To provide for the boundary of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park to be adjusted, to authorize the donation of land to the United States for addition to that historic park
STATEMENT OF TOM MEDEMA, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, INTERPRETATION, EDUCATION, AND VOLUNTEERS, 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. 268, A BILL TO PROVIDE FOR THE BOUNDARY OF THE PALO ALTO BATTLEFIELD NATIONAL HISTORIC PARK TO BE ADJUSTED, TO AUTHORIZE THE DONATION OF LAND TO THE UNITED STATES FOR ADDITION TO THAT HISTORIC PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
November 9, 2021
Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 268, a bill to provide for the boundary of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park to be adjusted, to authorize the donation of land to the United States for addition to that historic park, and for other purposes.
The Department supports the goals of this legislation and sharing the story of Fort Brown with the American people. However, because the National Park Service has not studied the appropriateness and feasibility of adding Fort Brown to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, as proposed in H.R. 268, the Department recommends amending this bill to include authorization for a boundary study, and to authorize the Secretary to accept the property pending a favorable outcome to that boundary study.
H.R. 268 would add the approximately 166 acres of land where Fort Brown stood to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park. The land, which is owned and administered by the International Boundary and Water Commission, holds the archeological remains of Fort Brown, including the standing ruins of the Fort Brown earthworks, associated fortifications, and the cultural landscape of the Fort Brown siege of 1846. The fort, originally known as Fort Texas, was established when U.S. soldiers led by General Zachary Taylor arrived on the banks of the Rio Grande to establish the river as the southern boundary of Texas. General Taylor, who would become the 12th President of the United States in 1849, re-named the fort in honor of Major Jacob Brown, who was killed during the siege.
A portion of the Fort Brown site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. It is one of three battlefield sites in the Brownsville area considered key to telling the story of the 1846-48 United States war with Mexico. The other two sites are currently included within Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
Fort Brown became the flashpoint in a dispute over the boundary between the two nations. As events unfolded, the Mexican Army laid siege to the fort in early May of 1846. The site remained active following the war with Mexico and played a role in every U.S. war through World War II. The U.S. Army closed Fort Brown in 1944 and turned the 166-acre area over to the International Boundary and Water Commission in 1949 for flood control purposes.
If the Committee chooses to act on H.R. 268, the Department recommends amending the bill to include authorization for a boundary study to look at the feasibility of administering the Fort Brown site as part of Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park. It is a standard practice of the National Park Service to conduct a study for a proposed major addition to a unit of the National Park System before recommending additions to an existing park. As part of this study, the National Park Service collects information about the quality of resources in the study area, evaluates the potential for visitor enjoyment and efficient management, and considers the feasibility and appropriateness of different management options for the site. A study would also evaluate the views of and impacts on local communities, the adequacy of other alternatives for management and resource protection, and other factors. We also would recommend a technical amendment to correct the park name used in the title of the bill from “Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park” to “Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.” If Congress chooses to act on this legislation, we would like to work with you on these amendments.
Chairman Neguse, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.