A bipartisan bill to add a former Japanese American internment camp in Prowers County to the National Park System moved a step closer to passing Wednesday when U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper and experts on historic preservation testified in support of the designation at a Senate committee hearing.
"Without question, Amache tells the story of a painful and shameful time in our U.S. history," said Joy Beasley, associate director of Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science with the National Park Service.
Beasley and Sara Capen, who chairs the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Inc., joined Hickenlooper to deliver brief testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's National Parks Subcommittee in Washington, D.C.
Hickenlooper said that adding the site to the park system could yield economic benefits for the region surrounding the World War II-era relocation center, which housed thousands of detainees from the West Coast at its peak.
"We saw a great benefit in taking history and making sure it was preserved and available," Hickenlooper said, recalling that he sought historic designation for buildings and surrounding neighborhoods when he was operating brewpubs in Denver and other cities.
"The cultural benefits there are so numerous, I think even when our history is shameful, we need to make sure we preserve it."
The internment camps came into existence after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the controversial executive order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942, which cited security concerns as justification for relocation Japanese Americans.
"The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage," Roosevelt wrote.
The 10,000-acre site the Granada Relocation Center held 7,310 Japanese Americans between 1942 to 1945, as American anxieties rose during World War II. People were concentrated in barracks on 640 acres, about 1 square mile, surrounded by barbed wire and watched from guard houses. Residents farmed about 9,000 acres to feed the camp. Granada was one of 10 such camps across the country.
Amache was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and designated a National Historic landmark in 2005.
The House passed a version of the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor and Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette, earlier this summer. Hickenlooper and his fellow Democrat, Sen. Michael Bennet, are sponsoring a Senate version.
Capen seconded the point that adding the site to the park system could draw more visitors and bolster the nearby economy.
"It’s deeply meaningful to preserving our history so we don’t lose our collective memory," she said.
Sites like Amache encourage visitors to pause and reflect, she said, and often stay in the area longer than on visits to other types of attractions.
"That’s what we see throughout national historic areas, and that’s part of the significance," she said. "It’s very different than an amusement park where you can go through and get out, it’s exciting. History is exciting as well, but it’s also reflective, and the economic benefits to communities often surround that."
Hickenlooper added that when he was governor, his administration moved the state's office of cultural affairs into the office of economic development for those reasons.
Following the Senate subcommittee's action, Buck, whose district contains the site, tweeted in support of the legislation.
"The Amache National Historic Site Act recognizes injustices committed against Japanese Americans placed in internment camps and preserves the site for future generations," he said, adding: "Let’s get it to the President’s desk!"
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that the Senate subcommittee has yet to take action on the bill.
Camp Amache, a Japanese American incarceration camp that imprisoned over 7,000 in southeast Colorado, took one step closer to becoming a national park Thursday.