STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING H.R. 532, THE RANCHO CORRAL de TIERRA GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA BOUNDARY ADJUSTMENT ACT OF 2003

JULY 15, 2003


 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R 532, a bill to revise the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (NRA) and to extend the term of the advisory commission for the recreation area.

H.R. 532 would facilitate a partnership effort between the State of California and the federal government to protect and make available for public use over 4,700 acres of coastal mountain lands south of San Francisco that have exceptional natural, scenic, and recreational values. These lands would be an appropriate addition to Golden Gate NRA. However, we recommend that the committee defer action on H.R. 532 during the 108th Congress. The Department supported similar legislation last Congress but, because of the major priority the Administration has placed on reducing the National Park Service's backlog of deferred maintenance, we have been taking a closer look at proposals that could divert resources from that effort. This proposal would entail $15 million in federal land acquisition costs along with an unknown amount of operation, maintenance, and facility costs.

The existing National Park System has more demands on it than ever before. Since 1991, 34 new units have been added to the System. These units alone in FY 2003 add $25.6 million to the System's operating budget, over 30 million in unfunded operational needs, and over $265 million in unfunded one-time projects. In addition, we have expanded a number of units over that time period. Expansions also can bring with them increases in operational costs and maintenance needs. These units and expansions include important resources that we as Americans recognize as nationally significant. Our focus now though is to take better care of the natural, cultural, and historic resources and visitor facilities already in the System.

H.R. 532 would also extend the Golden Gate NRA Advisory Commission for 10 years. The Department has no objection to this portion of the legislation.

Golden Gate NRA was established in 1972 by Public Law 92-589 ". . . to preserve for public use and enjoyment certain areas of Marin and San Francisco Counties . . ." and was expanded to include lands within San Mateo County in 1980. Located at the center of a metropolitan area of more than eight million people, a major factor in the significance of Golden Gate NRA is its ability to provide national park experiences to unprecedented numbers of local, regional, national, and international visitors.

H.R. 532 would expand the boundary of Golden Gate NRA to include lands known as the Rancho Corral de Tierra and the Devil's Slide area, expanding the portion of the NRA within San Mateo County. Along with protecting an unusually large piece of significant scenic and ecological resources that are linked to existing parklands, the addition of these properties would provide the NRA with a logical and understandable southern boundary.

The Corral de Tierra property includes 4,262 acres and contains the headwaters and most of the watershed of the four major coastal stream systems, providing riparian habitat for a number of threatened and endangered animal species, and a scenic backdrop that visually distinguishes the San Mateo mid-coast region. The peaks of Montara Mountain rise to more than 1,800 feet just two miles from the water's edge, providing some of the most spectacular panoramic views to be found in northern California. This property was acquired by the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in 2001 for $29.7 million. POST is holding the land in anticipation of having it included within the boundaries of Golden Gate NRA and conveying it to the National Park Service and/or other public land management agencies for $15 million from the federal government and $14 million from the State of California. The state's contribution is contingent upon a matching federal contribution to the purchase.

In addition to the Corral de Tierra property, H.R. 532 would also include within the boundaries of Golden Gate NRA approximately 461 acres of land in the area known as the Devil's Slide. These lands are associated with plans by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to reroute Highway 1 through a new tunnel that is to be constructed in the area.


These proposed additions to the recreation area were the subject of a boundary study conducted by POST in May 2001, in consultation with National Park Service staff, which found that these properties meet the criteria established by the National Park Service for addition of land to units of the National Park System. The properties include many old trails and farm roads that could be easily adapted to recreational use, which could become the principal visitor activity within the area, and would provide trail links to state and county parks in the area. In addition, these lands would be of great value through their role in protecting important wildlife habitat and maintaining the integrity of scenic views.

The Corral de Tierra parcels contain 232 acres of active agricultural land that is farmed under a lease agreement with POST. POST, the current agricultural tenant, and the community would like this activity to continue. The National Park Service would also like this use to remain, as we believe that the agriculture lands are part of the cultural landscape of this area. Section 317 of P.L. 95-625 provides for continued use for agricultural, ranching or dairying purposes with respect to lands purchased for the NRA and would apply to the new addition.

H.R 532 also extends the term of the advisory commission for the recreation area for 10 years from the date this legislation is signed into law. The advisory commission was established by the same law that created the recreation area in 1972 and serves to provide for the free exchange of ideas between the National Park Service and the public. The 30-year term for the commission expired on October 27, 2002.

If the committee decides to act on the boundary expansion portion of H.R. 532, we recommend amending H.R. 532 to substitute a new map reference. The new map excludes the "Devil's Slide Tunnel alternative" from the boundary. H.R. 532 as introduced excludes a portion of this area from the boundary, but does so through the text of the bill rather than by delineation on the map. We think there will be less confusion about the boundary over the long run if the new map reference is used in the legislation. This change would conform the language of H.R. 532 to that of S. 302, companion legislation that the Senate passed on April 3, 2003.

That concludes my testimony. I would be glad to answer any questions that you or the members of the subcommittee may have.