Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area Act
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 211, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE SUSQUEHANNA GATEWAY NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JUNE 15, 2016
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 211, a bill to establish the Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area in the State of Pennsylvania, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of S. 211, as the proposed Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area has been found to meet the National Park Service’s interim criteria for designation as a national heritage area. We recommend an amendment described later in this statement.
However, along with designating any new national heritage areas, the Department recommends that Congress pass national heritage area program legislation. There are currently 49 designated national heritage areas, yet there is no authority in law that guides the designation and administration of these areas. Program legislation that establishes criteria to evaluate potentially qualified national heritage areas and a process for the designation, funding, and administration of these areas would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas. It would offer guidelines for successful planning and management, clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardize timeframes and funding for designated areas. The Department also notes that newly-authorized national heritage areas will compete for limited resources in the Heritage Partnership Program. The President’s FY17 Budget proposes $9.4 million for the current 49 areas. The authorization of additional national heritage areas will leave less funding for each individual national heritage area.
Flowing for 441 miles, the Susquehanna River is the longest river on the East Coast and the largest contributor of fresh water to the Chesapeake Bay. The portions of the river flowing through Lancaster and York Counties in Pennsylvania exhibit exceptional natural and recreational value and traverse landscapes of historical importance to our nation.
The region of the proposed Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area was first inhabited by Native Americans who left evidence of their occupation in a myriad of archeological sites, as well as rock art at several petroglyph sites. When Captain John Smith journeyed up the Susquehanna River in the summer of 1608, he sent emissaries to the Susquehannock town located on the east side of the river near present day Washington Boro in Lancaster County. Tribal leaders there entered a trade alliance, opening to the English a trade network extending hundreds of miles.
In 1668, William Penn set the tone for religious tolerance in Pennsylvania and brought colonists who settled the great fertile valley of the Susquehanna Gateway region, beginning its long history as an abundant agricultural center. Serving as an important transportation corridor, the river provided opportunities for commerce and invention. It was here that John Elgar constructed the first iron steamboat in America. The birthplace of Robert Fulton, the original inventor of steam powered boats, is a National Historic Landmark in Lancaster County. Here, too, Phineas Davis designed and built the first practical coal burning steam locomotive, thereby revolutionizing railroad transportation.
The region is the home ground of the “Plain People” – the Amish and Mennonites. Their religious values, simple way of life, and well-tended farms speak to the deepest feelings that Americans have about ourselves and our national experience.
In this region, visitors also find evidence of our Revolutionary War past. Lancaster and York Counties served as venues for the Continental Congress when it left Philadelphia upon the British occupation of that city. In the courthouse in York, the Congress approved the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the nation’s “first constitution,” and sent it forth to the states for ratification. In the summer of 1781, Continental Army General James Wood established Camp Security, housing more than a thousand British soldiers from General John Burgoyne’s army, which had surrendered at Saratoga.
The region also has an abundance of natural resources including migratory bird nesting sites, remnants of old growth forests, and areas of both ecological diversity and scenic quality. Ferncliff, known for its wildflowers, and the Susquehanna Gorge are both designated National Natural Landmarks. Recreational resources abound in the region, including the Kelly’s Run and Susquehanna River Water Trails, both National Recreation Trails.
S. 211 would designate the Susquehanna Heritage Corporation, a non-profit organization, as the local coordinating entity for the Susquehanna Gateway National Heritage Area. This organization has served as the coordinator for the state heritage area covering this region that was designated in 2001. The Susquehanna Heritage Corporation has demonstrated success in coordinating diverse partners in Lancaster and York Counties. Over the past 15 years, the corporation has been effective in facilitating preservation, interpretative, and educational projects and in leveraging community participation and funding. The heritage area has strong support from the public and from a myriad of state, local, federal, and non-governmental partners throughout the area. In 2008, the corporation prepared a national heritage area feasibility study that was reviewed by the National Park Service and found to meet the interim criteria for potential designation found in the National Heritage Area Feasibility Study Guidelines.
Most of the language in S. 211 is standard for national heritage area designation legislation that Congress has enacted in the last decade. However, the bill’s management plan requirements are missing some of the standard provisions. We recommend an amendment to make these requirements consistent with designation legislation for other national heritage areas. We would be pleased to submit language for that purpose.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.