3…2010

2010 Articles, Editorials, Letters to the Editor

What are Fort Monroe’s national park possibilities?

By David Macaulay, dmacaulay@dailypress.com | 247-7838
7:20 a.m. EST, December 3, 2010

 

HAMPTON — The Fort Monroe Authority wants to bring a national park to the historic site after the Army leaves in September 2011. But the authority has yet to decide whether it wants a limited national park presence, as recommended by the National Parks Service, or larger area.

WHY A NATIONAL PARK?

The Fort Monroe Authority believes an outside entity “would be desirable to manage certain resources and specific categories of interpretation at Fort Monroe” resulting in cost savings, according to a letter sent in September to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Virginia, from Dennis Reidenbach, the regional director of the northeast region for the National Park Service.

DOES THE PARK SERVICE AGREE?

A team that visited in the summer concluded elements of Fort Monroe could support a unit of the parks service around a “primary area of interest.”

WHAT IS THE PRIMARY AREA OF INTEREST?

The team said it was interested in the area delineated by the road system around the fort and the moat. It includes all of the resources in the fortress and the moat, as well as resources between the moat and the street comprising the outer perimeter. Certain buildings were identified as possibilities for the National Park Service to own and manage.

WHAT WOULD THE NPS WANT?

Donated services such as water, sewer, electricity and all costs associated with the management and up keeping of the buildings along with ownership and preservation easements in the primary area of interest.

The park service would want some control over development adjacent to the national park to make sure it was compatible.

WHAT ABOUT A LARGER PARK?

Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park backs a larger park that would include the northern area — about 195 acres of a natural area — with a green strip connecting it to the fort. They say the NPS is wrong to say the natural resources are of no national significance because the whole site is a national historic landmark.

HAS THE FORT MONROE AUTHORITY ADOPTED A PREFERRED STANCE?

No, but a task force set up by the authority has backed the National Park Service proposal. Some board members such as Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward have said they prefer a larger national park.

HOW LONG WOULD IT TAKE FOR FORT MONROE TO BECOME A NATIONAL PARK?

As long as five years, according to Terrie Suit, the authority’s board chairwoman. A presidential directive might make the process quicker, but the land would have to be in federal ownership first.

 

Make Fort Monroe a national park

The Virginian-Pilot
© November 28, 2010

Perhaps it’s time for a presidential proclamation to add Fort Monroe to the national park system.

It’s not the ideal way to ensure the national landmark achieves its fullest potential as a tourist attraction and educational resource, but it’s preferable to the hesitancy and mixed signals expressed recently by some officials involved in determining the fort’s future.

In less than a year, the Army is scheduled to vacate the installation in Hampton and turn it over to the state.

After extensive debate over how much of the property could or should be developed, a clear consensus has emerged – bring in the National Park Service to manage the most historic parts of the 570-acre site and rent houses and other buildings to help cover the costs of maintenance and operation.

The Fort Monroe Authority, the state entity overseeing the transition of the land from the Army, has supported National Park Service involvement. The Presidio of San Francisco, a historic Army facility folded into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area through a public-private partnership, is frequently cited as the model.

But this month, the authority’s board of trustees postponed a vote on the park service’s involvement. Some members expressed doubts about the size of the agency’s role. Chairwoman Terrie Suit urged caution about expecting heavy involvement.

And Doug Domenech, the state’s secretary of natural resources, cautioned that the board should “be careful how much we put on the table for the Park Service, because once they’re there, they’re never going to go away.”

That’s precisely the point, as Steve Corneliussen, a longtime advocate of establishing a national park at Fort Monroe, pointed out. “It gives a certain stability,” he said.

The National Park Service possesses interpretive skills and research experience unrivaled by anything the state can offer. The agency’s involvement would raise the fort’s profile nationally. That familiar brown Park Service sign carries weight. Substantial weight.

