After attending both open houses held February 22 &24, 2011, by the National Park Service and its collaborators, The Sandy Hook Foundation, it became painfully clear that they had jointly formed a “new team” (as christened by the Sandy Hook Foundation in its announcement of 2/15/11), hell bent on out-leasing the Ft. Hancock buildings to for-profit, commercial entities, which would rehabilitate them for their exclusive use. Doing so would exclude the public from using them, and the surrounding grounds, for up to 60 years, and take significant parking away from recreational park visitors.
The “new team” had prepared exhibits for the public’s viewing, or should I call them “indoctrination centers” touting the success of out-lease commercial “partnerships” in the San Francisco area at Golden Gate Park, Fort Baker and The Presidio, as well as Lowell, Massachusetts. But these essentially urban examples are not appropriate for comparison with pristine Sandy Hook. Due to its unique peninsular location, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the bay and river to its west, Sandy Hook has remained a natural treasure, even though it is just 21 miles (as the crow flies) from New York City. In addition, The Presidio is no longer national park land. Its status was changed, by an Act of Congress, becoming the Presidio Trust, which has not proven to be self sustaining, and still requires government aid. I found myself in the awkward position of having to correct a high ranking officer of The Sandy Hook Foundation who was misinforming open house attendees on the “success” of the self sufficiency issue of the Presidio Trust experiment. She was not pleased.
What the National Park Service and its “new team” fail to recognize is that when Congress established the national park in which Sandy Hook is located, it was named Gateway National RECREATION Area. This was done because its main and intended purpose was to provide to the teaming residents of the Eastern Megalopolis, a place to recreate and relax.
The National Park Service and its “new team” would have you believe that historic preservation is Sandy Hook Unit’s primary objective. But it is not.
I believe that less than 2000 visitors a year come to Sandy Hook for the sole purpose of viewing Fort Hancock.
Over 2,000,000 recreational visitors come to Sandy Hook annually, the vast majority going to its beautiful ocean beaches.
However, these 2,000,000 beach goers are not organized and have no advocacy organization to defend their recreational rights, provided by Congress when Gateway National Recreation Area was created.
The National Park Service and its “new team” at the Sandy Hook Foundation appear to jointly believe that foisting “preservation at any cost” on its recreational visitors is justified because, as elitists, They Know What IS BEST for us. But they are wrong and their plan is contrary to the main reason Sandy Hook was made national park land by Congress, visitor recreation.
These plans of The National Park Service and its “new team”, for out-leasing to commercial, for-profit entities should not be tried again. In my discussions at the open houses, I would remind the “new team” adherents from the Sandy Hook Foundation of how miserably Wassel’s out-lease had failed. In rehearsed unison, their response was: “Wassel is in the past!” But what they refused to acknowledge is that it was the National Park Service that orchestrated and permitted the 60 year lease awards to be made to Wassel, who was merely a grateful recipient. Yes, Wassel’s lease has been terminated, BUT the National Park Service remains, and they are still the problem.
The National Park Service’s proposed course of action is contrary to the recommendations of both Congressmen Pallone and Holt, who have stated that they desire these building to remain available to the general public by leasing them to not-for-profit educational, environmental and charitable organizations.
If you agree that for-profit commercial companies should not be awarded such leases, then you should express your feelings and opinions to the National Park Service and your U.S. Government representatives.
The clock is ticking, and we must act before it is too late. Do your part in keeping Sandy Hook as The Affordable Family Beach Club.
Peter P. O’Such, Jr.
Fair Haven, NJ