Delaware is the only state without a National Park

    National parks showcase natural beauty like Yosemite and historic venues like Independence Park. Delaware is the only state in the country without a National Park, but maybe not for long.

    National parks showcase natural beauty like Yosemite and historic venues like Independence Park. Delaware is the only state in the country without a National Park, but maybe not for long.

    Listen: [audio: 090925lfparks.mp3]

    Standing inside the Amstel House in New Castle, Delaware, it’s easy to let yourself be transported to the past.

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    It feels homey and kind of smells like, spices, maybe cinnamon.

    There’s original woodwork from the 1730s, a brick fireplace, and a china cabinet full of plates and cups.

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    A governor lived here, signers of the Declaration of Independence stopped by, and George Washington came for a wedding in the parlor.

    Michael Connolly is the Executive Director of the New Castle Historical Society,

    Connolly: The town is a national historic landmark district so within a several block radius from where we’re standing at the boundaries of this national historic landmark district. So the town protects its existing buildings and tries to make sure that they’re going to be here for a long long time.

    Outside, there are brick buildings and brick sidewalks everywhere. Not far away we pass a cobblestone street.

    A few minutes walk from Amstel House Connolly shows me the old Sheriff’s House which was built in the mid 1800s. He says it’s state-owned and not in use, so it could be an ideal spot for a National Park visitor’s center.

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    Fiedler: Why would you like to see a National Park in Delaware given that there are already so many sites that have been noted for their historic nature, and preserved. Why is it important to have a National Park here?

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    Connolly: It sort of recognizes us as significant. We like to think we’re significant even though Delaware is the second smallest state.  From New Castle’s perspective I think it helps some of the existing historic sites because the Park Services really sort of sets the standard for historic preservation in the United States so we will benefit from their knowledge of everything from restoring buildings to interpretation.

    Experts say a National Park can do more than protect resources, it can have a broad economic impact: increasing tourism to the historic spot, and even drawing visitors to other nearby sites.

    Connolly says he’s not sure why it’s taken so long to get a National Park in Delaware.

    Lawmakers say it’s a combination of legislation and funding. A recent Park Service study helped nail down some specifics.

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    Terrence Moore is the Chief of Park Planning for the Northeast Region of the National Park Service.

    Moore: There had been an original proposal for many hubs and many spokes. What we did in this study was identify those resources that are of national significance and we would see perhaps the central location being New Castle and perhaps a small visitor facility near Old Swedes Church in Wilmington.  Visitors then from there could go out to the other locations.

    Moore says a future park in Delaware should fill a gap in the existing park system.

    Senator Tom Carper is pushing for a park,

    Carper: They’d like for us to narrow our focus a little bit and focus on early settlement in Delaware from the time we had early settlers including the Swedes and Finns in Northern Delaware, the Dutch in Southern Delaware from their arrival until Delaware became the first state and ratified the Constitution. The Park Service thinks that’s what’s maybe the most unique about our state.

    Carper says the park could expand to include the grand plans created by a working group of citizens and experts. They imagined a park with hubs in New Castle, Wilmington, Dover, and Lewes – each with their own set of nearby attractions.

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    One prominent supporter of the Delaware Park movement is filmmaker Ken Burns.

    Burns: We were so central in the Revolutionary period and there’s so much history that’s gone on in Delaware that we’re in danger if we don’t set it aside of losing it entirely. And when we lose a connection to a past, we lose a connection to ourselves.

    Park advocates hope Burns’ new documentary about the National Park system will draw fresh attention to the issue.

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