Fort Monroe’s history – particularly its role as a refuge for slaves fleeing the Confederacy during the Civil War – is an educational and economic resource that Virginia leaders must fully embrace, with the National Park Service as a full partner.

There are two ways to bring the agency in: by congressional vote or by presidential proclamation. If there isn’t swift movement on the first front, Virginia should ask President Barack Obama to invoke his power to create a park at Fort Monroe.

 

Split over size of National Park at Monroe

By David Macaulay, dmacaulay@dailypress.com | 247-7838
8:49 p.m. EST, November 18, 2010

HAMPTON — The Fort Monroe Authority will continue to work toward establishing a national park to the historic site, despite a split on how extensive a park should be.

A task force set up by the authority is backing a limited national park presence in the fort and part of the historic area in line with a recommendation by the National Park Service.

But the case for a “substantial” national park was made at Thursday’s Fort Monroe Authority board meeting by a citizens group that has collected 7,000 signatures in favor of this and other safeguards at the historic post. Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, who is on the authority’s board, also backs a larger national park.

David Dutton of the planning company Dutton + Associates, a member of the authority’s National Park Service Task Force, said the park service is most interested in four historic buildings and the Parade Ground.

“They also asked for donated services to these particular resources. They wanted water, sewer electricity — all costs associated with managing and up keeping these facilities — they wanted to be donated,” he said.

He said the National Park Service has asked for control of those buildings and easements in the fort area. The task force recommends the commonwealth maintains ownership of the buildings.

In September, a team from the park service concluded Fort Monroe is likely to meet the criteria for a national park, but the primary area of interest is inside the moat and the historic fortress rather than the natural parts of Fort Monroe, according to a letter to U.S. Sen. Jim Webb from Dennis R. Reidenbach, regional director of the northeast region of the National Park Service.

“The natural resources are not of national significance,” he wrote.

Dutton said the park service wants to ensure development adjacent to a national park would be compatible.

The task force is recommending that the National Park Service would be responsible for the costs of buildings under its control.

Dutton said the task force has considered a proposal by one of its members, Mark Perreault of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, to expand the area of interest to include about 195 acres of the undeveloped natural part of Fort Monroe to the north.

The task force voted to stay with the park service’s original recommended area, said Dutton.

Terrie Suit, chairwoman of the authority’s board, referred to a recent meeting with park service staff. She said it was an “extraordinarily long process” to get the National Park Service to take on a new national park. “It’s not a slam dunk thing to get it passed,” she said. Suit said it was probably a “four, five year, if not longer process.”

She suggested pursuing a larger park could put off park service officials. The board decided Thursday to progress with the park service’s idea but put off a decision on the size of a potential national park.

Steven Corneliussen of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park told the board said it was “factually wrong” for the park service to say the natural resources were of “no national significance.”

“This is a national historic landmark,” he said.

Sam Martin, chairman of the committee for petitioners calling for a referendum on Fort Monroe, said the petition called for a “truly substantial national park” at Fort Monroe.

“We believe the National Park Service’s report was very conservative,” he said.

Mayor Ward said the city of Hampton is committed to attracting a National Park Service unit at Fort Monroe. “I would like to see us expand what we are expecting from the National Park Service in the primary area of interest.”

See the Hampton Matters blog at dailypress.com/hamptonmatters

Will a national park be at Fort Monroe?

  • The Army will vacate Fort Monroe on Sept. 15, 2011 when ownership will revert to the commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Last year the former Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority voted to seek a National Park unit at Fort Monroe.
  • A team from the National Park Service recently concluded Fort Monroe is likely to meet the criteria for a national park to be set up at the post, but only in a small historic area around the stone fort.
  • Federal legislation would be required to set up a National Park Service unit at Fort Monroe.

It could take three to four years to set up a national park.

 

 

Fort Monroe’s time is now

The Virginian-Pilot
© October 2, 2010

Fort Monroe could become a tourist attraction and educational resource of national significance – a landmark as well known to Americans as Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.

