Long Island Aviation History Act
STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, EXERCISING THE AUTHORITY OF THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 2369, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A STUDY OF ALTERNATIVES FOR COMMEMORATING LONG ISLAND’S AVIATION HISTORY, INCLUDING A DETERMINATION OF THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF DESIGNATING PARTS OF THE STUDY AREA AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MAY 22, 2019
Chairwoman Haaland, Ranking Member Young, 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 H.R. 2369, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a study of alternatives for commemorating Long Island’s aviation history, including a determination of the suitability and feasibility of designating parts of the study area as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department recognizes that Long Island played an important role in the development of American aviation throughout the 20th Century. However, as described below, we do not think that the sites associated with Long Island aviation as identified in this bill would be good candidate subjects for a special resource study. Furthermore, we currently are focusing resources on reducing the National Park Service’s $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog and addressing other critical national park needs. In addition, the National Park Service has not yet completed 30 studies that Congress has previously authorized to determine if certain areas or resources meet the appropriate criteria for designation as new park units, national heritage areas, national trails, or wild and scenic rivers.
A National Historic Landmark Theme study on American Aviation Heritage was completed by the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program and the United States Air Force with a final revised edition issued in 2011. Theme studies are an effective way of identifying and nominating historic properties as National Historic Landmarks or to the National Register of Historic Places because they provide a comparative analysis of properties associated with a specific area of American history such as aviation heritage. They provide a national historic context for a specific topic in American history that serves as a basis for evaluating the national significance for a number of related properties.
The theme study identified many of the historically important Long Island accomplishments that are highlighted in the Findings section of this bill. However, it appears unlikely that these resources would meet the criteria for national significance – the first and most critical criteria considered when evaluating areas for possible inclusion in the National Park System. The study did not recognize any properties in the proposed study area as being nationally significant nor did it recommend any properties in the proposed study area for further study. The study did recommend that a number of relevant properties be removed from further study.
The theme study noted that Belmont Park in Elmont, NY is significant for its association with the first regularly scheduled airmail service in the United States that started on May 15, 1918, between New York and Washington, D.C. This appears to correspond with the bill’s findings on Curtiss Field. Belmont was chosen as the New York terminus for its open space and stands for spectators. Belmont closed in 1963 due to structural deterioration. A $30 million facelift rebuilt the grandstand, club house and other public conveniences. The park’s original racing strips, 1½-mile main course, cottages, barns, and other architectural and landscaping elements remained intact. Belmont opened on May 20, 1968, and is still in operation. However, the new racetrack was built on top of the field used by the early exhibition and airmail pilots and therefore no longer retains integrity.
Further, the theme study indicated that Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, NY (corresponding with Roosevelt Field) was an important terminus and departure point for military, and record-setting speed and distance flights during the golden age of aviation including Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 transatlantic flight. The airfield was established in 1911 and became an army flying field in 1917. It was also an important departure point and terminus for transcontinental and transatlantic airmail. The airfield was the departure site of the first transcontinental airmail flight in September 1920 and the terminus of the first day/night transcontinental airmail flight in February 1921. Hazelhurst closed in 1951 to make way for the first shopping mall in the United States.
For properties to meet the criteria for national significance, it is essential that they retain a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate, and relatively unspoiled example of the resource. Post World War II development on western Long Island appears to have impacted many of these notable resources leaving little if any of the original sites. For this reason, we do not think that the sites associated with Long Island Aviation as identified in this bill are good candidate subjects for a special resource study.
Ms. Chairwoman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.