Is New Jersey Delegation Unduly Forcing Great Falls of Paterson Park on NPS?

USGS Photo

Is this waterfall worthy of inclusion into the national park system? USGS Photo.

I grew up in New Jersey, so I have no qualms about questioning the efforts by the Garden State's congressional delegation to force the National Park Service to add a 70-foot waterfall and some dilapidated buildings to its collection of sites.

This is just the latest instance of politicians simply looking to bring Park Service pork closer to home for economic benefits. Sadly, the House of Representatives yesterday voted 256-122 to create the Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.

"A Paterson Great Falls national park designation represents countless economic, recreational, cultural and educational opportunities for one of America’s most densely populated, diverse and historic urban communities," says U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell, who sponsored the legislation.

If this is such a great site, why can't it stand on its own by drawing tourists without having to resort to the NPS logo and annual infusions of federal funds?

Before moving on, let's look at some of the history of the site, which is somewhat notable.

According to the U.S.G.S., "the potential power of the Great Falls of the Passaic River so inspired Alexander Hamilton that he organized the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures and planned America's first industrial city. Pierre L'Enfant, the planner of Washington, D.C., designed a complex three-tired system that harnessed the falls and supplied water power to several industrial mills. The city of Paterson became a thriving industrial center known for the manufacture of silk and locomotive parts. Today, the old industrial complete has been partially restored."

That's all very nice, but there are countless places in New Jersey -- indeed, in the original 13 colonies -- that have historical significance. Google "Washington slept here" and in a third of a second you'll be directed to more than 3.5 million links. Should all those that actually point to a house or barn where George rested be absorbed by the National Park Service?

And really, at a time when the Park Service is wallowing in red ink, why should the agency be saddled with a rundown 109-acre site that the number crunchers say will cost the Park Service $22 million to manage from 2008-2012, and then $1 million a year thereafter?

Back in 2001 when this proposal came before the House national parks subcommittee, Interior Department officials asked that action on it be put off until the Park Service could make further progress on eliminating its maintenance backlog. Well, in 2001 that backlog was estimated at about $5 billion. Today it's pegged at $8 billion.

More recently, a Park Service study into the suitability of a Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park concluded that the site should not be added to the park system

While the Great Falls Historic District has many resources relating to the thematic concept of Developing the American Economy, it does not appear to have particularly unique resources unlike those already represented in the national park system or protected and interpreted by other public and private entities.

Based on the analysis of many comparable resource types and interpretation already represented in units of the national park system or protected and interpreted by others, this study concludes that the resources of the Great Falls Historic District are not suitable for inclusion in the national park system.

In noting that the state of New Jersey already has a number of state parks that protect slices of American history -- in particular sites of Revolutionary War significance as well as those that protect pieces of New Jersey's industrial past -- the NPS study suggests that the Great Falls be turned into a state park.

But I guess that's not good enough for Mr. Pascrell and New Jersey's other politicians.

Comments

Well said Kurt and I agree with everything you wrote. Your inclusion of the NPS analysis of the site as being deemed unsuitable for inclusion points directly at the futility of continuing to pretend that political management of the parks can ever be done in a way that is anything but self-serving and corrupt.

The creation of a new national park should be more significant that just another rider on an appropriations bill, sandwiched next to sugar subsidies and money for a new highway in South Carolina. It really goes against all that the national parks should supposedly stand for and why they were created in the first place.

I wonder how much the owners in NJ are "selling" it for?

What's next? Brooklyn Bridge National Monument? I shouldn't be giving them any ideas!

Kurt, Thanks for bringing this to our attention. This seems not to be a problem of the NPS' creation (the NPS recommended it NOT be included in the system) but a problem of Congress' creation. Congress keeps adding sites without adjusting funding.

My qustion for the editors and readers is this:

Now that we're aware of this problem, what, if anything, can be done to stop this practice or to repair this system?

Frank,

The short answer in this instance is to contact your senators and urge them not to pass this legislation in the Senate. The longer answer probably is a mix between getting groups such as the National Parks Conservation Association to lobby against such park pork and getting an organized email blast system to protest directly to congress-folk.

Of course, as Jim MacDonald has pointed out several times (and long ago), the effort needs to be both concerted, continual, and personal -- tracking down your congress-folk and staffers when they come to town and telling them point-blank your position.