But the fort, with a history stretching back to the early 1600s, won’t reach its potential unless Virginia’s congressional delegation and state government leaders secure the greatest possible involvement from the National Park Service. Last week, Sen. Jim Webb received a letter from the park system’s northeast regional director, Dennis Reidenbach, summarizing the results of a visit to the fort by agency officials in July.

The news was heartening: The park service is interested in establishing a presence at the fort in Hampton, primarily on 100 acres in and around the stone fortress and moat.

The response was markedly different than two years ago, when a park service study concluded the obvious – that the land is historically important – but stopped well short of proposing a prominent role in the fort’s future. The Army is scheduled to depart next September and transfer ownership of the land to the state.

In addition to outlining the park service’s main areas of interest, Reidenbach emphasized the need for greater assurances that the land-use plan for the fort’s full 565 acres is compatible with what visitors to a national park typically experience.

Fort Monroe Authority, the state entity overseeing plans for the fort, has welcomed the park service’s involvement and should move quickly to remedy its concerns.

The authority envisions creating at Fort Monroe something similar to the Presidio of San Francisco, a historic Army installation that was folded into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area through a public-private partnership. Houses and other buildings on the property are leased to help cover the Presidio’s maintenance and operation.

At Fort Monroe, the critical question now – for the congressional delegation, among others – is how much involvement the National Park Service will have in managing and operating Fort Monroe. Our belief is it should be as extensive as possible and go well beyond technical assistance.

The park service possesses interpretive skills and research experience that can’t be matched by the state. And the agency’s involvement would enhance the fort’s profile nationally.

The history of Fort Monroe – particularly the exodus of 10,000 slaves to Hampton during the Civil War – deserves to reach a much wider audience. The opportunity to tell that story and many others will never present itself more clearly than now.

 

 

Freedom’s Fortress

 

National Parks Conversation Association
Fall, 2010

At Virginia’s Fort Monroe, preserving the past may mean striking out in a new direction.

By Jeff Rennicke

Hushed voices. The slow slap of waves. The creak of an oar lock. It is May 23, 1861. Three figures, half-hidden by a cloak of darkness, set off from Sewell’s Point near Norfolk, Virginia, to row a small boat across the wind-stirred waters of Hampton Roads to Old Point Comfort at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

It is a simple act, yet one that will change the course of American history, spell the beginning of the end for slavery, and, 140 years later, sit squarely at the center of efforts to preserve an American landmark and create the newest unit of our National Park System. On this night, however, the three men simply take their bearings, lean hard into the oars, and row.

Jutting into the deep waters of Chesapeake Bay off Virginia’s eastern coast, Old Point Comfort is a natural lookout, a clenched fist protecting one of the largest natural harbors on the Eastern Seaboard. Archaeological evidence shows that humans used the point as a transportation route and hunted migrating waterfowl and sea life for more than 10,000 years before Europeans arrived. In 1608, Captain John Smith dubbed Old Point Comfort a place “fit for a castle.” Yet forts, not castles, would play the leading role in the history of the Point.

As early as 1609, the British built Algernoune Fort—a wooden structure “10 hands high” and large enough to hold 40 soldiers and seven mounted cannons. Fire claimed the fort three years later. In 1619, the first African slaves to set foot on North American soil stopped here aboard Dutch ships bound for Jamestown. In 1727, the more formidable Fort George was built to guard against French invasion. Constructed of brick and shell lime, this was a fort “no ship could pass … without running great risk,” as Governor William Gooch would write in 1736. It was no match, however, for the hurricane that destroyed it in 1749.

During the War of 1812, the fledgling United States was dealt a stinging reminder of the point’s strategic importance. The single lighthouse that guarded Old Point Comfort at the time was no deterrent to the British Navy, which moved uncontested up the waterways to strike deep into the heart of the new nation, sacking Baltimore and setting fire to Washington. The lesson was not lost on President James Madison. In 1819, he appointed French military engineer Simon Bernard to oversee construction of the largest moat-encircled stone fort ever built in America. And he ordered it built at Old Point Comfort.

