The Sandy Hook Foundation would like to thank all those who attended the two open houses hosted by the National Park Service (NPS) several weeks ago. We are gratified by their participation and are hopeful that the public and the NPS will continue to work together to plan the future of Fort Hancock, as yet undetermined, consistent with the mission of the NPS. The overwhelming sentiment was in favor of saving the buildings within Fort Hancock. We are also pleased that aides representing Congressmen Pallone and Holt and Senator Menendez attended; we look forward to working with our legislators, as their support is crucial.
To clarify the importance of preserving Fort Hancock the following needs to be reiterated:
The National Park Service Organic Act established the National Park Service as an agency of the United States Department of the Interior. The Act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on August 25, 1916 and states that “The fundamental purpose” of the NPS “ is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Federal courts have ruled more than once that preservation rather than recreational use is the prime directive for the National Park Service. Further, in finding that preservation comes foremost for the Park Service, the courts also ruled that the name of the unit of the National Park System – in other words whether the unit in question was a “national park,” or “national seashore,” or “national recreation area” – did not alter that mandate. Fortunately, in the case of Sandy Hook, complying with the primary mandate of preservation can be met without impairing its wonderful recreational opportunities.
At the meetings the NPS informed the public:
- The federally designated National Historic Landmark area of Fort Hancock, which contains the nation’s oldest, working lighthouse, comprises just 12.5% of all Sandy Hook acreage. Preservation would be limited to the buildings within this 12.5%.
- The beaches, bayside coves, dunes, 7.5-mile multi-use path and walking trails will remain as they are now.
- There are presently nine tenants within Fort Hancock that include a mixture of educational, conservationist, and research organizations: American Littoral Society, Brookdale Community College, Clean Ocean Action, Marine Academy of Science and Technology (M.A.S.T.), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), NJ Audubon Society, NJ Sea Grant Consortium, Rutgers University and Sandy Hook Child Care Center. All have agreements and pay fees to the NPS. Some have been on the Hook for over 30 years and most limit public access to special events. NPS opens History House, the Lighthouse and its Keeper’s Quarters, Batteries Potter and Gunnison, and the jail and museum to the public.
- In addition to 2 million annual beach-going visitors to Sandy Hook, park statistics show that for the period between September 2009 – October 2010, approximately 104,000 people attended interpretative and educational programs, sporting and performing arts events, (excluding the thousands who attended concerts on the beach) battery tours and park special events, much of which took place within Fort Hancock.
We applaud the National Park Service’s efforts in exploring models used elsewhere in the National Park system, and we look forward to reviewing their report to be released in early summer. We encourage the public to stay committed to finding a solution for preserving these important buildings in our very backyard.
The Sandy Hook Foundation Board of Trustees
Pat Alcaro, Betsy Barrett, Ellen Bolllinger, Rich Eittreim, Gerry Glaser, Dave Hoder, Dick Lilleston, Jim Lizotte, Lucy Matchett, Rich Phillips and Doug Rossbach
The Sandy Hook Foundation (www.sandyhookfoundationnj.org) is the official friends group of the National Park Service (NPS) at the Sandy Hook Unit, Gateway National Recreation Area. Established in 1989, the Foundation's goal is to nurture and protect all of Sandy Hook including Fort Hancock, a National Historic Landmark site, by supporting programs and projects of environmental, historic, and cultural importance.