As you might already know, there’s a bit of a squabble going on between the National Park Service and the Fort Vancouver Historic Trust over the Pearson Air Museum and a surrounding 7 acres in the middle of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Unfortunately, you and I and every other American citizen stand to potentially be the losers. Hard lines have been drawn by both organizations and now the trust is pushing a congressional solution that would remove 7 acres from the park and turn it over to a private organization. It’s safe to say that giving away public resources to a private organization is a bad idea.
In these times of tightening budgets, the National Park Service must seek and embrace opportunities for partner organizations to operate certain aspects of park operations. It’s a successful model used all over the country. For eight years, through an agreement with the city of Vancouver and the Fort Vancouver Historic Trust, the trust operated the Pearson Air Museum on behalf of the Park Service. The land was purchased through the National Park Service in 1972, paying the city of Vancouver approximately $700,000 for this land. Following the purchase, the city raised private dollars to build the museum, and the National Park Service invested more than $1.3 million of your tax dollars to help maintain it.
At issue is what can occur on the lands surrounding the museum. The trust claims the only way it can generate necessary funding for museum operations is to be given carte blanche on decision-making and permitting authority for the air museum and surrounding land. Activities within the museum have traditionally been left to the discretion of the trust, but those on the seven surrounding acres need a National Park Service permit. Fort Vancouver National Historic Site is not a special events venue; it is a national park with specific rules for allowing special events.
In virtually everything we do in modern life, there are rules to live by. If we want to use any public facility — like a school — there are rules. Without rules, there would be chaos. The National Park Service has rules — and many are the same for all 401 National Park System sites. They are not unique to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Yet, the trust is basically asking the National Park Service to toss those rules out the window, and give them total control of the 7 acres surrounding the museum. Say it with me: “precedent-setting.”
This is not to say the Park Service is innocent. The Park Service has closed the window to further meaningful discussions with the trust by deciding too quickly that an impasse has been reached. That rather hasty dismissal of further negotiations led to a series of unfortunate letters between the National Park Service and the trust, which equally hardened positions. So the trust pulled out of the museum, said they couldn’t work with the Park Service, and went to Congress requesting the 7 acres and museum be carved out of the park and given to them.
We respectfully, but forcefully, ask that both parties take a deep breath, and revisit solutions to benefit both the park and the community. To the trust: The National Park Service has rules that cannot and should not be changed. Cooperating organizations operate historic facilities for the National Park Service around the country, and they seem to do just fine. To the Park Service: Don’t be so hasty to close the door on important community organizations. The solution here needs to be cooperative, not one that imposes anyone’s will unilaterally over the other.