Video shown at the Awards Dinner on February 23, 2012 on YouTube at Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park (FortMonroeCitizens.org) Daily Press Citizens of the Year
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park group. Front Row Left to Right: Gerri Hollins, Betty Harper Wyatt, Karen Perreauct, Joanne Berkley, Monika Malone Back Row Left to Right: Adrian Whitcomb, Philip Adderley, Mark Perreault, Ron Wilson, Alec Gould, Scott Butler (Rob Ostermaier, Daily Press / February 8, 2012)
By Robert Brauchle, email@example.com | 757-247-2827
10:02 p.m. EST, February 11, 2012
— In an economic climate where so few federal resources are earmarked to preserve the treasures of America’s past, the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park managed to rally the community around the common goal of preserving the historic Army post.
Leading a public campaign, the group successfully took its fight to Capitol Hill, where President Barack Obama utilized the Antiquities Act to place nearly two-thirds of the land at Fort Monroe on the list of National Park Service monuments.
In recognition of the group’s work to lobby state, local and federal officials, as well as unite an entire community, the Daily Press Editorial Board honors the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park as its Citizen of the Year for 2011.
The award has been presented annually by the Daily Press since 1989 and was awarded in 2010 to Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey.
For this year’s award, readers nominated 25 people including numerous pastors, volunteers and community leaders from areas throughout the Peninsula area.
A ‘grand public place’The initial charge for a “grand public place” at Fort Monroe didn’t come from paid lobbyists or out-of-town consultants. Local scientists, environmentalists, teachers, historians and planners found a common interest in preserving the Army’s only stone fort and the land surrounding it.
Even after President Obama declared the north beach and stone fort area as a National Park Service monument, Citizens members have continued working with the Fort Monroe Authority.
The authority will oversee the day-to-day operations of the property once the Army leaves this year.
Authority Executive Director Glenn Oder said he keeps an open line to the Citizens group to solicit its opinion on numerous issues including the views from the fort to the water.
As Obama noted during his signing of the national monument declaration, the Citizens group was working to improve Fort Monroe from early in the base realignment process.
“This success is a testament to what can be accomplished when citizens act in the best interests of their community, and leaders put the interests of the country ahead of political party,” Obama said.
The effort by Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park began before the ink dried on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s authorization in August 2005 to deactivate Fort Monroe. By that summer’s end, the citizens already received status as a non-profit entity.
Following the BRAC announcement, few people could comprehend the fate of the land that had been used for more than four centuries to protect the waters of Hampton Roads. After all, the Army was as much a part of Hampton as the English who first landed in 1606 and the seafood industry that helped finance construction when the town was burned during the Civil War.
Old Point Comfort’s military history dates to the early 1600s when the southeastern tip of the Peninsula was recognized as a strategic stronghold to protect ports in the Chesapeake Bay and along the James River.
During its nearly 200-year existence, Fort Monroe was a destination for escaped slaves. The stone fort was also used to imprison Confederate President Jefferson Davis following the Civil War.
The military personnel may have been lost with BRAC, but the Citizens weren’t ready to drain the fort’s moat and raise the white flag.
Instead of “Hampton’s newest neighborhood” — which some planners used to denote the development that could spring up on Fort Monroe if the land was gifted to the city — the Citizens called for the post’s historic nature to be preserved and that the site be a “grand public place” for all.
And so the public campaign began.
National Park Service“A national park designation for Fort Monroe would also ensure public access to the boardwalk, the beach, the fishing pier and the open green space that could be used as a picnic and hiking area,” wrote Citizens Treasurer Scott Butler in a 2006 letter to the Daily Press.
“It would place Fort Monroe on a par with Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg, and make Hampton another destination city in our region,” he wrote.
While Fort Monroe would be deactivated as a military installation, the Citizens found a model of preservation in San Francisco’s Presidio. That former Army post is now run under the cooperative management of the National Park Service and a federal trust.
The Presidio, however, also includes homes, restaurants and other businesses that preservationists believe need to be closely restricted in the future of Fort Monroe. In Hampton, much of that will happen under the guidance of the Fort Monroe Authority, the public body charged with guiding Monroe’s transformation from military installation to commonwealth entity.
In their effort to get Fort Monroe under park service purview, the members of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park took their message to the media and public. They collected thousands of public signatures while aligning a single goal with state and regional preservation groups.
