National Parks Bills: S 2535







JULY 30, 2008

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2535, a bill to revise the boundary of Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, and for other purposes.

The Department supports enactment of this bill.

S. 2535 would expand the boundary of the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, located in Kinderhook, New York, by including 261 acres of land surrounding Lindenwald, the home and farm of the eighth President of the United States. The bill also provides to the Secretary of the Interior land acquisition authority from willing sellers, by donation, by purchase with donated or appropriated funds, or by exchange.

The boundary expansion would help visitors to understand the importance of agriculture in President Van Buren's life and the role of the changing agricultural economy before the Civil War. In addition to protecting Lindenwald in its historic agricultural setting, the legislation offers increased opportunities for public enjoyment of the park and surrounding land as part of an overall plan that was developed in concert with local landowners and governments.

The proposed acreage includes a farm cottage, one of only three surviving structures associated with President Van Buren, and agricultural lands that once were a part of his original 226-acre farm and are still in active cultivation. Preserving these scenic and historic resources is critical to the future of the park. The expanded boundary would also allow the National Park Service (NPS) to replace temporary operational facilities, including a maintenance garage directly behind Lindenwald, and administrative facilities now housed in trailers, with permanent buildings more appropriate to the historic setting.

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site was established by Public Law 93-486 to commemorate the life and work of President Martin Van Buren through the preservation and interpretation of his home and farm. The 39-acre park predominately consists of a prominent mansion located within the present boundary, a factor that narrows the focus of interpretation to a traditional house tour. Although agrarian ideals formed a central theme of Van Buren's political philosophy, agricultural components of the 226 original acres of Lindenwald are neither fully protected nor available for interpretation.

Kinderhook, New York, part of the Hudson River Valley, was a rural farming area when the site was established in 1974. Since then, suburban, residential and commercial development has begun to threaten the area surrounding the park. This prompted the NPS to undertake a comprehensive study of the area in 2003, and to address concerns such as protecting the historic setting and enhancing opportunities for interpretation. The boundary study identified 24 contributing characteristics and features outside of the current park boundary that can be traced directly to Van Buren's tenure at Lindenwald. Expansion of the boundary to include these resources will provide for future protection of park-related resources and scenic values, and increase public understanding and appreciation of the life and ideals of Martin Van Buren, a preeminent politician during the Nation's turbulent antebellum years.

Park managers have a close working relationship with the present owners of the land proposed for addition to the boundary of the park, some of whom will continue to farm the land and have agreed to make portions of their land available to visitors for a trail to enhance interpretation of the park. Within the proposed 261-acre boundary, 25 acres are expected to be donated in fee to the NPS and 173 acres are expected to be donated in the form of conservation easements. The NPS would seek to acquire the remaining 63 acres through purchase of easements or fee interests from willing sellers. If acquired in fee, the cost would be approximately $667,000, subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations. The majority of the land will remain in agricultural use. Monitoring of the conservation easements will be done by NPS personnel through the park's existing operations budget. The conservation easement lands would remain on the local tax rolls.

The only structure that would be acquired on the 261 acres is an 800-square foot historic cottage that is in sound condition, but will require some improvements such as painting the wood siding and repairing decaying window frames. Some of this cost could be paid through park maintenance funds, but if more extensive repairs are needed depending on the future use of the cottage, funds would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations. The future use of the cottage will be determined in the general management planning process, which just began for the existing park.

Should this legislation be signed into law, the general management planning process also would determine the need to relocate operational, maintenance or administrative facilities on the lands included in the park by this boundary addition, to move some of these facilities outside the park boundaries or to address the code and safety issues in the facilities' current location. The park currently rents two double-wide trailers for administrative facilities, and houses curatorial storage in a deteriorating barn. Located adjacent to the trailers is a shed, built by NPS, that is used for visitor contact. The park also uses a garage for a maintenance facility that has serious code and worker safety issues and that is intruding on the historic setting of the Van Buren house. It is estimated it would cost $1.9-$2.8 million to address these two priority issues with or without a boundary change, since the temporary facilities are inadequate to be used in the long-term. Any final decisions would be made as part of the general management planning process, and if included in the final plan, would be subject to the budget prioritization process of the NPS.

This legislation enjoys broad support from various constituencies interested in conservation, historic preservation, and agricultural sustainability, including the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; the Columbia Land Conservancy; the Open Space Institute; the Columbia County Board of Supervisors; the Friends of Lindenwald; the Kinderhook Town Board; the Kinderhook Village Board; the Valatie Village Board; the Columbia County Tourism Department; and many other public organizations and local agencies.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony and I am pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.

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