To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire certain property related to the Fort Scott National Historic Site in Fort Scott, Kansas
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL REYNOLDS, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR WORKFORCE AND INCLUSION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON FEDERAL LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 2333, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ACQUIRE CERTAIN PROPERTY RELATED TO THE FORT SCOTT NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE IN FORT SCOTT, KANSAS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
June 23, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 2333, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire certain property related to the Fort Scott National Historic Site in the State of Kansas, and for other purposes.
The Department supports H.R. 2333 with amendments described later in this statement.
This legislation would amend Public Law 95-484, the establishing legislation for Fort Scott, to allow the Secretary of the Interior to acquire by donation the Lunette Blair Blockhouse, a 0.17-acre property located near the park boundary. The blockhouse is the last remaining Civil War-era military structure, built to defend the town of Fort Scott and its robust military supply depot from Confederate attack. For more than 50 years, the blockhouse has been maintained and preserved through a public-private partnership between the City of Fort Scott, and local individuals and an organization. The president of the organization approached the park to donate the property because the members were no longer physically or financially able to continue their preservation efforts. No other organization has shown interest in preserving the blockhouse. Without regular maintenance, the structure will continue to deteriorate and the opportunity for visitors to experience the epic stories of those who fought for freedom and the Union from 1861 to 1865 will be lost.
In addition to the Lunette Blair Blockhouse, there are three other properties that the National Park Service (NPS) has identified as important potential additions to Fort Scott. These properties are known as the Cummings property, the Chamber of Commerce property, and the Westar property. Together with the blockhouse, these properties would increase the footprint of the national historic site by 3.81 acres, still only modestly increasing the park’s footprint while improving the NPS’s ability to protect resources and welcome visitors to the site.
The Cummings property is 0.73 acres adjacent to the park’s eastern boundary and separates the historic site from U.S. Highway 69. This parcel would provide visitors with more direct access to the park. The owners have expressed interest in selling their property. The site includes a 13,159 square-foot building on the property suitable for administrative purposes.
The Chamber of Commerce property consists of 0.24 acres adjacent to the park’s eastern boundary. The site currently houses the chamber offices. The building is bordered by the park on three sides, and including this property would allow for a continuous boundary. The Chamber of Commerce would continue the use of this building for the foreseeable future.
The Westar property is 2.87 acres located adjacent to the western boundary of the park where the first civilian merchants in the area sold supplies to soldiers, Indians, tradespeople, travelers, and farmers. The Westar property also includes part of the historical landscape associated with the Civil War, including entrenchments and fortification structures that surrounded the fort. It is also the site associated with two of the earliest African-American neighborhoods in Fort Scott, both during and after the Civil War. These African-American families and refugees escaped from Indian Territory and followed the Union Army to Fort Scott. They rented or owned houses on the present-day Westar property, one of which was occupied by an African-American Civil War veteran with the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry who lived on his property until the 1920s.
The Westar property includes an 18,940 square-foot brick structure of various elevations and storage spaces. The building has administrative and visitor services potential and could be utilized as an educational, orientation center or as exhibit/museum space that is accessible since this would be the only on-grade building in the boundary. Additionally, this brick building could improve public safety since it would be the only appropriate space in the park for providing visitor and employee safety in the event of a natural disaster such as a tornado or a severe thunderstorm.
The estimated cost of acquisition for the Cummings property is approximately $147,500 and the estimated cost for acquisition of the Westar Property is $350,000. The Lunette Blair Blockhouse would be acquired through donation. The additional facilities and properties will increase park operational and maintenance costs, but the amount will depend on the number of facilities acquired and their condition. Additional funds for maintenance, repairs and capital improvements would be awarded through the NPS competitive process, subject to service-wide priorities and the availability of appropriations.
Support for a boundary modification that includes the Lunette Blair Blockhouse and the other three properties described above has been expressed by various community organizations and community members, including the City of Fort Scott, the Bourbon County Economic Development Association, the Bourbon County Commissioners, the Bourbon County Riverfront Authority, the Bourbon County Chamber of Commerce, and the Friends of Fort Scott NHS, Inc.
We recommend amending H.R. 2333 to adjust the national historic site’s property to include all four properties, and to provide authority to acquire land by purchase, as well as donation. These authorities are contained in S. 2087, sponsored by Senator Jerry Moran, which the Department supported in a hearing on June 15, 2016. We would be happy to provide the committee with language to amend the House bill accordingly.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.