WASHINGTON — The enthusiasm of Colorado’s U.S. senators for federally designating more historic sites in the state was not shared by the deputy director of the U.S. National Park Service during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Both Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner have proposed bills that could commemorate historic events in Colorado. But P. Daniel Smith, the National Park Service’s deputy director, said his agency had higher priorities at the moment.
Smith said in his testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks that “we are focusing resources on reducing the National Park Service’s $11.6 billion deferred maintenance backlog and addressing other critical national park needs.”
Bennet is a lead sponsor of a bill called the Pike National Historic Trail Study Act, which would consider possibilities for establishing a historic trail along the Rocky Mountains and Southwestern route followed by Zebulon Montgomery Pike as he completed the first U.S. exploration of the region in 1806 to 1807. Pikes Peak above Colorado Springs bears his name.
Gardner is a primary sponsor of the Amache Study Act, which would assess the historical significance of Amache, a former Japanese-American World War II relocation center in Granada. The study is supposed to determine the feasibility of the site becoming part of the National Park System.
“Two centuries after Zebulon Pike made his journey across the West, it’s time we designate the Pike National Historic Trail,” Bennet said in a statement.
National Historic Trails commemorate historic routes distinguished by their cultural significance. The network of scenic, historic and recreational trails was established by the National Trails System Act of 1968. Colorado already is home to portions of the Santa Fe, Pony Express, California and Old Spanish historic trails.
The Pike National Historic Trail Study Act, which Bennet said was “widely supported by local governments across several states, not only recognizes an American trailblazer and the rich history of the West, but also would boost tourism and provide opportunities for economic development.”
Gardner said the Amache Study Act was needed to avoid repeating past injustices.
“I have made multiple visits to Camp Amache during my time in Congress, and each time serves as a stark reminder of a dark moment in our country’s history,” Gardner said in a statement.
He added that “it is vital that this historical site be preserved so we may appropriately honor the individuals and their ancestors who live with this legacy and provide us a reminder that we never repeat our grave mistakes from the past.”
Currently, Amache is a National Historic landmark owned by the town of Granada. About 10,000 Japanese Americans were brought to the camp by the U.S. military during World War II. About 7,000 remained as residents interned against their will until the war ended.
Amache was one of 10 major sites built by the War Relocation Authority to detain Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the West Coast by executive order of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The National Park Service reports that “the cemetery, a reservoir, a water well and tank, the road network, concrete foundations, watch towers, the military police compound and trees planted by the internees still remain.”
The bills from the Colorado senators were two of 25 legislative proposals discussed during the Senate hearing. All of them would commemorate historic events or sites.
The National Park Service supported only nine of them, mostly touching on the Civil War or civil rights movement in states outside of Colorado.
Despite the lack of National Park Service support, Bennet and Gardner said in a joint statement that they “applauded the advancement of the Pike National Historic Trail Study Act and the Amache Study Act” that the Senate hearing gave their bills.
The National Park Service estimated a study of the proposed Pike National Historic Trail would cost about $500,000. It would determine whether the trail is nationally significant, financially feasible and whether it is possible to develop a trail along the route to run through parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
The Amache study would cost $200,000 to $400,000, the National Park Service estimated. It would would consider alternatives for preservation, protection and historical interpretation of the site under National Park Service management.