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Mount Vernon, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Proposed To Become World Heritage Sites


Schooling Hawaiian squirrelfish at French Frigate Shoals are among the species that benefit from creation of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo by James Watt

A remote cluster of islands near Hawaii and George Washington's Virginia home, Mount Vernon, have been proposed by Interior Department officials for World Heritage Site designation.

World Heritage status, bestowed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, denotes the planet’s most significant cultural and natural treasures.

National Park Service Director Mary Bomar, who announced the two candidates, says Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in northwest Hawaii and Mount Vernon in Virginia are two significant American sites with global implications.

"They deserve consideration for the international recognition that comes with being named to the World Heritage List,” said Director Bomar.

This year’s candidates were culled from a list of 14 properties named for consideration in January. Public comments on the two sites will be taken for 15 days. Detailed information on the sites and how to submit comments is available through the Federal Register at this site. Comments can be e-mailed to [email protected] or mailed to his attention at 1201 Eye Street, NW, (0050), Washington, DC 20005.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument protects a 1,200-mile-long string of islands and adjacent waters. The monument, designated in 2006, is the longest, clearest, and oldest example of island formation and atoll evolution in the world. One of the islands, Midway, became the focus of its namesake battle in June 1942- the turning point of World War II in the Pacific. Today, marine life remains abundant and diverse, with a large number of species found nowhere else in the world in this remote and still relatively pristine part of the Pacific. The monument is jointly managed by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the State of Hawaii.

Mount Vernon, George Washington's long-time home, is a remarkable example of an 18th century American plantation. A core of 16 surviving 18th-century structures, situated within a landscape of associated gardens, fences, lanes, walkways, and other features on the Potomac River, provides insight of Washington and the time in which he lived. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has owned and maintained the property for more than 150 years and remains a leader in the historic preservation movement in the United States.

The World Heritage Committee, composed of representatives of 21 nations elected as the governing body under the World Heritage Convention, makes the final decisions on which nominations to accept on the World Heritage List at its annual summer meeting. There are currently 851 sites worldwide.

The Park Service serves as the principal technical agency for the U.S. Government to the Convention and manages all or parts of 17 of the 20 U.S. World Heritage Sites currently listed including Yellowstone National Park and the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

While most World Heritage sites in the United States are part of the national park system, that's not a key requirement for nomination or designation.

"The (Interior) secretary's decision to propose Mt. Vernon and also the Papahanamokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii was based on a variety of factors including, 'the perceived ability of the applicants in each case to develop a strong, complete nomination dossier in a short period of time; the World Heritage Committee's interest in inscribing properties in under-represented categories of heritage or regions on the World Heritage List; opportunities that the properties afford for public visitation, interpretation and education; a desire to boost international and domestic public interest and awareness of the properties,'" says Stephen Morris, chief of International Affairs for the Park Service.


I know that the National Park Service will argue that it doesn't want to take on sites that are already being adequately preserved by other entities, but it seems particularly discongruous that the Cahokia Mounds World Heritage Site is in fact an Illinois State Park. I personaly believe that the National Park System is greater than the sum of its parts, and if a site in public hands is significant enough to be a World Heritage Site, then I think that it should properly be entrusted to the care of the National Park Service. The other US World Heritage Sites that are not part of the Naitonal Park System are the Pueblo de Taos in New Mexico, and Monticello and the University of Virginia in Virginia.


We need to ensure that we do not allow "the World" to take over these locations. We manage them just fine ourselves. However, all things considered, the inclusion of a site on the list is significant.

I believe that the State of Illinois is doing a fine job of preserving and interpreting Cahokia Mounds. The visitor center is fabulous and outclasses many visitor centers interpreting ancient sites preserved by the NPS.

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