President Obama speaks with Helen F. Chavez at the grave of her husband, Cesar Chavez, during a tour of a memorial garden at the Chavez National Monument last Monday.
(Photo: Brendan Smialowski, Getty Images)
by Judy Keen, USA TODAY
The National Park system might be embarking on a growth spurt.
President Obama was in Keene, Calif., on Oct. 8 to dedicate the César E. Chávez National Monument, the 398th site in the system, which was created in 1916. Among states with pending National Park Service sites: Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio.
"There's no such thing as too many," says Ron Tipton, senior vice president of policy for the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association. The park service is selective, he says, and choose sites that fill gaps in the current system, represent cultural diversity and can attract plenty of visitors.
It does so slowly. Ten sites have been added since May 2004; a record 33 were added in 1978. Only Congress can create national parks, but the president can designate national monuments. A commission that proposed goals for the National Park Service's future recommended in 2009 that the process for selecting new sites be streamlined.
Legislation introduced in Congress in June would create the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument outside Las Vegas. It took six years of work to get this far, says Jill DeStefano, founder of Protectors of Tule Springs. It's worth the wait, she says, because of "the cachet of having a national park in your town."
A preliminary National Park Service study for a national park dedicated to Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman began in 2000 and was completed in 2008, says Joel Dunn, executive director of Maryland's Chesapeake Conservancy. Bills have been introduced on Capitol Hill, but proponents also are pursuing a presidential order creating a national monument instead.
"She's a national hero who deserves national recognition," Dunn says.
Other national park sites in the works:
- The First State National Historical Park, which would be Delaware's first national park site.
- New Mexico's Valles Caldera National Preserve, 89,000 acres in the volcanic Jemez Mountain Range.
- The Xenia, Ohio, home of Col. Charles Young, the first African-American superintendent of a national park.
- Chicago's Pullman District, a neighborhood that played key roles in the African-American labor movement, the railroad industry and urban planning.
The National Park Service also is studying ways to honor African-American troops known as the Buffalo Soldiers and the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.
The National Park Service imprimatur affirms the significance of its sites and brings "the best resources support and interpretation," says Clarence Moriwaki, president of Washington state's Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association. The memorial, which commemorates the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes in 1942, became part of the park service in 2008.
"The public looks at national park units as something special," he says. "Having that validation is important."