the southeastern United States, (5) contact between native and nonnative peoples, (6) part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and (7) the location of Union earthworks, such as cannon emplacements, rifle pits, bivouac pads, and access roads, which were of strategic importance in breaking the Confederate hold on Chattanooga in the fall of 1863.  The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, and 956 acres of Moccasin Bend were designated as the Moccasin Bend Archeological District National Historic Landmark in 1986. 

 

In 1998 and 1999, at the direction of Congress, the NPS prepared the Cooperative Management Plan/Environmental Assessment for Moccasin Bend in accordance with guidelines for special resource studies.  This process followed other Moccasin Bend planning efforts in the 1990’s, including a Chattanooga citizen involvement planning process called “Revision 2000,” and a battlefield preservation plan for Civil War resources within the national historic landmark prepared by the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park.  The study was called a cooperative management plan to emphasize the close working relationships that had developed among local, regional, state, federal, and tribal governments as well as the extensive public participation involved in the effort.  As is standard procedure for special resource studies, this study examined the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of adding this site to the National Park System.

 

The determination of national significance had already been established through the designation of the Moccasin Bend Archeological District National Historic Landmark in 1986 because of its significance to American Indian and U.S. military history.  The study reconfirmed this significance, pointing out that the area has the best intact concentration of archeological resources known to exist in the entire main 650-mile Tennessee River valley, and that the quality, diversity, and broad accessibility of these resources cannot be matched in any other American metropolitan area.  The study also found that the extant earthworks of the Battle of Chattanooga within the archeological district are the best preserved of all physical remnants of that battle and the only recognized unit of Union army gun emplacements, trenches, and support areas remaining extant from that costly campaign.

 

The study also found that the Moccasin Bend Archeological District met the test of suitability for a unit of the National Park System, in that it represented a theme or resource that is not already adequately represented in the National Park System nor is comparably represented and protected for public enjoyment by another land-managing entity.  Although American Indian archeological sites are represented in the National Park System, none of the designated units possess the extensive range of excavated archeological resources as well as unexcavated subsurface resources for which Moccasin Bend is significant.  The length of continuous cultural occupation at Moccasin Bend—10,000 years—is not duplicated anywhere else within the National Park System.

 

With respect to the test of feasibility, however, the study found that certain conditions needed to be met for the area to be considered feasible as a new unit of the National Park System.  To be feasible for inclusion, an area’s natural systems and/or historic settings must be of sufficient size and appropriate configuration to ensure long-term protection of the resources and to accommodate public use, and it must have potential for efficient administration at reasonable cost.  The study found that unless the incompatible uses within the archeological district were removed and the land was restored to resemble the way it looked at the time of the 1950 legislation, the area would not be feasible as a unit of the National Park System.  The study determined that those uses need to be removed in order to provide visitors a quality experience in a landscape reminiscent of its past, comprehensively protect archeological resources and provide for additional research opportunities, and attract tourists to visit Moccasin Bend in large numbers.   So long as any of the 956 acres remained under the jurisdiction of entities that do not have resource preservation as a primary goal, there would always be a risk that future management actions could damage or destroy subsurface cultural resources.

 

The facilities within the archeological district that are incompatible with the park include the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute, a public golf course, radio towers, a law enforcement firearms training range, and a model airplane facility.  All of those facilities, except for the radio towers, are on land that is owned by the State or local authorities.  Since H.R. 980 was first introduced, the National Park Service has been engaged in discussions with the legislation’s sponsor, Representative Zach Wamp, and with Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, to address these incompatible uses in a way that avoids a sudden disruption in existing activities, yet assures that, in time, there would be a viable unit of the National Park System at Moccasin Bend.

 

Our support for H.R. 980 is contingent upon amending it to provide that the establishment of the site would occur only after certain requirements related to land transfers and operational issues are met.   Those requirements would include:

1)      Receiving from the State the land it owns within the archeological district except for that needed to operate the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute;

2)      Receiving from the State the donation in escrow of the remainder of the land it owns in the archeological district containing the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute.  The transfer of the property to the United States should occur by a reasonable date (preferably no later than December 31, 2015);

3)      Receiving from Hamilton County and the City of Chattanooga the donation of the land they own within the archeological district except for the land used for the golf course, the law enforcement firearms training range and model airplane facility;

4)      Receiving from Hamilton County and the City of Chattanooga a written commitment to transfer to the United States the land used for the law enforcement firearms training range and the model airplane facility within five years of enactment of the legislation and to transfer the golf course to the United States if it is no longer used for that purpose;

5)      The signing of a memorandum of agreement by the State, the County, the City, and the Secretary of the Interior that addresses issues of mutual concern for operating a national historic site at Moccasin Bend.  These issues would likely include such matters as consulting with the National Park Service and American Indian groups about excavation activities on land remaining in the ownership of  the State and local authorities; permitting access to each others’ land for various purposes, and providing security for people residing and visiting Moccasin Bend.    

 

In addition, the Administration has concerns about the costs of removal of hazardous waste and the restoration of the transferred land to resemble the area’s 1950 appearance.  We would like to work with the State, the County, and the City to address those concerns.

 

There are also other changes to the legislation as passed by the House that the Department would like to recommend to the committee at an appropriate time. 

For example, we believe that the legislation should list the three primary themes that would be interpreted at the site: American Indian settlement, the Civil War siege of Chattanooga, and the Trail of Tears.

 

The National Park Service is currently discussing with the offices of Senators Frist and Thompson and Representative Wamp the means of obtaining commitments for the land transfers and an agreement on operational issues that we are seeking.  One option that has been raised as an alternative to amending the legislation as described above would be to obtain written commitments from the State, the County, and the City for these actions.  The committee may want to consider that option, if such commitments could be secured prior to reporting the legislation.

 

The actions we are seeking from the State and local authorities before establishing a national historic site at Moccasin Bend are significantly less demanding than those recommended in the 1999 study the National Park Service conducted for the site.  For example, the study called for the City and County to remove the golf course and restore the cultural landscape there by 2005, and for the State to remove the mental health institute facilities and restore the cultural landscape there by 2009.  We are now recommending a course of action in which the local authorities would be able to maintain the golf course indefinitely, so long as they commit to transferring the land for the national historic site if the golf course is ever closed, and in which the State would be able to continue operating the mental health institute until the date of transfer, which would likely be beyond 2009.   

 

These are compromises that recognize that, although there appears to be strong support in the Chattanooga community for establishing the national historic site, there is also a reluctance there to accept the closing of existing operations at Moccasin Bend that provide other benefits to the community, at least in the near term.  We believe that the resources at Moccasin Bend are so significant, and so worthy of protecting and interpreting for the public, that we would be willing to accept this site as a unit of the National Park System under the less-than-ideal terms we have outlined.   

 

Mr. Chairman, to summarize our position on H.R. 980, we ask the committee to defer action on this legislation for the remainder of this Congress.  But if the committee decides to take further action on this legislation, we would like to work with the committee to develop amendments to H.R. 980 to provide for specified transfers of land from the State and local authorities to the United States and an agreement on operational issues, unless the committee determines that a written commitment from State and local authorities is sufficient to assure that those actions will occur.

 

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