Fort Hancock…Where Do We Go From Here?

I first wrote about the issues surrounding the preservation of Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook seven years ago. Since then, there has been a lot of talk including much finger pointing regarding who is responsible for the ongoing neglect of the Fort’s buildings. Sides have been drawn…but most of us, at the end of the day, rely on our commonsense to decide what is right and what is wrong.

You can’t ignore the 30+ years of responsibility the National Park Service (NPS) has had as caretaker of Fort Hancock. Almost as troubling is the NPS’s lack of a simple apology for not having come close to fulfilling their obligation. We as citizens and taxpayers are most offended by government when it acts with disregard for those it serves, but conversely are most forgiving when it is asked of us.

If the NPS truly wants to move forward they must first acknowledge where they have gone wrong in the past. Doing so is not an assignment of blame -- it is about responsibility and learning from prior mistakes to be able to move forward in a more productive manner.

Americans don’t expect their government to be flawless; they only expect it to be thoughtful and considerate of what is in the public’s best interest. If by commercializing Fort Hancock we restrict public access and so alter the environment visually and acoustically that it no longer conveyed the history that was the reason for preserving it in the first place, what has been gained? Too often government acts without concern for the unintended consequences. This is probably the greatest frustration for citizens. Those that work in government, tend to behave as if only they, more than anybody, know best. They act is if they don’t have a stake in the game – has if it doesn’t really matter if the outcome is good or bad.

The best next steps for Fort Hancock are for the NPS to acknowledge past mistakes in a forthright manner, offer a comprehensive plan for moving forward which includes a ranking of priorities for Sandy Hook to be able to effectively evaluate any preservation options and keep the public intimately involved all along the way. I think most of us would say that isn’t too much to ask.

The NPS and Sandy Hook Foundation are not private corporations – they should not act with disregard of the public’s wishes or in the shadows. We all know the outcome when government operates in this manner – it ain’t good. The NPS has a great and unique history and is full of creative and talented people. They should rise to the occasion, think creatively, consider the better good for the public and the environment (one in the same), and act in a manner to preserve Fort Hancock consistent with those ideals.

Stephen Szulecki

Highlands, NJ