STATEMENT OF ARTHUR STEWART, SUPERINTENDENT, VALLEY FORGE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING A PROPOSAL TO ESTABLISH A VETERANS’ CEMETERY IN SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA.
June 4, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on a proposal to establish a veterans’ cemetery in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A position on any specific legislative proposal about the use of park land will be made after a review of the proposals by the policy staff of the Department in Washington, DC. I will limit my comments to the history of proposals to use the park and will try to provide some additional understanding of the resources associated with the park.
The lands on which General George Washington and his troops encamped during the winter of 1777/78 long have been understood to be sacred to Americans. Washington himself revisited the site in 1787 during the deliberations of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Public commemorations of the encampment began as early as 1828. Patriotic rallies, ceremonies and excursions brought thousands of visitors to the site of the encampment each year, and just after the Centennial of the Revolution, a citizens’ group began to acquire the lands for preservation. In 1893, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania established Valley Forge as its first state park. Its stated purpose was "perpetuating and preserving the site on which the Continental Army under General George Washington was encamped in winter quarters … to be preserved and maintained forever as a public park."
In 1921, 1952, and again in 1956, there were proposals to establish a veterans’ cemetery within the park. Each time the proposals failed because, as was noted in 1921, "it would not be proper to devote the park to a purpose other than that for which it was created."
Beginning in the early 1970s, public concern about the increasing recreational use of the park and the sprawl at the park’s edges led to a campaign to transfer Valley Forge to the National Park System. In 1975, controversy over the proper use of the park exploded when the Veterans Administration announced that it would seek to acquire part of the park for establishment of a national cemetery, and went so far as to dig test graves in the park. The ensuing uproar gave added impetus to the preservation initiative, which by then was part of legislation introduced in the United States Senate by Senator Hugh Scott. Senator Scott noted that his bill was "grounded on my lifelong sense of history and my desire to preserve for the future generations a priceless national heritage."
Public Law 94-337 establishing Valley Forge National Historical Park was signed by President Gerald Ford in a special ceremony at the park on July 4, 1976. The purpose of the park as established by Congress is "to preserve and commemorate for the people of the United States the area associated with the heroic suffering, hardship and determination and resolve of General George Washington’s Continental Army…" To ensure that the will of the people would be carried out, the Commonwealth, in its deed of transfer to the federal government, stipulated a limitation on the use of the land "to recreational and historical purposes only, specifically excluding use as a national cemetery …"
The park lands north of the Schuylkill River are not as well known to the public as those on the south side, which have been developed with tour routes, trails, and exhibits for visitor use. These lands are no less significant; part of the encampment, as well as the commissary that served all the troops, was located here. Also on these lands are the remains of farm buildings and fields used to house and feed the troops.
The National Park Service (NPS) has avoided development on the north side until the events that took place here are fully understood, and until what are likely to be very rich archeological remains are fully explored. We have begun archeological studies in the park and we believe there is significant potential for discovery of important archeological resources on the north side. A new general management plan, which will involve the public in determining appropriate types and levels of use for the park, is to be initiated this fall. This planning process will be based on the results of the new research. While we do not yet know what the appropriate level of public use of these lands will be, we know that it will respect the exceptional significance of this place. We believe that this is a prudent approach that is in keeping with the importance of Valley Forge; the same cautious approach that has been taken by each of its stewards since the time of the encampment.
National Park Service Management Policies 2001 describes the prohibition by the NPS Organic Act of any action that would "harm the integrity of park resources or values, including the opportunities that otherwise would be present for the enjoyment of those resources or values." The structures, landscapes, and artifacts of Valley Forge National Historical Park are nationally significant resources that represent the story of the encampment, and that constitute the reason for which the park has been revered by Americans and for which it was established by Congress.
Across the country, fourteen national cemeteries are located within the boundaries of national parks. In every case, these are historic cemeteries that were established before the parks themselves and have direct historical relationships with the parks. At battlefield parks such as Gettysburg, Yorktown, and Antietam, the cemeteries constitute and are managed as historic resources. Although these cemeteries are highly valued as integral parts of the parks, Management Policies specifically prohibits the enlargement of such cemeteries, noting that enlargement "constitutes a modern intrusion, compromising the historical character of both the cemetery and the historical park, and will not be permitted."
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.