Fifteen years in the making and sporting a price tag of nearly $2 million, Fort Monroe is a true fortress—63 acres encompassed by a mile-long moat and fortified with granite walls 10 feet thick. It holds 380 gun mounts and housed 2,600 men in times of war. Named for our fifth president, it was considered nearly impregnable by land or sea, secure enough to house Abraham Lincoln during the height of the Civil War. Its labyrinth of streets and buildings have seen a parade of famous figures and events—Robert E. Lee helped with construction of the moat; Edgar Allen Poe, who enlisted under the alias of “Edgar A. Perry,” set his famous poem “Annabel Lee” at this “kingdom by the sea”; Chief Blackhawk and Jefferson Davis were both prisoners within its walls; Harriet Tubman acted as a matron of the fort’s hospital; soldiers atop the walls of the fort witnessed the March 9, 1862, battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac (a.k.a. CSS Virginia), which would change naval history forever.

Yet for all of that, perhaps the fort’s greatest moment came that May night in 1861 when Frank Baker, Sheppard Mallory, and James Townsend—slaves belonging to Confederate General Charles Mallory—slipped a small, stolen boat into the waters of Hampton Roads and rowed for freedom.

What these three men did was an act of exceptional courage,” says Professor Robert Engs, author of Freedom’s First Generation. “Under the Fugitive Slave Act, there were dire consequences for runaway slaves.” Yet, if they did nothing, the men faced being ripped from their homes and families and taken south as part of the Confederate work force. And so they rowed for Fort Monroe hoping to find freedom, and according to Engs, became “the foot soldiers of a revolution that changed the course of U.S. history.”

At Fort Monroe, Union General Benjamin Butler deemed the men “contraband of war” and refused to send them back to their owner. The next day, eight more slaves showed up at the fort; 47 the day after that. The three men had touched off the first mass freedom movement of the Civil War. Eventually some 20,000 men, women, and children flocked to the fort, an act that weakened the Confederate labor force, changed the focus of the war into a fight over slavery, and led directly to the Emancipation Proclamation and the disintegration of the institution. “Fort Monroe,” says Professor Engs, “is where freedom for all Americans truly began.”

Echoes of History

Still an active military installation, Fort Monroe has seen its role gradually change from one of coastal defense to headquarters for a series of Army commands including, most recently, the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. But budget cuts and fort closures across the country had put the future of the fort in question. Finally, in 2005, the Department of Defense announced that on September 14, 2011, after 188 years of continual presence, the U.S. Army will vacate historic Fort Monroe. The move has touched off yet another battle in its long and storied history: the battle for the future of what has become known as “Freedom’s Fortress.”

The city of Hampton, where the fort resides, fired the first volley in that battle with its “draft reuse plan” released in 2006. Faced with an estimated 7-percent drop in tax revenue from the closure of the fort, the city sought to maximize development. Artists’ renditions accompanying the plan depicted dense concentrations of three-story office buildings and up to 2,500 residential units that, according to one observer, would have ended up “submerging the historic properties in a sea of new privately owned residences.”

A clause in the original 1838 deed makes it clear, however, that it is the Commonwealth of Virginia, not the city of Hampton, that will take over possession of Fort Monroe. In 2007, the state legislature created the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority (FMFADA). Bill Armbruster, FMFADA’s executive director, acknowledges that rumors of the fort’s fate have run rampant. “A number of scenarios have been put out there, and some of the early ideas did call for new dense urban development,” says the former Pentagon official. “I even heard a rumor of casinos. But the rumors are just not true.” In 2008, then-Governor Tim Kaine called on FMFADA to produce a reuse plan in which “revenue maximization” was not “goal one.” The plan, signed by the governor in August 2008, calls for preservation of the core of the fort site as well as some new construction focusing on residential units, office space and “hospitality services,” which would, according to Armbruster, be leased to help raise operating funds. The plan also calls for preservation of nearly 40 percent of the site as green space. “We believe we can maintain the historic fabric of this place and make Fort Monroe a vibrant, self-sustaining destination—the two are not incompatible.”

