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8/29/2012
National park within reach; Obama could issue declaration; land ID'd

by Sean O’Sullivan The News Journal

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 turned out Tuesday night at Alexis I. du Pont High School to hear the latest on a proposal to create a national park in Delaware, ending the state’s unique position as the nation’s only state without one.

Speakers also confirmed publicly that the 1,100-acre Woodlawn Trust property in Brandywine Hundred, which reaches into Delaware County, Pa., is going to be included in plans for a historic park that would stretch across the state linking a series of sites celebrating Delaware’s colonial history in the founding of the nation.

And after decades of the First State trying and failing to win approval for a national park, federal officials suggested Tuesday night that Delaware could become a unit of the U.S. National Park Service before the end of the year via presidential decree.

Blaine Phillips of the Conservation Fund, which has secured funding to purchase the property from the Woodlawn Trust and has an agreement to take over the land, said they could have the property ready to be donated to the government by the end of the year.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis told the crowd gathered at Alexis I. DuPont High School that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar asked him to him to investigate whether to recommend that President Barack Obama use his power to declare the First State historic park a national monument, almost instantly creating a unit of the National Park Service in the state.

No additional study or act of Congress would be needed.

Organizers said that the massive showing at the hearing, where 125 were expected but nearly five times that amount showed up, certainly helped the effort and showed community support.

“This is really incredible,” said U.S. Rep John Carney in his opening remarks.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper said the turnout was beyond his wildest dreams. He has been pushing for a national park for Delaware for years and is credited with getting the current proposal together.

However, Jarvis said Tuesday night that he was not ready to make a recommendation to the secretary and wants to hear more from the public.

He said while the turnout was impressive, there appeared to be some concerns among those in the crowd about a federal takeover and he wants to hear more from the public before moving forward.

Area resident Todd Breck asked about what limitations federal managers might place on the Woodland property, which currently hosts bikers, hikers and horseback riders.

Jarvis said the park service supports public access but places limits on activities that may threaten the future viability of the property.

Jarvis also said he would like to see if Congress will support a national park for Delaware before turning to the president to act.

He added that he will be looking to see if there is a “groundswell of support.” for the proposal.

Republican New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner said he does not see the current Congress working in a bipartisan manner to approve a park for Delaware and believes a presidential declaration by Obama is the only way to make the park happen.

“The window of opportunity closes on election day,” he said.

Some in the crowd agreed.

“I want you guys to do it now ... do it as quickly as possible,” said Samuel Hobbs, 47, of Greenville, urging action while President Obama is in office.

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