STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING S. 2892,
A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE ALABAMA BLACK BELT NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MARCH 17, 2010
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. 2892, a bill to establish the Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area, and for other purposes.
The Department recommends that the committee defer action on S. 2892 until program legislation is enacted that establishes criteria to evaluate potentially qualified national heritage areas and a process for the designation and administration of these areas.The Administration anticipates submitting such a legislative proposal to you in the near future, and we recommend that Congress enact national heritage area program legislation this Congress. In addition, we recommend deferring action on S. 2892 until the National Park Service completes its final review of the feasibility study for the proposed Alabama Black Belt National Heritage Area.The Administration's FY 2011 Budget proposes to reduce funding for national heritage areas to focus resources on those park activities that most closely align with its core mission and encourage areas to become self-sufficient, consistent with a FY 2010 Congressional directive.
There are currently 49 designated national heritage areas, yet there is no authority in law that guides the designation and administration of these areas.Program legislation would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas, offering guidelines for successful planning and management, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardizing timeframes and funding for designated areas.Program legislation was introduced in the 109th and 110th Congresses, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress on this very important issue.
The feasibility of the Alabama Black Belt area for designation as a national heritage area is the subject of a study now being finalized by the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area Task Force. Since the creation of the task force in 2006, it has grown from a group of ten people into an active organization with over 65 members across 19 counties. The organization has worked closely with the National Park Service and the Alliance of National Heritage Areas to demonstrate a strong basis for seeking potential national heritage area status. The task force has also implemented several successful projects in the Black Belt region.
The draft feasibility study includes an extensive inventory of cultural and natural resources of the region; identifies four interpretive themes; describes the plans for management, preservation, and interpretation of the region; and, contains a detailed environmental assessment. It indicates that the proposal for a national heritage area has strong support from the public and a myriad of state, local, federal, and non-governmental partners throughout the area that are essential for successful planning and implementation of a national heritage area.It recommends that the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at the
During the Antebellum era, the Alabama Black Belt became one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful regions in the
During the Twentieth Century, this area gained fame as the site where the Tuskegee Airmen trained during World War II, and as a center of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
Rivers and streams from several large basins—the Sipsey-Warrior, Coosa-Tallapoosa, Alabama-Cahaba, Tombigbee, and Chattahoochee—flow through the Alabama Black Belt. When cotton was the dominant crop grown in the region, the Black Belt's many navigable waterways enabled growers to transport their harvests to the docks in
While largely viewed as a region of hardship, the Alabama Black Belt has produced a rich variety of artists, musicians, writers, and other public figures. Notable figures from this region include Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Three sites in the region managed by the National Park Service commemorate nationally significant history: the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, both units of the National Park System, and the
If the committee decides to move forward with S. 2892, we would like to work with the committee to provide the appropriate map reference for the national heritage area and to ensure that the language of the bill is consistent with previously enacted national heritage area designations.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee may have.