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OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE,
CONCERNING S. 3612
TO AMEND THE MARSH-BILLINGS-ROCKEFELLER NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK ESTABLISHMENT ACT
TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARY OF THE MARSH-BILLINGS-ROCKEFELLER NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
IN THE STATE OF VERMONT,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
September 29, 2010
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior regarding S. 3612, a bill to amend the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park Establishment Act, and to expand the boundary of the park to include the King Farm.
The Department supports enactment of S. 3612 if amended to provide that the inclusion of the King Farm within the boundary is subject to a determination of the Secretary that the property meets National Park Service (NPS) boundary adjustment criteria.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park encompasses the historic Marsh-Billings Rockefeller mansion and grounds, and the Mount Tom Forest in Woodstock, Vermont. It was a gift to the people of the United States from Mary and Laurance Rockefeller. Mary Rockefeller's grandfather, Frederick Billings, developed the property into a model farm and forest in the late 1880s. Billings' stewardship efforts were influenced by George Perkins Marsh, a conservationist and author of the 1864 landmark book Man and Nature. Marsh spent his childhood years on the property.
The park was established by Congress in 1992 to interpret the history and evolution of conservation stewardship in America and to recognize and interpret the lives and contributions of George Perkins Marsh, Frederick Billings, the Billings heirs, and Mary and Laurance Rockefeller. It is a continuing symbol of three generations of conservationist thought and practice. It is also a repository for the histories of three quintessentially American families.
S. 3612 would expand the park's present boundary to include the adjacent 156-acre King Farm, one of Vermont's finest examples of an early, self -sustaining Vermont hill farm. The farm is unique as an intact collection of farm buildings and agricultural lands that document the evolution of farming from the early 1800s to the present. The King Farm plays an important role in park operations, providing key linkages for the park's network of recreational trails and facilities. The addition of these lands would enable the park to better conserve and interpret the history and evolution of conservation stewardship in America.
The King Farm is presently owned by the Vermont Land Trust (VLT). The VLT can no longer afford to maintain and operate the farm and issued a national search for a long-term leasee, but without success. If the King Farm were to be sold to a private owner, it could result in loss of public access and damage to park resources. The farm currently serves as a hub for the park's
youthservice learning programs and provides the only available dedicated classroom and leave-no-trace camp site to support these programs. Loss of the farm would sever the only direct trail connection between local schools and park lands. The King Farm also provides important habitat for the Jefferson Salamander, which has been identified as a species of special management concern. In 2010, the park initiated a public process to evaluate a proposal to expand the boundary to include King Farm. Local governments and area citizens have expressed strong support for this addition and preliminary findings of this boundary study indicate that the property meets the National Park Service boundary adjustment criteria. .
Based on a comparable property sales analysis, the estimated value of the King Farm including pre-acquisition costs is $1,205,000. Improvements to farm assets addressing deferred maintenance needs, providing for greater public access, and life and safety and energy efficiency measures would total approximately $1,558,000. Annual park operations costs are anticipated to increase by $124,000. To help offset these costs, the Vermont Land Trust intends to manage a small existing endowment to support projects at the King Farm that would benefit facility maintenance and education programs. S. 3612 would authorize the Secretary to receive and expend such funds.
S. 3612 would also provide authority for the operation of the Conservation Study Institute at the park in collaboration with the University of Vermont. The Institute was established by the National Park Service to advance leadership and innovation through collaborative conservation partnerships for the stewardship of our national system of parks and special places. The Institute provides technical assistance to parks, heritage areas, and regional and national programs by conducting demonstration projects, distilling and sharing lessons learned, and building networks for information exchange. The Institute has been funded through the park's base operating budget since the enactment of FY 2000 appropriations. The park receives $520,000 a year in its budget specifically for operation of the Institute. Additional funding through cost-share programs with the University of Vermont serves to provide educational outreach to youth and the local communities. This legislation would provide permanent authority for the Institute to continue to operate at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. The bill further provides for the development of a revised General Management Plan for the park. We are reviewing the legislation for any technical amendments that might be needed and would like to work with the committee on any necessary change in language we identify.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions from members of the committee.