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Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park Joins National Park System


Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park has been added to the National Park System. Stock photo from Bigstock Photo.

Four years after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to create Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has signed the paperwork to make it so.

Secretary Salazar was in Paterson, New Jersey, this morning to sign the agreement with Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones that makes the historical park the 397th unit of the National Park System.

Secretary Salazar and Mayor Jones were joined by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and Darren Boch, who was recently named superintendent-designate for the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. A native of Paterson, Darren previously served as deputy superintendent for the National Parks of New York Harbor, which include the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

“Paterson and its falls played an integral role in the industrial growth of our nation and in the lives of immigrants who labored in the mills and ultimately joined unions to seek better working conditions and pay,” said Secretary Salazar. “By establishing this park, we not only tell the story of Paterson but we also contribute to the economic growth of the city today by attracting visitors and supporting jobs in local communities.”

According to the U.S.Geological Survey, "the potential power of the Great Falls of the Passaic River so inspired Alexander Hamilton that he organized the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and planned America's first industrial city. Pierre L'Enfant, the planner of Washington, D.C., designed a complex three-tired system that harnessed the falls and supplied water power to several industrial mills. The city of Paterson became a thriving industrial center known for the manufacture of silk and locomotive parts."

The agreement Secretary Salazar and Mayor Jones signed will transfer property and establish easements that will fulfill the requirements of the law authorizing the establishment of the new national park, signed by President Obama in March 2009.

"This is an historic time for the Great Falls and my home city of Paterson," said Senator Lautenberg.  "With this designation, the Great Falls is America's newest national historical park, and one of our nation's most beautiful and historic landmarks will finally get the recognition it deserves.  This new park will showcase the majesty of the falls and encourage more tourists, families, artists, students and businesses to come to Paterson and help strengthen this great city.”

“I’m incredibly proud, as a New Jerseyan and as the son of immigrants, to witness today’s declaration of Paterson Great Falls as a National Historic Park,” said Senator Menendez, who fought to get the legislation authorizing the new park approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “From the Great Falls, through the raceways and waterwheels along the Passaic, flowed the blood, sweat, and tears of the men and women who powered the industrial revolution and made this nation great.  The park’s history is now part of the story of America.”

The Great Falls of Paterson became a National Natural Landmark in 1967, and part of the City of Paterson was designated as a National Historic Landmark District in 1976. The legislation signed by President Obama in 2009 authorizes Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park “to preserve and interpret for the benefit of present and future generations certain and natural resources associated with the Historic District.”


Did anything change from 2007, when the NPS said this should not be made into a national park site?  See this NPT article.
We have two new national parks established in a week, and both are touted for their economic benefits or their job creation. (3,000 jobs created with Fort Monroe?)
NPR article: "Paterson officials said they hope Monday's official designation as a national park will help revitalize the city and make it a tourist destination.
How many waterfalls are taller?  How many historic industry sites are better preserved?  The NPT article cited dilapidated buildings in 2007.  Have they been renovated since 2007, or will that work be left to the NPS?
These new parks "thin the blood" of the NPS, and they continue to stretch out that NPS budget.  But, at least they'll create jobs!

You raise a valid point, Chris. The emphasis on jobs would seem to indicate these two parks were created more for their economic contributions than their historical contributions.

That's not to say they are unworthy additions, although the past studies on Paterson would seem to indicate its addition to the system was not crucial.

Perhaps economics should be stripped from the aspects under consideration when future sites are proposed to the park system. Indeed, units of the system should stand on their own merit as culturally or historically significant additions or for their outstanding natural resources and not for how many jobs they'll create. 

My concern is where the NPS is going to get the money to staff these new places. The 395 sites that we had before were already severely understaffed and most of the staff are underpaid and are quite often put on furlough or even reduced hours due to lack of money in the budget. Where did the NPS find the money for this?

I think the mention of jobs is purely a topical part of the contemporary rhetoric of the moment of the announcement, rather than of the logic or process of how they got there.

