To facilitate the use of certain land in Nebraska for public outdoor recreational opportunities
STATEMENT OF LENA MCDOWALL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, MANAGEMENT AND ADMINISTRATION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, REGARDING H.R. 3651, A BILL TO FACILITATE THE USE OF CERTAIN LAND IN NEBRASKA FOR PUBLIC OUTDOOR RECREATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
FEBRUARY 27, 2020
Chair Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 3651, to facilitate the use of certain land in Nebraska for public outdoor recreational opportunities, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of H.R. 3651. This legislation would provide authority to generate funds to help pay for the operations of the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Visitor Center in Nebraska City without compromising the visitor experience and the interpretation of the significant history of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, and without adding to the operations costs of the National Park Service (NPS).
H.R. 3651 would allow the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail and Visitor Center Foundation, Inc. (Foundation) to use, or enter into a lease or agreement to use, up to 40 of the 78 acres of the land that the Federal government conveyed to it for public outdoor recreation. The bill would impose several conditions on the use of the land, including one requiring that any revenue generated be used to offset the maintenance and operating costs of the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Visitor Center (Center). Our understanding is that the Foundation would like to establish playing fields on the land.
The Foundation was incorporated in 1999 as a non-profit organization to facilitate fundraising for the Center. It has owned and managed the Center since 2009, when the NPS conveyed the 78-acre property containing the Center to the Foundation pursuant to Section 342 of Public Law 110-229. The conveyance was consistent with direction in the National Trails System Act to have trail visitor centers maintained by non-Federal entities, if possible. Section 342 also authorized appropriations of $150,000 annually through 2018 to help pay for operating costs of the Center, but this funding was never appropriated specifically for the Center. Instead, the NPS has provided between $140,000 and $150,000 in funding from other sources, including the NPS regional office and the Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail, to help support the Center.
The Lewis and Clark National Historical Trail, which commemorates and interprets the Corps of Discovery’s cross-continent journey from1802-1804, tells one of our nation’s most fascinating and enduring stories of courage, adventure, and discovery. Just last year, as part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (P.L. 116-9), the trail was expanded to include approximately 1,200 miles in the eastern United States where the Corps’ journey began. This “Eastern Legacy” expansion helps complete the commemoration of this remarkable story but it also increases the cost of administering the trail. Partly as a result of this expansion, the NPS expects it to be increasingly difficult to continue providing funding for the Center.
The Foundation collects entrance and special use fees to supplement donations for operations and maintenance of the Center. This income has consistently fallen short of operational needs, and the Foundation has indicated that it can no longer support the operation of the Center. Under the law conveying the property to the Foundation, the property will revert to the United States if the Foundation discontinues use of the land as a historic site and interpretive center. The NPS does not want to operate the Center in Nebraska City, as we currently administer the headquarters and a visitor center for Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail in Omaha, about 50 miles away from Nebraska City. If the Center property were to revert to the United States, the Department would recommend that it be turned over to the General Services Administration for disposal.
The Center is a valuable community asset to Nebraska City, and it serves its purpose of interpreting a critically important part of American history. We would like to see the Center succeed without continued Federal funding. This legislation offers a reasonable way to potentially achieve that goal.
Finally, before any action is taken on H.R. 3651, we would like to work with the sponsor and the Committee on some clarifying amendments to the bill.
Chair Haaland, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.