Woolawn property considered for a National Park
On August 28th Senator Tom Carper hosted a public meeting about the possibility of Delaware getting its very first National Park. Not only would we be the last state to do so, but as Jonathon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service (NPS), pointed out, most US territories have at least 1 national park. Also in attendance at the meeting were Senator Chris Coons, Congressman John Carney, Blain Phillips Jr., the Conservation Fund’s Mid-Atlantic director and numerous other conservation organizations from Delaware as well as Pennsylvania.
The meeting was mostly to give information and answer questions about the Woodlawn Property, recently acquired by the Conservation Fund with $20 million donated by the Mt. Cuba Center. The Conservation Fund is ready to donate the land directly to the NPS should the property be included in the passage of SB 323 and HR 624 or designated by the President as a National Monument.
After an introduction to the issue by Senator Carper, a long-time advocate of bringing a National Park to DE, the other legislators offered comments and the obligatory thanking and clapping ensued. The Senator then pointed to the numerous economic benefits of having a National Park. He said that these are the #1 places visited by people from other countries and that they bring a minimum of $1.1 million in added federal funding and tourism revenues to every other state. (Jon Jarvis later said that for every $1 invested in the NPS, $4 goes in local economies.)
Jonathon Jarvis, the 18th Director of the NPS and a Park Ranger since 1977, took the stage. He gave a brief and interesting history of the NPS, a section of the Department of the Interior. The NPS is what Mr. Jarvis called “a true American creation” and coming up on its 100th birthday in 2016. “Other countries set their best land aside for royalty” he said proudly, “we set ours aside for the people”.
Did you know the original idea for the NPS was implemented by President Abraham Lincoln? In the heat of the Civil War he designated Yosemite as a protected natural area. As you may know, the Sierra Club is a big proponent of National Parks and was involved in creating some of the Nation’s oldest and most iconic!
Then came a lesson on the history of Woodlawn with mention of a few of the other sites included in the Delaware National Park proposal, including John Dickinson house and Old Swedes Church. Blain Phillips gave a presentation on why Woodlawn is historically (and ecologically) significant enough to receive National Park status.
He focused on the property’s connection to “a founding river”, the Brandywine Creek. Along which the largest battle of the Revolutionary War took place, “the birth of industry” happened in this country with the development of paper and powder mills and a “tradition of artists” was established by the Wyeth family. Of course preservation of this area would also have significant positive water quality impacts for our State. If protected this property would become part of almost 10 miles of contiguous protected waterfront.
Mr. Phillips, Cherilyn Widell and Jeff Parker, NPS Historian talked about the legacy of William Bancroft, “a quintessential community leader” at Woodlawn. Bancroft owned and ran a cotton mill on the property and around the turn of the century he began donating land to the Woodlawn Company (now Woodlawn Trust Inc.). He envisioned preservation of these beautiful open spaces for the future residents of Wilmington. He later hired famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to help him create a community full of relaxing parks and affordable housing for the modest mill worker and family.
The last formal speaker was an engineer who presented findings of a traffic study done on Woodlawn. RK&K estimated in this study that Woodlawn currently receives around 140,000 visitors. He said Nation Park status would bring about 110,000 more people annually. Looking at comparable National parks and Brandywine Creek State Park he estimated this would be an increase of about 120 cars to the property/day. This amounts to a 1-2% increase in traffic on the 5 roads accessing Woodlawn.
Finally the meeting got to the highly anticipated “Question and Answer” portion which was largely just comment period. The expected 125 guests were more than quadrupled and people were anxious to weigh in. A few clarifications were sought and some had concerns about federal management of a state treasure but generally a stream of private citizens and conservation groups expressed support for the project. My favorite was the beautifully-spoken Boy Scout who must have been 11-12 years old who talked about his memories of camping on the site and said “this is the best method” of preserving the area for the future. He returned to his seat to a rousing ovation and lots of smiles.
Check out this article about the meeting in The News Journal: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20120829/NEWS08/308290041/National-park-within-reach?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Home