I think that this is going to be an uphill battle because all of the other Congressman have their own chips to throw into the ante of that expensive game called pork barrel poker. How much will my Congressman realistically care about the creation of a park in faraway NJ, especially since he might need Pascrell's support in the future for something he wants to lavish on his own district? Why should he risk alienating Pascrell over a lousy waterfall and some dingy buildings on the Passaic River? Mencken's adage that elections are nothing more than an advance auction on stolen goods seems especially apt at this moment as I contemplate the way Congress recklessly wastes its ill gotten wealth like sailors on shore leave.

The ultimate answer should revolve around a reform movement to change the way parks get created in the first place. If Steamtown and Keweenaw NHP (much of which was a Superfund cleanup site) were easily voted in, I don't see this park getting rejected by the bandits on Capitol Hill.

If they have already blatantly ignored the findings of the very people that they will soon charge with the responsibility of maintaining this new park, what difference will our cards and letters make?

It's simply time for this corrupt system to end. There is no practical way to reform it that I can see.

There's a place up for consideration in Waco, Texas as well... a site of many mammoths found back in 1978, all buried from a single mudslide event (as far as they can tell at the moment). Baylor University is currently overseeing it, but there's definite excitement locally about getting the NPS shield put up on the interstate to have people stop, look, and spend their money. And face it, the NPS logo has much better stopping power than any state park sign ever would.

Here's the story I read when I was out in New Mexico a coupla weeks ago:
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2007-10-17-waco-mammoth-site_N.htm

Can't say I blame 'em for trying though.

Good on you guys for continuing to ask the hard questions about dealing with corruption at the higher levels.

My apologies in advance for comments which may appear irrelevant to the initial postings, by submitting "Simple Proposals" at the park level. However, problems I'm attempting to address are microcosms of a much higher level of corruption, and every bit as vile. If we can't get our acts together within the boundaries of our own parks, how can we ever fix the mess that is Washington, DC? Therefore, I continue to post "Simple Proposals"... and ask for your indulgence.

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Today, a significant amount of NPS work revolves around implementing a constant barrage of initiatives. Some initiatives come and go, while others linger, like the bad smell of fish in your kitchen. Occasionally an initiative will start out small, then grow, resembling some horrible, radioactive mass from a bad 1950's movie...to eventually engulf everything and everyone in its path...

Most NPS employees, from the lowest paid "essential" staff to the highest paid "non-essential" levels, hate initiatives. Well, at least that's what they say in private.

Regardless, many staff have learned to embrace, cultivate, and even promote intitiatives, not because they agree with them, but because initiatives are their ticket to career "success." Spend a lot of time and tax dollars implementing the latest initiative, even if it doesn't make any sense, and you can slather it--and its acronym--across your resume.

Who knows, to assuage any guilt, maybe you'll even come to believe that the initiative is brilliant!

Yes, some will argue that we have no choice; initiatives are mandates from much higher levels. Fine. But pay the initiative what bare minimum attention it deserves...then get back to the important business of caring for your public and your park.

Simple Proposal #3: Please Don't Feed the Initiatives!

If local communities want to hang the NPS shield on less than nationally significant sites maybe they should be required to pony up a substantial amount of the operating funds. They get the arrowhead, the agency gets much needed funding from locally derived sources.

In St. George, Utah the Feds helped pay for private land that a local developer had cleared for a subdivision and then subsequently discovered a huge layer of rock strata that was full of dinosaur footprints, trackways and long tail drags. The local U.S. Representative got the Congress to appropriate the needed funds for the initial purchase of the land and then had it transferred to the local government for development into a park. No one that I know of has lamented the lack of an arrowhead on the exit ramps of I-15.

"The National Park Service recently announced the site meets its criteria to be included in its park system, but questions remain about who will ultimately oversee the site and how. The Waco Mammoth Foundation has more than $1 million committed in its $3 million fundraising campaign to build the project's first phase, which includes a visitors center, roads and a climate-controlled pavilion to protect the bones."

There are plenty of new areas that use a new paradigm for construction, maintenance, and management of the "park". This could well be one of them. I don't know if that's being considered in New Jersey or not.