May 19, 2003
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 "
The park land north of the Schuylkill River is not as well-known to the public as that on the south side, which was developed by the Commonwealth with tour routes, trails, and exhibits for visitor use. This land is no less significant, however. The north side, including the parcel within the park boundary that is currently owned by the Toll Brothers Corporation, contains cultural and natural resources that date back to the encampment era.
As the site of the commissary for the encampment and the final weeks of the encampment itself, this area has the same historic significance as the lands south of the Schuylkill River. The area was so important to General Washington that he ordered a bridge to be built across the river to enable constant traffic between the two sides. The road trace that led to the bridge is still present in the park. There are historic structures and numerous archeological resources of national significance throughout the north side.
Because of its recent land use history, the north side contains special habitat for birds and plant species of special concern, as listed by the Commonwealth's Natural Diversity Inventory. The land also is increasingly popular for recreational use: three miles of the Schuylkill River bike/hike trail have just been completed through the north side, and have attracted 40,000 users each month since its ribbon-cutting in July.
The National Park Service (NPS) has avoided development on the north side until the historic events that took place here are fully understood, and until the full extent of the rich archeological remains are completely 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 underway. 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.
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 that have direct historical relationships with the sites. At battlefield parks such as Gettysburg, Yorktown, and Antietam, the cemeteries constitute and are managed as historic resources.
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. 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." 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." This policy would apply to Valley Forge NHP.
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.