“The FMFADA reuse plan is a step in the right direction,” says Mark Perreault, president of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park. But even that plan, he says, leaves several major questions unanswered. One of these is the fate of the Wherry Quarter, a 100-acre parcel of land where mid-20th century housing is likely to be removed. Many hope that it will be restored to open space, marshlands, and beach-front property, and once again become the heart of Old Point Comfort. The plan labels the future of this section as “undetermined.” “That’s better than having it slated for development,” says Perreault, “but it also leaves a critical part of the future of the fort undefined and unprotected.”

An even bigger question mark revolves around something the FMFADA plan did not address: What role should the National Park Service play in the future of Freedom’s Fortress?

Fort Monroe National Park?

“Fort Monroe is a national treasure,” says Stephen Corneliussen, a long-time resident and vice president of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park. “It is grand public place that belongs to all of us, and the National Park Service is the only agency with the experience and expertise to take on the challenge of its protection and interpretation.”

That challenge is a big one—570 acres with more than 250 buildings, a mile-long moat, a 322-slip marina, three miles of promenade, an 85-acre wetland, not to mention an estimated $4-million annual operating budget. A May 2008 Park Service Reconnaissance Study acknowledges that daunting challenge by stating that while “the resources of Fort Monroe are likely to meet the criteria for national significance and suitability as a potential unit of the National Park System,” it is unlikely that the Park Service is in a position to take over management of the entire 570-acres or even the smaller 63-acre moated fort without “a strong and financially sustainable partner to contribute to the costs of managing, maintaining, and operating” the fort and grounds.

With a potential for up to 2 million square feet of leasable commercial space, more than 300 residential units, and an annual visitation of up to 250,000, the site could be part of a “strong and financially sustainable” partnership, says Corneliussen. ““The problem is that if you say ‘national park,’ some people take that to mean that nothing changes whatsoever, that a velvet rope is placed across the gateway and all you can do is gaze adoringly at what existed in the past. That’s not what we have in mind at all.”

Some people have pointed to California’s Presidio as a potential model, but Perreault says the Presidio model is not simply an “overlay” for any potential new park unit at Fort Monroe, citing differences in real estate values, ownership, and the lack of a federal trust to act as seed money. “We have to think outside the moat here,” he says. “A solid, strong presence of the National Park Service is critical. Uncle Sam, through the National Park Service, should be a principal player at Fort Monroe. It is something the nation built. It is a part of our history, and so its protection should be seen as a national obligation.”

Whatever form it takes, engaging the Park Service in the future of Fort Monroe is an idea that is catching on. A recent poll in the Virginian-Pilot, the newspaper that serves the Hampton Roads area, revealed that 86 percent of local citizens like the idea of a new national park. FMFADA, under the direction of Bill Armbruster, recently voted unanimously to pursue a strong Park Service presence and will work closely with Congress to draft the necessary legislation. Even the city of Hampton, whose original plan led some to fear the fort would be lost, recently passed a resolution that envisions “the National Park Service playing a major, active role in the reuse of Fort Monroe and urges a specific emphasis on the unique history of African Americans at Fort Monroe including especially the Contraband Slave Story.”

“This is our Ellis Island,” says Gerri Hollins, a descendant of a “contraband” slave and a founder of the Contraband Historical Society. “It is a place that marks both the beginning of slavery and the beginning of the end of slavery in this country. More people need to understand what happened here and its value in American history.” Just what form that story will be told in and who will be responsible for its telling are yet to be decided. “It is really about finding what will work best for this place rather than having preconceived notions about one model or another that may have been used elsewhere,” says Kathleen Kilpatrick, head of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources. “It is a question of finding the right model even if it means striking out on your own.” A fitting image for a place where three men changed the course of American history by striking out on their own in search of freedom.

