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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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H.R. 624 - Parks and Lands Bills




STATEMENT OF VICTOR KNOX, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS, COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNINGH.R. 624, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE FIRST STATE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK IN THE STATE OF DELAWARE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

June 28, 2012 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 624, a bill to establish the First State National Historical Park in the State of Delaware.

The Department strongly supports the establishment of a unit of the national park system in Delaware as proposed by H.R. 624. The Department testified in support of a similar bill, S. 323, on May 11, 2011.

In 2008, pursuant to Public Law 109-338, the National Park Service completed a Special Resource Study of the coastal area of Delaware and identified a number of resources of national significance that were determined suitable and feasible to administer as a unit of the national park system. These included historic resources that were instrumental in early Swedish, Dutch, and English settlement in the United States, and others associated with Delaware's role as the nation's first state. Although the bill provides the Secretary of the Interior the discretion to determine which sites in the State would be included within the boundary of the historical park, we anticipate that only resources that met the Special Resource Study criteria for establishment as a national park unit wouldbe considered for inclusion.

In 1638, Peter Minuet led Swedish colonists to present day Wilmington, Delaware, and established New Sweden at a point known as "the rocks" on the Christina River. The settlers constructed Fort Christina at this location and this site is now a National Historic Landmark. In 1698, Swedish settlers established Holy Trinity ("Old Swedes") Church near the fort, the oldest church building standing as originally built in the United States and also a National Historic Landmark.

In 1651, Peter Stuyvesant led Dutch settlers from New Amsterdam and constructed Fort Casimir at a place he named "New Amstel," in present day New Castle, Delaware. Conflicts between the Swedish and Dutch colonists resulted in changing occupations of the fort with the Dutch regaining control in 1655. In 1665, the English arrived at New Amstel and seized control of the settlement, renaming it "New Castle." William Penn landed in New Castle in 1682 and took possession of the city.In 1704, Penn established Delaware's Assembly and New Castle remained the colonial capital of Delaware until 1776. The New Castle Historic District, which contains multiple resources from the time of earliest settlement through the Federal era, including the Old New Castle Courthouse, is a National Historic Landmark.

Delaware's representatives to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention played important parts in the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and crafting of the United States Constitution. On June 15, 1776, the Delaware Assembly, meeting in New Castle, voted to sever its ties with the English Crown, three weeks prior to the signing of the Declaration in Philadelphia on July 4th.National Historic Landmarks associated with these early revolutionary leaders include the homes of John Dickinson (the "Penman of the Revolution"), Gunning Bedford, Jr., and George Read.The Dover Green witnessed Delaware's vote to become the first state to ratify the nation's new Constitution.

H.R. 624 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish the First State National Historical Park consisting of any resources listed in Section 3(b) of the bill that the Secretary acquires. The staff of the new park would be authorized to interpret related resources outside of the boundary, within the state of Delaware.The Special Resource Study estimated annual operating costs for the park at $450,000 to $550,000 and costs associated with a general management plan at $600,000.All funding would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations. A study of additional resources related to the purpose of the park is also authorized to assess their potential eligibility for National Historic Landmark designation and options for maintaining the historic integrity of such resources.

H.R. 624 also proposes to allow including within the park boundary the Ryves Holt House – a part of the historic district in Lewes, Delaware. This district and the Ryves Holt House are listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance and the National Register nomination for the district indicates that today its significance is based primarily on its fine examples of Victorian architecture. Although the bill provides the Secretary with the discretion to decide which properties may be included within the boundary of the park, the Department questions allowing the Ryves Holt House to be eligible for addition to the park boundary, since it is not a National Historic Landmark, does not meet the required national significance criterion for unit designation, and is inconsistent with the park's purpose as outlined in Section 3(a) of H.R. 624.

However, we note that Section 4(c) of H.R. 624 permits interpretation of resources related to the purposes of the park but located outside of its boundary. Any extant resources in Lewes, either within or outside of the historic district, which relate to early Dutch, Swedish, and English settlement or to Delaware's role as the first state, would thus be eligible for interpretation without including this district in the park boundary. Such resources would also be candidates for further analysis as to their National Historic Landmark potential under the bill's study provisions in Section 5.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be happy to respond to any questions that you or other members of the committee may have.