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Updated: Five National Monuments Expected To Be Designated Next Week


This landscape in northern New Mexico is in line to be designated as a national monument next week. Photo © Adriel Heisey

Editor's note: This corrects that only three of the monuments will be placed under the National Park Service.

Five national monuments, including one in Delaware, the only state without a National Park System presence, are expected to be designated next week by President Obama.

The president has been criticized in the past for failing to designate more national monuments -- so far he's designated Fort Monroe National Monument in coastal Virginia and César E. Chávez National Monument in California -- and some residents of "the First State," as Delaware is known, have lamented its lack of a national park.

The monument coming to Delaware will be known as the First State National Monument, and will protect, in part, the Woodlawn Property, an 1,100-acre tract along the Brandywine River in Delaware.

Also expected to be designated through the president's use of the Antiquities Act are the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland, the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state, and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio. Colonel Young was an African-American soldier who in 1903 was appointed acting superintendent for Sequoia and General Grand national parks in California.

Two of the anticipated monuments, Rio Grande del Norte and San Juan Islands, are expected to be managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, with the other three managed by the National Park Service.

Working to make the Woodlawn and Tubman monuments possible has been The Conservation Fund. Prior to the presidential proclamation that is scheduled for Monday, the Fund owned the Woodlawn property, which it donated to the National Park Service thanks to a donation from Mt. Cuba Center.

President Obama’s executive designation will honor the Woodlawn property along with the Old Sheriff’s House, the Old New Castle Courthouse, the New Castle Green and the Dover Green as a National Park Service unit.

Originally acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682, the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property lies on the banks of the Brandywine River, primarily in Delaware and extending north into Pennsylvania. Nearby, in 1777, General George Washington’s troops defended against British forces in the largest battle of the American Revolution. Since then, the Brandywine Valley’s natural beauty has inspired generations of artists, including acclaimed painter Andrew Wyeth. Today, however, rapid development is squeezing the pristine open spaces that remain.

Thanks to an unprecedented private contribution in excess of $20 million by Mt. Cuba Center, The Conservation Fund was able to preserve the Woodlawn property and champion its inclusion in the National Park System as a national monument or park. For more than a century, the land has been managed as a wildlife preserve and open space for public recreation. With Mt. Cuba’s foresight and commitment of resources, the Fund was able to donate the property to the National Park Service, making its designation as a national monument possible.

“History will be made in the place where it all began,” said Blaine Phillips senior vice president and Mid-Atlantic regional director for The Conservation Fund. “President Obama’s designation of the Woodlawn property as part of the First State National Monument will be a celebration of Delaware’s rich contributions to American history and its inherent natural beauty. It’s only fitting that here in our nation’s first state, the National Park system will be made whole, representing every state in the country."

Located within 25 miles of more than five million people, the national monument at the Woodlawn property will preserve the beautiful natural landscapes and historical character of one of the nation’s founding rivers. The Woodlawn property straddles the historic demarcation line known as the “12-mile arc,” which established the boundary between New Castle County, Delaware, and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, in the 17th century.

The Fund also played a role in the designation of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that pays tribute to an American hero who escaped slavery but returned repeatedly to lead dozens of family members and friends to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

Specifically, the Fund donated a property to the Park Service, adjacent to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, that once included the home of Jacob Jackson, a former neighbor and free black who used coded messages from Ms. Tubman to help free her brothers just before they were due to be sold. This site, together with additional historic lands to be included in the monument, tells Ms. Tubman's story where it happened and in a landscape that still looks much as it did during her famed journeys.

“One hundred years after her death, we still look to Harriet Tubman as an American symbol of heroism, equality, justice and self-determination. President Obama’s designation of a national monument honoring her life and legacy will be a testament to Harriet’s courageous efforts and the dedicated work of so many to preserve the landscape where she made her mark on history,” said Lawrence Selzer, president and CEO of The Conservation Fund. “The Conservation Fund is thrilled to facilitate the protection and donation of a significant property to the National Park Service for the new monument designation in her honor.”

Born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Ms. Tubman spent nearly 30 years of her life as a slave. She escaped in 1849, at age 27, but returned to Dorchester and Caroline counties an estimated 13 times over the next decade to help slaves escape to the North. While estimates vary considerably, potentially more than 100,000 fugitive slaves escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

The Fund has partnered with the State of Maryland and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to protect more than 7,000 acres within the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and along the Eastern Shore. The Fund and its partners have protected roughly 155,000 acres across Maryland.

The Rio Grande del Norte area in New Mexico lies 28 miles north of Taos and just south of the Colorado border. It long has been protected by the BLM as a national conservation area, and is popular with kayakers, birders, anglers, hikers, and equestrians. There also is a rich cultural history here, with some archaeological sites dated back 11,000 years.

“Today’s designation of Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument is a result of the commitment and passion of our people for this landscape we call home," said Taos Mayor Darren Córdova. "For years, our community of sportsmen, ranchers, small business owners and other citizens across northern New Mexico has worked collaboratively with our members of Congress to protect it. Now we can rest assured that Rio Grande del Norte’s majesty will be preserved for generations to come.”

At New Mexico State University, Christopher A. Erickson, a professor in the Department of Economics and International Business, said, "For a state like New Mexico, preservation and improvement of recreational opportunities is critical both for attracting new business to our state as well as safeguarding quality of life for our citizens. National monument designation of The Rio Grande del Norte can play a critical role in ensuring continuation of New Mexico's well-deserved reputation for natural beauty, serving as a beacon for economic growth."

At the National Parks Conservation Association, President Tom Kiernan applauded The Conservation Fund for its work in making some of these monuments possible.