Jeff Rennicke teaches environmental literature classes at Conserve School in Wisconsin’s North Woods.

 

Fort Monroe transition team gets a makeover

By Kate Wiltrout
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 25, 2010

FORT MONROE

The agency that will run Fort Monroe after the Army departs next year is getting a makeover – and some long-sought attention from the National Park Service.

As of Thursday, the organization overseeing the transition of the 565-acre waterfront fort to civilian control will have a new name and a smaller board of trustees.

A political subdivision of the state, similar to a city government, the Fort Monroe Authority will be led by an 11-member board comprising members of the General Assembly, state secretaries, and trustees appointed by the governor and the city of Hampton.

It replaces the 3-year-old Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority and its 18 board members.

Some things aren’t changing. Bill Armbruster continues as the agency’s executive director, and most of his staff is staying. The board of trustees will have four familiar faces: Del. Tom Gear; Sen. John Miller; Doug Domenech, secretary of Natural Resources; and James S. Cheng, secretary of Commerce and Trade.

Joining them will be Hampton Mayor Molly Ward and Councilman Ross Kearney II. The final five members are still a mystery: Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to name them soon. The board’s first meeting is July 22.

Some important visitors will be there.

Armbruster said the National Park Service notified him it would send a team of officials to Fort Monroe in July for a week’s worth of research and meetings.

The visit comes in response to a letter signed by three congressmen and both Virginia U.S. senators, asking the park service to consider a role in the management and operation of the property.

Armbruster said he was amazed by the service’s quick response to the May 26 letter from the elected officials. The visit is scheduled for July 19 to 23.

“This is a remarkable turnaround for any agency within the Beltway,” Armbruster said.

He hopes the authority and park service can hammer out draft legislation establishing a unit of the park service at Fort Monroe for submission to Congress in the fall.

Cherilyn Widell, director of heritage asset management for the authority, said the visiting park service team has expertise in planning, interpretation, facilities management and historic architecture.

One thing already on the team’s schedule, she said, was a meeting with Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, a grass roots group that for years has advocated park service involvement.

Widell credited the group for persevering even after a 2008 study concluded that the fort’s preservation didn’t require National Park Service involvement. Last year, the board voted to pursue a partnership with the park service and asked state and federal officials to help.

“Without the efforts of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, we would not be in this position today,” Widell said.

 

 

Expand Park Service role at Fort Monroe

The Virginian-Pilot
© June 15, 2010

When the Army departs Fort Monroe in Hampton next year, the state of Virginia will become the owner of a major tourist attraction. As Ann Clausen, a consultant who helped draft a blueprint for the 570-acre property, recently put it, “There’s a lot to do here already.”

And there is. The Casemate Museum, for starters, offers a sweeping view of four centuries of history – a tale populated by Capt. John Smith, Chief Black Hawk, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Tubman, Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln.

But if Fort Monroe is going to reach its potential – as a tourist destination, educational resource, research center, economic development engine and community gathering place – the state will need help.

Last month, Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner joined Reps. Glenn Nye, Bobby Scott and Rob Wittman in sending a long-awaited letter formally asking the National Park Service to take on a greater role.

The Fort Monroe Authority, a state panel, has been working on plans for the National Historic Landmark site when the Army turns it over next year as part of ongoing base closures and realignments.

Much of the discussion has centered on how much development should be allowed. The consensus is to preserve historic and environmental resources and make greater use of the fort’s beachfront.

Revenue for maintenance and upgrades (the Casemate Museum’s exhibits, for example, need refreshing) would be generated by leasing buildings for office space and other compatible uses. The model most often cited is the Presidio in California.

