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Delaware's "first national park" to tell story of early Dutch, Swedish, Finnish & English settlements in Delaware colony. News Journal 3/22/13

Setting the stage for national park status, Councilman Bob Weiner, as CCOBH Zoning Chairperson, successfully lead the fight to preserve the Brandywine Valley lands in the 1980’s and 1990’s. 


By Jeff Montgomery and Melissa Nann Burke  The News Journal March 22, 2013

Drawing on a seldom-noticed executive authority, President Barack Obama will declare a three-part national monument in Delaware, a first for the state and a move that some officials describe as a step closer to creation of a full-fledged national park. Obama’s action under the Antiquities Act, expected Monday, will designate the grassy area of the The Green in Dover, the New Castle Court complex and the 1,100-acre Woodlawn property adjacent to and north of Brandywine Creek State Park as a unified symbol of the state’s colonial heritage and its role in the nation’s founding under the Constitution.

National Park Service employees will manage all three sites, which will take in the New Castle Green and Old Sheriff’s House as well as the Courthouse.

The monument will be the state’s “first national park” and will tell the story of the early Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and English settlement of the colony of Delaware, as well as the state’s role as the first state to ratify the Constitution, according to a White House official who described the plan Thursday under the condition that he not be named because the formal announcement is not expected until next week.

Vice President Joe Biden greeted the news with enthusiasm. “This national monument will tell the story of the essential role my state played in the history of the United States,” Biden said in a statement released by his office Thursday night. “I couldn’t be more proud to call Delaware home.”

Obama also plans to designate monuments in Maryland, Ohio, New Mexico and Washington state on Monday, bringing the total such actions under his presidency to nine. The Antiquities Act dates to 1906 and President Theodore Roosevelt and figures in sites ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients. Presidents can take the step without congressional approval, unlike a formal park designation. Many monuments eventually become parks, including the Grand Canyon.

President Bill Clinton invoked the same law to designate the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 1996, a controversial move because it came weeks before Clinton stood for reelection.

Sen. Tom Carper, the Delaware Democrat who has championed a national park for the state, said Delaware currently is the only state in the country without a link to the national park system. “Not only does the national park system gain an important story about the crucial role the First State played in the founding of our country – a story that will now be preserved for generations to come,” Carper said, “but our state can now welcome the many economic opportunities that surround a new national monument and can help boost local businesses and create jobs.”

Carper thanked Obama for the action but vowed to continue pushing for more. “This is not the finish line, but it’s a very good step toward the end goal, which is a national park for Delaware.”

The designation was fast-tracked recently, prompting a decision to use the Antiquities Act, when concern grew that the large Woodlawn site could be lost because of time limits set for its conversion to national parkland. A portion of that property extends into Pennsylvania. Officials said the Woodlawn property and Sheriff’s House already have been transferred to the federal government. Easements will be used to give the public and Park Service access to The Green in New Castle and Dover, and the New Castle Courthouse.

Gov. Jack Markell said Delaware deserves the recognition. “A national designation will draw more people to discover the stories in our history and landmarks of early settlers here in the First State,” Markell said. “This marks a first for Delaware and helps put us on the map for visitors, history buffs and park enthusiasts everywhere.”

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., described the designation as “long overdue” and “great news for Delaware.” Rep. John Carney, D-Del., likewise cheered the developments, saying in part that it would preserve Delaware’s heritage for future generations.

Carper has worked on a Delaware national park for more than a decade, and along with Carney and Coons had already introduced legislation to authorize a regular parks designation. A resource study conducted by the Parks Service concluded under the Bush administration in 2009 that a park should be placed in the state. Charles A. Salkin, who directs Delaware’s Division of Parks and Recreation, said that his agency already had been working with the Park Service on the plans and cooperation after the designation. In the case of the Woodlawn property, its partial shared border with Brandywine Creek State Park and additional land adjacent to the creek will create “over 2,000 acres of some pretty incredible landscape and natural resources.”

“We’ve had extensive discussions with our colleagues in the National Park Service about how we can work together after the monument designation to be good neighbors, to work on cooperative management plans and to work together to provide a wonderful outdoor experience,” Salkin said. “For all practical purposes, a monument is just as much a unit of the national park system as a park,” Salkin said. “The National Park Service treats them all the same.” The rush to designation had hit a few bumps. In January, some residents and owners of buildings around The Green in Dover objected to the fast track, saying they have yet to receive answers about potential Park Service influence over their neighboring properties. The federal easement covers only The Green itself, not the buildings that border and enclose it. 

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