As they lobbied, Citizens members found state and federal officials were not initially open to earmarking taxpayers’ dollars toward another national monument. Virginia already had more than a dozen such sites — so what was the rush for another?
“The more acquainted legislators became with this story, the more difficult it was for them to think of Fort Monroe as a land-development deal,” Butler said.
Citizens’ members made numerous trips to Richmond and Washington, D.C., to lobby their cause, said Citizens President Mark Perreault and member Joanne Berkley.
Without consensus from state officials, group members felt the federal government would not act on the Citizens’ request.
And soon enough, lawmakers in Richmond, including then-Gov. Tim Kaine, were swayed to support the cause for a national monument.
As time passed, the city and the community helped spread the Citizens’ message. Hampton officials began a “wear green” campaign to support the national monument when President Barack Obama visited the Peninsula in late October 2011.
Federal officials such as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar as well as U.S. Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News, and Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, were soon behind for Citizens’ cause. And in the U.S. Senate, Jim Webb and Mark Warner advocated for the national monument with legislation.
More than five years after the BRAC announcement, the federal brass came to Hampton to get the community’s thoughts on the post’s future.
In late June, Salazar was met at the Bay Breeze Community Center on Fort Monroe by National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and other local officialsto talk about the community’s support for a national monument designation.
The meeting was overwhelmingly positive, Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward said.
“I’d have to say that if you were to classify everyone in that group, you would say that they’re all very intelligent, gracious and dedicated people,” Ward said of the Citizens members.
On Nov. 1, Obama signed a declaration naming land at Fort Monroe the country’s newest National Monument. On hand for the signing were numerous local officials including Perreault, members of the Fort Monroe Authority, Ward, Scott and Rigell.
The group’s work will not be complete for some time, Perreault said.
“Persistence, persistence, persistence – that’s the key to our mission,” he said.
Timeline — BRAC to a National Monument
April 200: The 29-member Steering Committee of the Hampton Federal Area Development Authority meets for the first time in the post’s former officers’ club to lead discussions about the fort’s future.
May 13, 2005: Fort Monroe is targeted for closure by the Base Realignment and Closing Commission.
Summer 200: Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park applies for and receives non-profit status.
July 6, 200: Scott Butler, the group’s treasurer, writes [one of] the first letter[s] to the Daily Press advocating for the national park. Dozens of similar letters from group members are written and published in the following years.
July 200: The city of Hampton holds a weeklong series of meetings to gather public input about the future of the post.
August 2005: BRAC recommends closure of Fort Monroe.
November 2006: A reuse plan for Fort Monroe created by state and local officials draws criticism because it includes residential development north of the stone fort.
January 2007: Then-state Del. Tom Gear, R-Hampton, submits a resolution asking members of Congress and U.S. Senate to champion legislation requiring the federal government to study possibly turning Fort Monroe into a national monument.
October 2007: The Department of the Interior earmarks $25,000 for a study to determine whether the National Park Service can afford to take over Fort Monroe and run it as a national monument following the A[r]my’s departure.
December 2007: The National Park Service begins accepting public comment about Fort Monroe and its future.
June 2008: A National Park Service study states that operating and maintaining Fort Monroe as a national monument would be too costly for the department.
October 2008: Henry “H.O.” Malone, then president of the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park and former chief historian of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command dies of a heart attack at the age of 74.
January 2009: The Hampton City Council and Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority publicly support a petition from the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park to make Fort Monroe a “grand public place.”
May 2011: A local delegation including Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward travel to Washington, D.C., to make the case for a national monument at Fort Monroe. President Barack Obama is also urged to back the effort.
June 2011: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visits Fort Monroe to test the public’s opinion about the monument proposal.
July 2011: Hundreds of people attend meetings hosted by the National Park Service at the Hampton Roads Convention Center. Legislation to create a national monument is submitted to Congress.
September 2011: Fort Monroe is officially deactivated by the Army. Salazar again announces support for the national monument designation.
October 2011: The case for a national monument is made at a Congressional hearing. During a trip to the Peninsula on an unrelated issue, Obama finds thousands of people wearing green in support of Fort Monroe.
November 2011: Obama uses his power from the Antiquities Act to declare portions of Fort Monroe as a national monument.
