STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS,
OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING H.R. 4828, TO AMEND THE PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD
NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE ACT OF 1991
TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARIES OF THE HISTORIC SITE,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JUNE 5, 2008
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 4828, a bill to amend the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Act of 1991 to expand the boundaries of the historic site, and for other purposes.
The Department supports H.R. 4828 with an amendment to provide the correct map reference for the boundary expansion.
H.R. 4828 would amend Public Law 102-304 to adjust the boundary of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site (park) to include the addition of approximately 34 acres. The lands added to the boundary would remain under the ownership of the Brownsville Community Foundation (Foundation), Brownsville, Texas. The Foundation and the National Park Service (NPS) would co-manage and administer the lands added to the boundary through a cooperative agreement. There would be no acquisition costs associated with the boundary expansion and we estimate NPS's management, administrative, interpretive, resource protection, and maintenance costs to be approximately $200,000 annually. Additional infrastructure improvements would include an ADA accessible trail, a visitor parking lot, trail and pavilion benches, the resaca overlook, interpretive panels and replica cannons, an NPS sign, a security gate, and utilities at an estimated cost of $360,000.
The land proposed for addition to the park is known as 'Resaca de la Palma', a National Historic Landmark. Located approximately four miles south of the existing park boundary and in the Heart of the City of Brownsville, Texas, the land is closely connected to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site, the only unit in the National Park System to commemorate the Mexican War, both historically and culturally.
Resaca de la Palma is the site of the second battle of the U.S. War with Mexico. The battle proved decisive for American forces and forced Mexican troops back across the Rio Grande River. The site is hallowed ground for many, including descendents of more than 214 individuals from the United States and Mexico who lost their lives at this site on May 9, 1846. After the battle, many visitors to Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma viewed the land as having been transformed by the bloody sacrifices made there. That sentiment remains today and many residents of Brownsville believe that both of the battlefields should be preserved to honor the memory of the soldiers who fought and died there.
Although the original battlefield at Resaca de la Palma extended over hundreds of acres, today only 34 acres remain undeveloped. In essence, Resaca de la Palma represents an oasis, surrounded by a developing city. In addition to its rich cultural heritage, these 34 acres provide habitat for migratory and resident birds and small mammals. The battlefield site also represents a typical but disappearing landscape of the Rio Grande delta and conserves native chaparral, prairie, and brush.
Resaca de la Palma is easily accessible to community members and visitors to the area. The 34 acres included in this boundary adjustment also represent a rare community green space that will be preserved. Existing structures include an interpretive trail and exhibits, a covered shelter, and a viewing platform overlooking the resaca, the literal translation of which is: the dry river bed of the palms.
The National Park System includes many successful examples of philanthropic efforts that have added immeasurably to the preservation of our nation's natural and cultural treasures. The partnership between the NPS and the Foundation to co-manage Resaca de la Palma is another successful example of this type of effort. Many hours have been donated toward preserving Resaca de la Palma by board members, the park, and individuals in the community. Additionally, several private and public organizations have donated time and money to ensure Resaca de la Palma remains protected and accessible to visitors. These include the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, the City of Brownsville, the Cameron County Sheriff Department, and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site 1988 General Management Plan proposed including Resaca de la Palma within the park's administrative boundary. This legislation would achieve that goal. However, without this legislation, the NPS would be limited in its ability to interpret, maintain, or manage the Resaca de la Palma area for future generations.
We suggest one amendment to H.R. 4828. On page 2, lines 6 and 7, the correct map information is: "entitled Palo Alto Battlefield NHS Proposed Boundary Expansion, numbered 469/80,012, and dated "May 21, 2008."
That concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee might have.