"These important additions to our National Park System would not be possible without the generosity of The Conservation Fund," Mr. Kiernan said in a prepared statement. "As we look to the 2016 centennial celebration of our National Park System, diversifying our national parks to more adequately reflect our cultural heritage, and connecting urban populations to our national parks are important goals that we share with the Administration and the National Park Service. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad, First State, and Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monuments create our 399th, 400th, and 401st national park sites, and enhance our National Park System, from the inside and out.”


I'd like to know more about the 240,000 acres in New Mexico—where they are, what the management plan may be. The New York Times has an online article about this pending action but it has little detail. As always, I worry that we mountain bikers will lose prized trails. I realize, though, that National Monument status is not like Wilderness. There's good riding at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Indeed, the four-mile climb up the Ape Canyon Trail to the Plains of Abraham is like riding through a Japanese garden. And you emerge from that lushness onto one of the most barren landscapes imaginable: the volcanic blast zone.


Thanks for this cheeful news. Given the mention of the fake, bifurcated national monument at Fort Monroe, it's important to note that in Virginia, the struggle continues to get the national monument (or park) unified along Fort Monroe's sense-of-place-defining bayfront. (Development will happen in any case on the part away from the bayfront.) Precious public land is about to be consigned permanently to privileged private use. The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot says that if this really does happen, Fort Monroe will be permanently "degraded." Please see the August 2012 National Parks Traveler posting and online discussion linked from the second paragraph above, and please also see . Thanks.

May we please have more information than just a mention about the San Juan Islands National Monument? All of the others got at least a paragraph.

From the Virginia Pilot article linked by Mr. Cornelissen, "After five years of bipartisan stalling on securing a substantial national park by congressional action, Virginia's leaders dodged their
obvious duty."

It sounds as if some of Virginia's legislators or others are responsible for this situation and not the NPS. Can we get some more details? Is that land being tagged for private development or some other purpose? Did political pressures prevent the entire area from being designated as a monument? The line about "privileged private use" in Mr. Cornelissen's post makes it sound that way. Judging from that, and material in another place called "Think Outside the Moat," it certainly sounds as if the big money interests are winning this one.

I'm not questioning anything he said, just asking for help in understanding the backstory.

To Lee Dalton:

In 2005, Virginia's leaders, exploiting a base-closure law that doesn't know a Fort Drab in a cornfield from a national treasure, firmly framed Fort Monroe as a redevelopment project for Hampton. That framing is as irresponsible and unwise as framing Monticello or Mount Vernon for "redevelopment," a key word in the base-closure law.

But because Fort Monroe is a billion-dollar-scale piece of prime waterfront, and because preservationists have to pick their battles, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) chose in 2005 mainly to try meekly to channel, rather than forthrightly to oppose, the enormous force of the development interests--a force exerted through the politicians whose campaigns the development industry bankrolls.

Even the local PBS/NPR station, though it put up a semblance of impartiality, essentially accepted the preposterous notion that one city should control and exploit such a national treasure--the site of what Edward L. Ayers has called "the greatest moment in American history." (See the three-minute clip )

After six years of succeeding in maintaining the framing of Fort Monroe as mainly a development project, Virginia's leaders engineered a fake, split national monument. Great, right? Problem is, the national stewardship applies mostly to the parts of Fort Monroe never threatened by overdevelopment anyway. When NTHP and others, including a bamboozled national media, began referring--utterly falsely--to all of Fort Monroe as a national monument, the chances of saving the sense of place nearly vanished. The original misframing is being permanently cemented, with the national media oblivious.

If you'll glance at the map-photo illustration at, you can see the problem. The area on the left (on the map) will be developed in any scenario. It's the red area on the bayfront that's at issue--the precious, sense-of-place-defining land between the two parts of the irresponsibly split national monument. If Ed Ayers is even half-right, what's about to be sacrificed to mainly private interests is the sense of place of a historic landscape that matters not just in American history, but in the planet's history of liberty.

Yet the New York Times doesn't know it. And the Washington Post believes naively that the whole landscape has been set aside, even the development area that I mentioned. They believed Virginia's press-release-style disingenuousness.

Want to help? There's only one chance now, and it's a long shot--very long. Please see "How you can help" at The only chance now is for the nation itself to shame Virginia into correcting the squalid failure. And that's all the harder given NTHP's craven withholding of its stature from support of this cause.

I hope you read the brief basic writeup at the top of the page at part that begins, "Fort Monroe, Virginia, looks across the lower Chesapeake Bay, over Hampton Roads harbor, deep into four centuries of America's past, and--if America makes sensible post-Army use of it--far into the coming centuries." Thanks.

P.S.: Yes, it's not the NPS's fault. It's the fault of Virginia's leaders, who howled when the federal government sought to move an aircraft carrier away from its home port of Norfolk, but feigned meek powerlessness concerning the national park decision so as to blame the poor civil servants at NPS. National parks result from state political momentum--and they don't materialize when a state's leaders don't want them. Also: the line you quoted is not from the editorial of the Virginian-Pilot. What those editors say is simple: without unification of the split national monument, Fort Monroe is forever "degraded."

Thank you for the details, Steve. It is, unfortunately, a very familiar story. Trying to overcome the money that is behind special interests such as land developers is an almost hopeless task anywhere.

Here in Utah there is a big flap right now over proposals to move the state's prison from its present prime location. The move will be funded by taxpayers and then the land will be turned over to developers and they will realize most, if not all, of the profits. About 84% of our legislators are involved in some way in land development or real estate. I imagine it's probably a similar situation in Virginia. We just need to remember that there is no conflict interest in any of it, though. Right?

I'm afraid about all many of us can do is wish you and your friends luck. But maybe there will be some other readers of Traveler who will have more to offer than I have. Let's hope you hear from them.

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