Land Bills: H.R. 3114



STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,

DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS

OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES

REGARDING H.R. 3114,

A BILL TO ESTABLISH A COMMEMORATIVE TRAIL

IN CONNECTION WITH WOMEN’S RIGHTS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK

TO LINK PROPERTIES THAT ARE HISTORICALLY AND THEMATICALLY ASSOCIATED

WITH THE STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 SEPTEMBER 11, 2008

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 3114, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish a commemorative “Votes for Women History Trail Route” in connection with Women’s Rights National Historical Park.  The trail route would link sites that are historically and thematically associated with the struggle for women’s suffrage in the State of New York.

 The Department could support this legislation if amended to delete grant authorizations in sections 3 and 4.  On July 30, 2008, the Department testified on the Senate companion bill, S. 1816.

 The Omnibus Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 1999 (Public Law 105-277) provided funding for a Women’s Rights National History Trail feasibility study.  The study team documented women’s rights history-related properties reaching from Maine to Virginia, including the District of Columbia. The largest numbers of properties in the Northeast were in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the State of New York.  The study team considered a long-distance trail in the corridor between Boston and Buffalo, but determined that this concept was not viable based upon the lack of properties between these two places. The study also found that the trail would not meet the criteria as a national historic trail under the National Trails System Act.

 The study concluded that significant concentrations of resources associated with the struggle for women’s suffrage in the United States lie within an area stretching from Syracuse, New York in the east through the Finger Lakes region westerly to Rochester. In the midst of this concentration of resources are the towns of Seneca Falls and Waterloo, New York, where the first women’s rights convention in America was planned and held in 1848.  Women’s Rights National Historical Park, established in 1980 by Public Law 96-607, preserves and interprets the important sites associated with the formal beginning of the struggle for equal rights for women in the United States.  It was at Seneca Falls in 1848 that the Declaration of Sentiments was signed, advocating for political, economic, educational, religious, and societal equality for women.

 The final report described three concepts that could support the recognition, promotion, and protection of properties associated with women’s rights history:  A “Votes for Women” History Trail, a vehicular tour route linking together a number of historic properties associated with women’s suffrage in New York State;  a National Women’s Rights History Project focused on expanding the number of properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places that are associated with women’s rights;  and a National Women’s Rights History Project and Partnerships Network that would offer financial and technical assistance to participating members for interpretive and educational program development through the use of partnerships and matching grants. A final report was transmitted to Congress in January 2004. 

 Section 2 of H.R. 3114 would amend Public Law 96-607 to establish a “Votes for Women History Trail Route”, a vehicular tour route linking sites associated with the 72-year struggle for women’s suffrage across New York State, a movement which spread throughout the nation. The trail route would be administered by the National Park Service through Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The National Park Service would be authorized to support the development of interpretive signage and to develop and disseminate interpretive and educational materials and media to provide public understanding and appreciation of the resources along the trail route and their respective roles in the women’s suffrage movement. Sites along the trail route could include the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, and Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn. 

 Section 2 of the bill would also authorize the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with other Federal agencies, the State of New York, and other governmental and private entities to facilitate the development of the trail route and to provide technical and financial assistance to such organizations to achieve the purposes of the legislation.  The public/private partnerships envisioned would provide opportunities for the public to learn about the rich, yet largely unknown history of the struggle for women’s suffrage in the United States, while enhancing preservation of the remaining tangible resources associated with this effort.

  Section 3 of the bill would establish a National Women’s Rights History Project National Registry that would authorize the Secretary to provide grants to State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) to assist in surveying, evaluating, and nominating women’s rights history properties for consideration to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Such activities are already within the purview of existing SHPO responsibilities. This legislation would therefore duplicate SHPO responsibilities, and divert limited available funds for broad SHPO responsibilities to a specific set of beneficiaries and purposes. SHPOs already have the ability to add sites to the National Park Service’s website, “Places Where Women Made History.” The website lists historic places associated with women’s history in New York and Massachusetts, travel itineraries, maps, photographs, and other information about these historic properties. The website has the capacity to provide opportunities for citizens of this nation, and those outside of the United States, to learn about the sites and people associated with the struggle for women’s rights in America. These struggles remain relevant in American society today, and provide inspiration to others seeking equal rights in their own countries.

 Finally, section 4 of H.R. 3114 provides for the establishment of a National Women’s Rights History Project Partnerships Network, managed through a nongovernmental entity, which would offer matching grants and technical assistance for the purpose of providing interpretive, educational, and historic preservation program development. The establishment of such a network would earmark historic preservation grants for a specific set of beneficiaries and would divert available resources for broader historic preservation purposes. NPS already has the authority to enter into collaborative proposals that could involve a variety of property types and that would be anchored by one or more National Register-eligible properties.

 We believe that particular aspects of H.R. 3114 provide the opportunity for all to gain a clear understanding and appreciation of the sacrifices and contributions of those associated with the quest for women’s rights in the past, and for those who continue their work today throughout the world. However, we also believe that particular aspects of this legislation divert available resources from broader historic preservation purposes to specific sets of beneficiaries and duplicates existing authorities.  The Department would welcome the opportunity to work with the committee to further review existing NPS programs to determine if we could achieve the goals of section 3 and 4 of the bill within our existing authorities.

 Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks, and I would be happy to respond to any questions that you and the committee may have.