Tom Carper, U.S. Senator for Delaware

Despite having played such a prominent role in the birth of this great nation, Delaware remains the only state without a national park. Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution; the first state in which Swedes and Finns came ashore to America 375 years ago; the place where William Penn first landed in America; and the place where the Dutch built an ill-fated settlement nearly 400 years ago. These important stories in our nation’s history should be told within the National Park System.

Scope of the Project

The First State National Historical Park Act of 2013 would create a national park in the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania. This national park would preserve and interpret resources associated with early Dutch, Swedish, and English settlement of the Colony of Delaware, as well as portions of the Colony of Pennsylvania. 

Background on the Park

Every year, millions of Americans plan their vacations around our nation’s national park system.

National parks are also the most visited destination for foreign travelers coming to this country on vacation. As a result, every state enjoys millions of dollars in tourism revenue every year from our national park system – every state except one: Delaware.

For over a decade, the Delaware delegation has been working with federal officials, state officials, and community leaders to identify a theme and a park concept that fits well within our federal budget and is worthy of designation as a national park. In January 2009, the Bush Administration finalized a National Park Service Special Resource Study concluding that a national park should be placed in Delaware. Its conclusion was that the theme of this park should focus on early Dutch, Swedish, and English settlement and Delaware’s role in the birth of the nation as the first State to ratify the Constitution. The Obama Administration has continued support for this national park concept, reflected in Congressional testimonies and public comments made by the National Park Service. The Service has also committed to work with the state and local representatives to manage the sites in a way that meets the expectations of Delawareans, Pennsylvanians and visitors.

Since early 2009, there have been over a dozen public meetings on this national park effort – including legislative hearings in both chambers of Congress – which have shown overwhelming support for the national park idea. On August 28, 2012, the Delaware delegation held one of its largest public meetings on the subject in northern Delaware, near the Pennsylvania border. The National Park Service Director, Jon Jarvis, attended as did over 300 citizens from both Delaware and Pennsylvania. There, the delegation witnessed strong support for establishing a national park unit within Delaware and Pennsylvania.

The First State National Historical Park Act

In the past two Congresses, the Delaware delegation led by Senator Carper has introduced legislation to establish the First State National Historical Park. Every year, there has been progress on the legislative front. Last Congress, the Senate version of the First State National Historical Park Act, S.323, passed out of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee by a voice vote. The House version, HR 624, received a legislative hearing. The only major change in this year’s bill will be the inclusion of the Woodlawn Trustees property, which is located across the Delaware-Pennsylvania border.

Sites Authorized for the Park

The sites below will be authorized to be included in the First State National Historical Park. Together they tell a story important to our nation’s history that is not being told elsewhere, a key requirement for establishing a new national park. The U.S. Secretary of the Interior will be authorized to work with the State of Delaware or any entity owning one of these sites to negotiate conditions of the site being included within the boundaries of the park. Authorization does not mean a site has to be included within the park; that will be decided by the property owners and the National Park Service.

New Castle County, DE / Delaware County, PA:

  • Woodlawn Trustees Property

New Castle County, DE:

  • The Old Sheriff's House
  • Old New Castle Courthouse
  • New Castle Green
  • Old Swedes Church National Historic Landmark
  • Fort Christina National Historic Landmark

Kent County, DE:

  • Dover Green
  • John Dickinson Plantation National Historic Landmark

Sussex County, DE:

  • Ryves Holt House   

Boundaries of the Park

The Secretary is authorized to “acquire” or have “interest” in all or a portion of any of the sites identified above for the National Park. The Secretary can acquire or have interest in sites by:

  1. Donation - For example, the state could donate Fort Christina to the National Park Service and the Park Service would have full ownership;
  2. Purchase - For example, the Lewes Historical Society could sell the Ryves Holt House to the National Park Service and the Park Service would have full ownership;
  3. Easement with a Cooperative Agreement - For example, the state could enter into a cooperative agreement with the Park Service through a historical preservation easement to preserve the Old Sherriff’s House. The State would still retain ownership but, through cooperative agreement, would come to resolution with the Park Service regarding management, public access, and upkeep. Each easement would be tailored to individual needs and requirements set forth by the proper¬ty owner and agreed upon by both parties.
How the National Park Service acquires each site will be negotiated with each owner.

Sites for Interpretation

The following sites are not authorized to be included in the national park but are listed specifically to allow the Park Service to work with sites to include them in national park materials, tours, etc. The language allows the Park Service to work with other sites that fit the scope of the park within Delaware as they see fit, but the legislation highlights these sites as a priority.

  1. Fort Casimir;
  2. DeVries Monument;
  3. Amstel House;
  4. Dutch House; and,
  5. Zwaanendael Museum.

National Landmark Study

The Secretary is required to complete a study assessing the historical significance of additional properties in the State that are associated with the purposes of the Park and include an assessment for designating the properties as a National Historic Landmark.

Antiquities Act Approach

The Delaware delegation will continue to pursue national park legislation until it is signed by the President; however, the delegation is also working with the Obama Administration on a possible national monument designation for many of the sites under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to proclaim national monuments on federal lands or interest in lands that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, or other objects of historic or scientific interest. Presidents have proclaimed a total of 128 monuments, often acting when Congress has been unable to act. A national monument is considered a unit of the national park system and is managed by the National Park Service the same as a national park. Once a site has been designated a national monument, Congress still has authority to designate a national monument into a national park. In fact, almost half of the current national parks were first designated as national monuments. Although legislation is the best option, a declaration of a national monument now would allow the National Park Service to begin providing the technical and financial assistance needed to preserve and interpret the sites within Delaware and Pennsylvania.

Senator Carper's Hearing Testimony on the Delaware National Park

On Wednesday, May 11, 2011, Senator Carper testified before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on National Parks on S.323, the First State National Historical Park Act of 2011. In his testimony, he noted that every state -- except Delaware -- saw over $1 million in economic benefit from national park tourism in 2009.

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