STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,
ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING S. 1961,
A BILL TO REVISE THE BOUNDARY OF THE LITTLE RIVER CANYON NATIONAL PRESERVE
IN THE STATE OF ALABAMA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
NOVEMBER 8, 2007
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1961, a bill to revise the boundary of the Little River Canyon National Preserve in the State of Alabama, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 1961. S. 1961 would expand the boundaries of the Little River Canyon National Preserve (Preserve) to add approximately 1,656 acres that would be acquired by purchase from willing sellers or through donation. Appraisals have not been completed on any of the involved properties so the costs associated with the potential acquisitions are unknown. The Preserve currently includes 13,797 acres, and the NPS roughly estimates acquisition costs to be between $9 million and $12 million. No funding has yet been identified for any of the acquisitions proposed in this bill. Funding for any of these acquisitions would be subject to the budget prioritization process of the National Park Service.
Little River Canyon National Preserve was established as a unit of the National Park System by Public Law 102-427, to protect and preserve the natural, scenic, recreational and cultural resources of the area and to provide for public enjoyment of those resources. The Little River Canyon is located in northeast Alabama between Gadsden, Alabama and Chattanooga, Tennessee. Birmingham, Alabama is approximately 100 miles southwest of the Preserve and Atlanta, Georgia is about 110 miles to the southeast.
The Preserve contains an outstanding example of an Appalachian Plateau Province Canyon System and the canyon and the Little River together form one of the extraordinary natural features of Alabama. The Preserve is biologically diverse and home to a number of rare plants and animals. Numerous recreational pursuits are also available within the Preserve boundaries including a 23-mile canyon rim drive, which provides easy access to superlative scenic views.
The Preserve also includes important scenic, natural, cultural, recreational, and scientific resources. Little River Canyon's stream resources are excellent and the Little River is classified by the State of Alabama as an Outstanding National Resource Water providing an opportunity for world-class whitewater boating. Little River is one of a very few river systems with most of its length atop a mountain, in this case, Lookout Mountain.
The Preserve lies at the southern limits of the Cumberland Plateau and Little River Canyon is the deepest canyon in Alabama and one of the deepest in the eastern United States. As such, the Preserve contains some of the most rugged scenery in the southeast which contributes to significant biological diversity including habitat for a unique assemblage of plants and animals. In addition, the Preserve includes a wide assortment of archeological resources and historic sites.
The acquisitions proposed in S. 1961 would help the National Park Service (NPS) meet the requirements established in the Preserve's enabling legislation, which direct the NPS to protect and preserve the scenic resources of Little River Canyon. Additionally, in the northeast portion of the Preserve the current boundary is narrow and many of the Preserve's recreational trails cross private property in that area. Expanding the boundary as proposed in S. 1961 would allow the NPS to purchase lands from willing sellers and enhance recreational resources for Preserve visitors by ensuring that these trails no longer cross private property.
The current western boundary of the Preserve meanders back and forth across state and county roads which make up the Preserve's scenic drive. The boundary expansion proposed in S. 1961 would relocate the boundary in this area to the western edge of the state and county rights-of-way. In addition to including land between the roads and the canyon within the Preserve boundary, this adjustment would allow the NPS to apply for federal highway funds in order to improve the roads to help them meet Federal Highway Administration safety standards. The present condition of this portion of the scenic drive is characterized by steep hills and locations where sight distance is limited. As a result, the NPS has had to install signs warning drivers of motor homes and other large vehicles to avoid the southern two-thirds of the drive for their own safety. Including the roads and the lands between them and the current park boundary within the Preserve would also make it feasible to add additional scenic overlooks and bicycle lanes.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my formal remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee might have.