Policy Update May 11, 2022

NPCA position on legislation before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Ahead of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee business meeting scheduled for May 11, 2022, NPCA submitted the following positions on H.R. 268, S. 1344, S. 3141, S. 3667, S. 3551, S. 3685, & S. 4114. 

H.R. 268 - To provide for the boundary of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park to be adjusted, to authorize the donation of land to the United States for addition to that historic park, and for other purposes: NPCA supports this boundary adjustment, recognizing that the Palo Alto Battlefield is the only National Park Service site to interpret the U.S.-Mexican War, where visitors experience the land almost exactly as it stood during the two-year conflict. The inclusion of the Fort Brown resource to the current site will enable the Park Service to more fully interpret the story of Palo Alto, engaging more of the public in the natural, cultural and historic significance of the site.

S. 1344 - To redesignate the Pullman National Monument in the State of Illinois as the Pullman National Historical Park, and for other purposes: NPCA supports this legislation to redesignate Pullman National Monument as Pullman National Historical Park. This bill closely mirrors the legislation introduced in 2014 to establish Pullman as a national historical park and to provide the National Park Service with the ability to enter cooperative agreements and provide technical assistance. The provisions in this bill are critical for the National Park Service to work with its many partners and improve this historic treasure located in a disinvested area of Chicago’s south side.

S. 3141 - New Philadelphia National Historical Park Act: NPCA supports this legislation, which would create the proposed New Philadelphia National Historical Park. It is the first known town in the U.S. planned and legally registered by an African-American and its significance is well documented by the National Park Service. No original buildings or structures are visible above ground, but the site has excellent archaeological integrity. Its historical and archaeological significance was recognized in 2005 by inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and in 2009 by its designation as a National Historic Landmark.

S. 3667 - African-American Burial Grounds Preservation Act: NPCA supports this bill, which would provide much needed support to those who have struggled to protect the last resting places of countless ancestors and family members. Too many African American cemeteries are subject to neglect and incompatible development resulting in permanent loss of their resources and integrity.

S. 3551 – Gateway Community and Recreation Enhancement Act: NPCA appreciates the intent of this legislation, as well as the continued efforts of the Committee to ensure America’s public lands are protected. However, we are concerned S. 3551 lacks clarity on the visitation data that will be collected, the data collection process itself and how the information will be made available to the public. In addition, the existing NPS budget cannot bear the costs and staffing to meet the goals outlined in the bill.

The Visitation Pilot Program as outlined is a massive, resource-intensive undertaking that requires extensive data collection, organization and publication. The Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) would require new funding to create a new, publicly accessible visitation data program that meets a standard of excellence visitors can trust when planning their travel and recreation. DOI and USDA do not currently have the technical resources to collect, organize, analyze or publish visitation data at the scale outlined in S. 3551. As the Committee has heard before, many parks with high visitation are already understaffed and have been dealing with flat budgets for a decade. Without additional funding, the requirements in this bill are not feasible and Congress cannot reasonably expect successful program implementation.

While the purpose of the Visitation Pilot Program is not explicitly stated in the bill, it is presumably intended to disperse visitors across federal land recreation destinations in an effort to reduce crowd density. As NPCA has communicated to the subcommittee previously, ensuring dispersal techniques are managed properly is a complex and challenging endeavor. While dispersal as a strategy might provide some relief to parks experiencing intense crowding, unintended consequences of increased visitation in new places adds to management burdens and poses long-term threats to irreplaceable resources. Dispersal as a visitor use management strategy must be further studied, and the financial and human resource costs must be considered before implementation on the scale in this bill.

We applaud the attention the subcommittee has given to challenges facing many national parks, including how overcrowding contributes to natural and cultural resource damage and diminishes visitor experiences. As we highlighted in our testimony before the committee on July 28, 2021, the National Park Service needs science-based research and monitoring and dedicated staff to effectively address visitor management and collaborate with gateway communities. We hope to continue to work with the Senate and the House of Representatives to ensure that these solutions are incorporated into visitation solutions moving forward.

S. 3685 – John P. Parker House Study Act: NPCA supports this legislation, which would direct the Department of the Interior to study the feasibility of establishing the John P. Parker House as a unit of the National Park System. The site, which is currently a National Historic Landmark, commemorates the life-long work of an abolitionist and inventor. Parker was an instrumental figure for the Underground Railroad and saved countless enslaved individuals lives, and risked his own life, as he aided them north. He was also one of the first African-Americans to patent an invention prior to 1900. This site is deserving of further protection and interpretation from the National Park Service as it strives to tell the full American story.

S. 4114 - A bill to amend Public Land 99-420 to provide for the conveyance of certain Federal land in the State of Maine for use for affordable workforce housing, and for other purposes: NPCA supports this legislation that removes hurdles and allows for an undeveloped parcel of land to be developed for affordable community workforce housing, including for permanent and seasonal staff at Acadia National Park. As housing prices increase in national park gateway communities throughout the country, it becomes unaffordable. This legislation provides a great step in addressing the problem in communities around Acadia National Park. We hope Congress can also provide a federal investment through appropriations to build the housing needed.