H.R. 761 - National Parks Bills



STATEMENT OF WILLIAM D. SHADDOX, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,  DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 761, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF INTERIOR TO CONVEY TO THE MISSOURI RIVER BASIN LEWIS AND CLARK INTERPRETIVE TRAIL AND VISITOR CENTER FOUNDATION, INC. CERTAIN FEDERAL LAND ASSOCIATED WITH THE LEWIS AND CLARK NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL IN NEBRASKA, TO BE USED AS AN HISTORICAL INTERPRETIVE SITE ALONG THE TRAIL

June 14, 2007

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 761, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to convey to the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitor Center Foundation, Inc. certain Federal land associated with the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in Nebraska, to be used as an historical interpretive site along the trail.  The Department supports enactment of H.R. 761. 

H.R. 761 would convey without consideration, all right, title, and interest of the United States in two parcels of land, totaling 78 acres, at 100 Valmont Drive, Nebraska City, Nebraska to the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitor Center Foundation, Inc. (Foundation).  The Foundation would bear all the costs associated with the conveyance.  If the Foundation discontinues use of the land as a historic site and interpretive center, the Foundation is required to convey the land back to the Secretary of the Interior without consideration. Under the authority provided in section 1(e), the Secretary would prepare an Environmental Site Assessment before conveying the property to the Foundation and would require such an assessment before any return of the property in order to protect both parties from liability with respect to any contaminants that might be on the land.

The three-story Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Interpretive Trail & Visitor Center (Center), authorized by the National Trails System Act (NTSA), was designed and constructed by the National Park Service (NPS).  The Center is located on the Federally owned 78-acre site acquired for this purpose, and focuses on the flora and fauna and scientific discoveries recorded by the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Native American people's role in the success of the Corp of Discovery.  There is a Keelboat Exhibition Room on the entry level with an authentic replica of the 55- foot-long keelboat used on the journey, and the lower walkout level houses a Theater Educational Room and the Young Explorer's Discovery Wing.  There also is an outdoor classroom and an unobstructed view of the Missouri River, part of the route used by Lewis and Clark as they pulled upriver and walked the banks to make the scientific observations and collect specimens of flora and fauna.  There are 11 other historic and interpretive facilities along the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. 

The Foundation was established as the non-federal operating partner and raised the necessary funds.  The NPS has provided approximately $1.1 million to purchase the land, to provide design and construction supervision services, and to develop the facilities and exhibits.  The Foundation raised about $2.2 million toward the cost and development of the visitor center.  Construction of the facility began in the spring of 2003 and was completed in July 2004.  The Foundation has operated the Center since July 2004, with a substantial Federal subsidy. 

The Midwest Region of NPS currently subsidizes the Center out of ONPS base ($150,000), contingency ($32,000), and cyclic ($18,000) funding, for about $200,000 per year.  This helps pay salaries, utilities, routine maintenance, and other needed expenses.  It is estimated that it would cost approximately $574,000 per year for the NPS to operate the Center for a traditional 7-day per week schedule.

By owning the Center, the Foundation could collect entrance and special use fees to supplement donations for operations and maintenance.  Annual visitation for calendar year 2006 was 24,002; based on a typical $5 entrance fee, that could result in $120,010.  The Foundation projects it could collect approximately $88,000 in special use fees per year.  The two fee types could thus generate about $208,010 per year.

The passage of H.R. 761 would authorize $150,000 a year for 10 years to assist in the operation of the facility.  The NPS spends approximately $50,000 more than this amount to subsidize current operations.  The difference would then be used to assist with other trail partnerships and perhaps contingency issues in other national park units of the Midwest Region.  

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to comment.  This concludes my prepared testimony.  I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.