During a ceremony held Thursday at the Old New Castle Courthouse, renowned filmmaker and former Delaware resident Ken Burns pledged his support for the establishment of a national park in Delaware and said he looks forward to the day when he can bring his children and grandchildren to the First State to visit the park.
“I pledge my efforts and energies to do whatever I can to make that happen,” Mr. Burns said. Mr. Burns created a documentary about the country’s national parks titled, “America’s Best Idea — the National Park System.”
Thursday’s event highlighted the recent work of Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., in getting legislation passed in Congress that would establish a national park in Delaware. Delaware is the only state in the nation that does not have a national park.
The First State National Historical Park Act of 2011 would create a park celebrating early American Dutch, Swedish and English settlements throughout Delaware. Other Delaware locations would also be recognized for their significance in the events leading up to the founding of the nation.
Each of Delaware’s three counties will be included in the park. Four sites in New Castle County have been authorized to be part of the park. They are: the Old Sheriff ’s House in New Castle, Fort Christina, Old Swedes Church and the Old New Castle Courthouse. Two locations in Kent County will also be included. They are: the John Dickinson Plantation outside Little Creek and the Dover Green. One additional location in Sussex County, the Ryves Holt House, will also become part of the national park.
“What we’re proposing is a little different from some other national parks,” said Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O’Mara.
Before the legislation was drafted, Sen. Carper said a group of citizens was formed to brainstorm ideas for locations to be considered for a national park in Delaware.
Sen. Carper also said he used the Internet to reach out to Delawareans for ideas.
Examples included Fort Delaware and even shipwrecks off of Lewes.
“We just had all kinds of ideas,” he said.
Former University of Delaware professor James R. Soles, who passed away last year, chaired the citizen group. Sen. Carper said Mr. Soles lamented to him that he would like to see several landmarks in Delaware combined to form the national park.
“He said to me, ‘It’s too bad we can’t weave them together,’ and that’s really what we’ve done,” Sen. Carper said.
Sen. Carper said all of the locations selected highlight important aspects of Delaware history.
“This state is rich in history,” he said. It’s a story that needs to be told, and we’re going to tell it.”
In addition to the national park preserving Delaware’s history, Sen. Carper said there is also a significant economic benefit to be had in establishing the park.
Other states who have national parks boast profits in the thousands and millions of dollars from tourists traveling to their parks, Sen. Carper said.
“The economic benefit is huge,” he said. “This will be a great attraction to people from all over the world.”
Mr. Burns also stressed the economic aspect of creating a national park in Delaware.
“This just makes good business sense,” he said.
While the economic benefit is promising, Mr. Burns said national parks also have the ability to bring Americans together in celebrating their history and culture.
“It stitches us together,” he said. “When you go to a national park, nobody asks what your religion is, nobody asks who you voted for in the last election. We don’t ask anything. We’re just Americans there. We begin to realize that despite the lack of stability, despite the deteriorating discourse that we experience today, history is still the table around which we can agree to cohere.”
The First State National Historical Park Act of 2011 has been introduced in the Senate and is referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Rep. John Carney, D-Del, also introduced a similar bill in the House which has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.