Citizens for a Fort Monroe National ParkBoard of Directors and Officers:
President: Mark D. Perreault, Norfolk. A general solicitor atNorfolk Southern Corp. and a former president of the Norfolk Preservation Alliance
Vice president: Gerri L. Hollins, Hampton. Founder of the Contraband Historical Society
Secretary: Samuel R. Martin, Hampton. Senior consultant with S.R. Martin Associates, an architecture and planning firm, and a civic leader in the Buckroe area
Treasurer: Dr. H. Scott Butler, Newport News. Retired English literature professor at Thomas Nelson Community College
Webmaster: Adrian Whitcomb, Newport News. Teacher, writer, photographer, civic advocate
Philip Adderley, Yorktown. Works at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News
Joanne Berkley, Norfolk. Founder of the Norfolk Preservation Alliance and a trustee on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Louis L. Guy, Norfolk. A civil engineer and former president of the Norfolk Historical Society
Monika Malone, Hampton. Foreign language instructor at Thomas Nelson Community College
Ron Wilson, Norfolk. Retired from the National Park Service
Betty Harper Wyatt, Williamsburg. Member of Preservation Virginia
Jane Yerkes, Williamsburg. Founding trustee and past president of the Preservation Alliance of Virginia; was the 2011 recipient of the Katherine Glaize Rockwood Award, which is presented by Preservation Virginia for contributing to historic preservation.
Editorial: Citizens in every sense
Volunteer group stayed on point in campaign to craft the future of Fort Monroe
9:19 p.m. EST, February 11, 2012
Fort Monroe is more than a deactivated military base; it is a historical treasure positioned on one of those most beautiful waterfronts on the Eastern Seaboard in the heart of Hampton Roads.
When the U.S. Army received word in 2005 that the historic base at Fort Monroe would be closed, a stalwart group of local citizens set to work to make sure this special property would be preserved for future generations. Those visions led to the creation of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park, a nonprofit organization with a mission of converting the historic land and fortress into either a National Monument, which would require presidential action, or a National Park, which would require an act of Congress.
The pathway to that goal may have seemed as impenetrable as the stone walls of the fortress, but not to the dedicated individuals of this organization. Members devoted countless hours of planning, meeting, letter-writing — and most of all, telling the story over and over of why this historic property needed to be preserved in a way that could be enjoyed for centuries to come.
After years of working with government and military officials, the Citizens delivered a huge gift to Hampton Roads and our nation in September: President Obama’s establishment of Fort Monroe as a National Monument.
For their dogged determination and visionary public service, the organization Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park has been named the Daily Press Citizen of the Year for 2011.
As the Citizens could see, the beauty of Fort Monroe and the potential for its future derives from its unique combination of past and present and its geographically ideal position.
The National Monument comprises two major areas on the Fort Monroe property: the 200-year-old stone fort with its surrounding moat and a large parcel with open green space along the beach area.
The remaining property will be developed and repurposed by the Fort Monroe Authority, the entity charged with managing the property on behalf of the state of Virginia during its transition from the Army. The North Gate and Historic Village will be developed and restored for residential use; other land will include waterfront amenities for the enjoyment of the public.
The possibilities at Fort Monroe are endless. The Authority will continue to work closely with the Citizens as it solicits input from the public throughout the upcoming master planning process. Fort Monroe will be a destination — where families can spend the day enjoying walks through the park, concerts and performances, boating events, fitness activities and picnicking.
And with the National Monument as a focal point, the property will offer much more than a seaside resort.
Visitors will be able walk through the cool and dark stone fortress and see and feel history all around: the quarters where Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned with a huge U.S. flag staring down at him, the protective walls where emancipated slaves sought refuge toward the end of the Civil War, the lookout over the moat where Edgar Allen Poe might have stood when stationed there.
The monument’s green space will provide a quiet place for reflection on where this history has brought us and a view of the water that links us to the rest of the world.
Thanks in large part to the efforts and vision of the Citizens of Fort Monroe, future generations will be able to keep that connection.
Together with the 25 Citizen of the Year 2011 nominees whose many good works were featured Saturday, these volunteers demonstrate the spirit of public service that makes the Peninsula a better place to live, work and raise families.
There will be more photos on our website in the near future.