STATEMENT DANIEL WENK,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,
SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING H.R. 5335, A BILL TO AMEND THE NATIONAL TRAILS SYSTEM
ACT TO PROVIDE FOR THE INCLUSION OF NEW TRAIL SEGMENTS,
LAND COMPONENTS, AND CAMPGROUNDS A
SSOCIATED WITH THE TRAIL OF TEARS NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL
July 15, 2008
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. 5335. The bill would amend the National Trails System Act to provide for the inclusion of new trail segments, land and water components, and campgrounds associated with the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
The Department supports H.R. 5335 with the amendments described later in this statement. A study of the additional routes and route components was authorized by Public Law 109-378 in December, 2006 and completed and transmitted to Congress on March 5, 2008. The study found that all of the listed additional routes are eligible for designation as part of the existing Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The study also made minor corrections to historic alignments that were misidentified in the original feasibility study completed in 1986.
H.R. 5335 would amend the National Trails System Act to add the Benge and Bell routes; land components of the designated water routes in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee; routes from the collection of forts in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee to the emigration depots; and related campgrounds located along the existing Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The Secretary is not authorized to use eminent domain to acquire lands for the trail. If private property is located within the boundaries of the trail, the bill states that the owners are not required to allow public access to their property, to participate in or be associated with the trail, or to be liable for any person(s) injured on their property relative to use of the trail. The National Park Service (NPS) estimates that it would require an additional $295,000 per year to adequately provide funding for staff, travel, supplies, and other costs to administer the new routes.
A network of 26 scenic and historic trails has been created since the enactment of the National Trails System Act in 1968. These trails provide for outdoor recreation needs, providing enjoyment and appreciation, which in turn, promotes good health and well-being. They traverse resources that connect us to history and provide an important opportunity for local communities to become involved in a national effort by encouraging public access and citizen involvement.
In 1987, Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. The trail encompassed the primary water route and northern land route used during the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from its homelands in the southeast to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). The trail is administered by the NPS.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 mandated the removal of all Indian tribes from east of the Mississippi River to lands west of Arkansas and Missouri. Of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee were perhaps the most successful at resisting the act's implementation. But their fate was sealed in 1838 when the U.S. government was determined to complete the removal. The roundup began in May, as thousands of Cherokee families were brought by force to nearby military forts or camps, and subsequently marched to the principal emigration depots at Ross's Landing or Fort Cass in Tennessee, or Fort Payne in Alabama. From there, they either travelled overland or rode river steamboats, flatboats, and keelboats to Indian Territory. By the spring of 1839, nearly the entire Cherokee Nation, comprising some 16,000 individuals from all levels of society, had been removed west.
The 1992 Comprehensive Management and Use Plan for the Trail of Tears NHT identified the need to study two additional major routes of Cherokee Removal, the Bell and Benge Routes in the states of Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma as possible additions to the existing trail. Subsequently, the Cherokee Nation, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Trail of Tears Association, and other trail supporters have urged the NPS to include additional important routes of Cherokee removal in Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. These routes lead from the many removal forts established by the military during the roundup of the Cherokee to the major embarkation sites from which the Cherokee people left on their tragic journey to Indian Territory. The roundup of the Cherokee is a major part of the story of the Trail of Tears, and it is not adequately represented by the current trail. H.R. 5335 would include all of the known routes used by the Cherokee from the round up camps in the Old Cherokee Nation to their new homes in Oklahoma during the forced removal of 1838 and 1839.
Historic trails cross public and private lands, and the intent of the National Trails System Act is one of respecting private property rights. In so doing, the development of strong partnerships is critical to administering and managing the historic trails and achieving preservation of trail resources and interpretation of the trail to the public. Landowners are under no obligation to allow the public onto their land. Those that choose to cooperate in the development of a national historic trail can determine the level of visitor access they are willing to allow. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail demonstrates the results of this type of effort.
The Department recognizes the importance of telling the story of the Trail of Tears. These additional Cherokee routes and trail components are nationally significant and meet the criteria of the National Trails System Act. Their designation would provide a comprehensive commemoration to the story of the entire tragic event that became known as the "Trail of Tears" and complete the trail designation.
The Department recommends two amendments to the bill: (1) to include the name and date of the study in the section authorizing the additions to the Trail of Tears, and (2) to place the private property rights language in a separate section of the bill instead of making this language as an amendment to the National Trails System Act.
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.