Think Rick B has it right in what he posted.  I go farther.  Just political words of the moment. Deceptive symbolism more than likely but the ends justify the means for many.

I agree with the above comments.  But, as I've opined before, it is Congress that makes the final decision after a special resource or new area study.  All too often Congress chooses to add a new park of lesser quality while rejecting areas receiving highly positive recommendations from the Park Service.

There are several important questions raised by commentors here. 
Some are the same questions that over the long years have come up for every new park, supposing that the new park should not be protected and interpreted because it would hurt the older parks.  We would not have some of our greatest national parks, and the NPS would not have as money as it has now, had this reaction ended the development of the National Park System. 
Another not specifically related to Paterson Great Falls is the issue of the economic incentive for parks, which seems not to realize that most parks really do help local economies more than they cost.
But on the specific points on the merits of this new park, Paterson Great Falls NHC, I have some background info.  I have followed this first as NPS staff, and recently as a retiree. Starting in the 1990's, I was one of the NPS staff people who were worried about a park at Paterson.  I have actually been blamed to my face as the person responsible for opposing Paterson as a park. 
But not because it was not one of  America's most significant places.  And not because its story was being told anywhere else.
Cutting through all the technical language and criteria, several of us were concerned primarily about whether this City and its supporters WOULD BE A GOOD PARTNER.  Here is why.  In the world of today, in an urban national park in the heart of a community, a crucial part of a successful new park is: Will the community be strongly involved in supporting the park by coordinating the city development strategy and philosophy? 
This is a little like the non-profit preservation groups of today who WILL NOT take on the preservation of an historic house unless it comes with a substantial funding endowment.
What the National Park Service can do for these extraordinarily significant urban areas is continually tell the story of what about the community makes it so significant, celebrate the value of the resources, and build local pride and commitment so that the community really wants to protect its entire natural and historic character SO THAT BOTH THE PARK AND THE COMMUNITY CAN SUCCEED.
Paterson would need to help the National Park Service get the funding from other sources for cleaning up any hazardous materials.  It would need to help with the visitor experience.  Cooperation with the school system, road system, non-profit foundations, community planning strategy are just a few of the things you must think about.
Back in the 1990s, the reports of our front line people were that Paterson might not be politically or financially strong enough to be the kind of partner this kind of park would need.  That was the real reason for the NPS resistence.  We even encouraged Congress to offer matching funding for the Natural and Historic Landmark District, just to see if the city would rise to the opportunity.  At that time, Paterson did not.
This was complicated by the Bush years, when the default drive for even the most solid new park proposals was to oppose them.  It was further complicated by the Study, which rather than just flatly raising concerns about the city as a partner, equivocated on the significance or suitability of the dual National Historic and National Natural landmarks.  Several of the most respected retired national park service cultural resource leaders expressed outrage that the NPS would oppose such a park, stating that way back in the 1960's and 1970's it was clear to them that Paterson should be a national historic site.
What brought me around is how well and hard Paterson fought back.  They produced 35 nationally recognized scholars who refuted the vague criticisms in the Study.  They did a terrific job organizing the community to support the park.  The most effective non-profit community action group, NJ Community Development Corporation, completely got behind both the city strategic planning needs and the park.  The state of  New Jersey jumped in to help with a comprehensive park plan and advocacy by the State Historic Preservation Office on behalf of hazardous materials clean up.
These good signs of an active partner are not everything that is needed.  The city administration seemed a little over its head trying to negotiate the deal, but for any city in America right now, everyone is stretched a little thin.  But the City and the NPS were committed enough to the park and believed enough in each other to put together a very strong, very good agreement.  Further delay won't help the resources, or get the story told.  Americans don't quit when times get tough.  They work smarter and harder.
So I and many others went on Monday to the event to establish the park, and things have changed enough since 2007 that I now have joined the park's advisory commission.   It looks to me that the City now wants to help  the park to succeed, and the National Park Service leaders there are now completely behind making this park a success. 

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