Two years ago, the National Park Service completed a study that called Fort Monroe “an exceptionally important portal” through which to view American history. But the report left unanswered what role, if any, the agency would play in managing the site.

The appropriate answer, in a word: significant.

Of vital interest is the story of three slaves – Frank Baker, Sheppard Mallory and James Townsend – who fled to the fort early in the Civil War. They were deemed contraband of war by the Union general in command, a move that prompted more than 10,000 slaves to make their way to “Freedom’s Fortress.”

This chapter in the fort’s history, unknown to most Americans, deserves more attention than it has received. The National Park Service is equipped to present the breadth of the fort’s history to visitors.

There is much to do at Fort Monroe now. But there’s much more left to do to ensure its rich role in American history gets the notice it deserves.

 

Council takes stand on Fort Monroe’s future

The future of Fort Monroe after the Army leaves it in September 2011 remains uncertain, with major questions hovering over who will pay for new infrastructure and services.

But a vision for the future that is rooted heavily in the past is gathering shape.

Last Wednesday, the [Hampton] City Council affirmed its commitment to preservation by issuing a resolution to support the National Park Service unit in the reuse of Fort Monroe, and to encourage a focus on African-American history at the fort.

By supporting a National Park Service presence at Fort Monroe, the city is in line with the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, which supported the move last year.

Daily Press
Hampton Notebook, April 21, 2010 (Daily Press)

 

Backers look to Fort Monroe as a national park

By Kate Wiltrout
The Virginian-Pilot
© January 10, 2010

It can take years – and multiple acts of Congress – to add a new national park to the lineup that includes Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

A legislative effort to create a park honoring Harriet Tubman, for instance, began in 2000 and only now is nearing completion. Even asking the National Park Service to study a potential addition requires congressional approval, and those studies often take years to complete.

None of that scares Bill Armbruster, executive director of the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority.

Armbruster is leading the effort to have at least part of the Army base – including its moated stone fort – designated as a unit of the national park system when the state assumes control of the 570-acre property in late 2011. He has been busy since Nov. 19, when the authority’s board voted unanimously to pursue national park status.

In December, Armbruster went to Washington to talk to local legislators about sponsoring a resolution supporting that goal.

Clark Pettig, a spokesman for Rep. Glenn Nye, whose district includes Fort Monroe, said Nye plans to introduce a resolution within a month supporting park service involvement.

Armbruster got Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to invite Jonathan Jarvis, director of the Park Service, to tour Fort Monroe, and hopes to host a meeting with Jarvis and members of the congressional delegation in the coming months.

Armbruster envisions negotiations later this year among the park service, the state and the state-appointed authority. His timeline calls for having Congress implement the legislation in the first half of 2011.

“We have moved rapidly, and I think it took some folks by surprise,” Armbruster said Thursday. “We wanted to keep that momentum going, particularly before the Kaine administration left.”

In the meantime, he has worked to brief Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell’s team and said he’s confident that McDonnell supports a park service role.

He noted that as attorney general, McDonnell has overseen the legal ramifications of the base’s pending transfer to state ownership.

The transfer date – Sept. 30, 2011 – is a major motivator.

“We want to have this thing done by the time the Army leaves, and have the National Park Service ready to take on that management responsibility,” Armbruster said.

To help achieve that goal, he has the assistance of a three-member task force that includes John Reynolds, former deputy director of the park service. Reynolds spent time as interim director of the Presidio, a former Army base in San Francisco that’s jointly managed by the park service and The Presidio Trust. He thinks the Presidio is a good model for Fort Monroe. With the money generated from renting out its buildings, it is on track to become a self-sustaining entity.

Reynolds said the current leaders of the park service embrace forming partnerships with other entities and finding new ways to manage historic assets. “I call it the new National Park Service, or the 21st-century National Park Service,” Reynolds said.

He’s confident the service will embrace a role at Fort Monroe.

“They believe very deeply that this is a very important part of America’s story,” Reynolds said.

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