An amendment introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday includes the creation of a long-sought-after Manhattan Project National Historical Park that would include Oak Ridge, and supporters are hopeful that the legislation, which has bipartisan support, will pass before the end of the legislative session.
The bill appears to have a “really good chance of moving forward,” said Kati Schmidt, spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Besides Oak Ridge, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park would also include Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford, Washington. Those three areas were among the sites involved in the Manhattan Project, a top-secret federal program to build the world’s first atomic bombs during World War II.
There is currently no national park commemorating the project, which is considered one of the most significant events of the 20th century. Historic preservationists, including in Oak Ridge and at the Atomic Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., have tried for years to change that.
Schmidt said the Manhattan Project park and other potential national parks projects present “an incredible opportunity to tell all of our stories.”
In a Wednesday evening press release, the NPCA said the legislation negotiated by leaders in the U.S. House and Senate and then introduced in the House on Tuesday night could result in the largest expansion of the national park system in decades. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park would be one of six new national park units created if Congress approves the bill. Others would include Blackstone in Rhode Island, Coltsville in Connecticut, Harriet Tubman in New York, Valles Caldera in New Mexico, and Tule Springs in Nevada.
Schmidt said the amendment is attached to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act, and it’s the result of across-the-aisle, bipartisan negotiations.
“We feel really hopeful that the legislation will pass with this incredible bipartisan support,” she said.
National Parks bills are very popular among the legislators supporting them and also among their constituents, Schmidt said. She said there is a $10 economic return in tourism-related sales like gas, food, and motel stays for every dollar invested in national park communities.
“National parks are incredibly important for our heritage, but they are also very important for our economy,” Schmidt said.
She said the amendment could come up in the House on Thursday under that chamber’s rules and go to the House floor on Friday. If approved, it could then go to the Senate to be considered, possibly next week. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn on December 11, Schmidt said.
“We are expecting them to take action with that deadline in mind,” she said.
Congress would have to start over on the parks legislation in the next session if the bill doesn’t pass this session. But Schmidt said the NPCA, which supports the legislation, is staying focused on Congress “coming together and working across the aisle to produce an incredible bill for the National Park Service.”
If the legislation passes, Schmidt said the new Congress that starts in January would appropriate money for the new park units.
She said the NPCA has worked with Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, on the parks legislation, and has received community support from former Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan.
Here’s the NPCA press release:
Federal Legislation Could Mean Largest National Park System Expansion in Decades
WASHINGTON, D.C.—After years of advocacy and coalition building efforts by National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), numerous local communities, local businesses and scientists, the National Parks System could see its largest expansion in decades.
In a true bipartisan effort, legislation negotiated by leaders in the House and Senate was introduced late last night in the U.S. House of Representatives. That legislation includes a significant national parks package. If passed by Congress and signed into law, the National Defense Authorization Act will carry with it the establishment of six new national park units, the expansion of nine national park sites, and the extension of 14 National Heritage Areas, effectively shaking loose a five-year stalemate on public lands measures in Congress.
“If passed, this legislation will protect places taken right out of the pages of our history and science books,” said Clark Bunting, president and chief executive officer of National Parks Conservation Association. “From the sites associated with the Manhattan Project to the legacy of Harriet Tubman in New York and Maryland to the North Fork Watershed in Montana and Ice Age fossils in Nevada, these are stories that deserve to be told in the name of strengthening our country’s best idea. And these are places that deserve to be preserved for all Americans to experience.”
Many of the proposed new and expanded national park sites would further diversify the National Park System, including the Tule Springs site, which is less than 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip and would offer a significant opportunity for an urban community to visit a fossil-rich national park. Many will permanently protect places that played key roles in our nation’s history, including the historic Gettysburg train station, where President Abraham Lincoln arrived to deliver his seminal Gettysburg Address. And many of these sites would provide visitors with a richer adventure, including the Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve, where the watershed and marble caves will be protected.
See the NPCA’s Telling America’s Stories for more information on the parks proposals.