The document carries a fairly innocuous title: House Resolution 716. And the deliberative body’s name doesn’t sound overly dramatic, either: the Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.But when Jaime Herrera Beutler’s bill goes before the subcommittee on Thursday, it carries the hopes of a growing number of Clark County residents that Pearson Air Museum can be returned to local control. The best way to accomplish that is described in HR 716: Transfer 7 acres from the National Park Service to the city of Vancouver, which would then reopen Pearson Air Museum under the auspices of the Fort Vancouver National Trust. The congressional subcommittee is urged to approve the resolution introduced by Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and advance it to the House floor for approval.
It’s sad that the dispute has come to this. The trust had operated the popular local museum since 2005 until a management dispute with the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site led to a vacating of the premises by the trust last month. The museum was emptied of displays, many owned by local pilots and other museum supporters.
The historic site later reopened the museum with other exhibits, but the sharp divisions persist between the historic site (an arm of the National Park Service) and the community. As Herrera Beutler has said, “I guess I’m just wondering if the Park Service is not really aware of how much they’ve lost the trust of the community.”
The damage is irreparable, as we see it, and that’s why the museum should be turned over to the city and the trust that ran it successfully for many years. In fact, the Park Service, the city and the trust originally agreed the museum would be run as a collaborative endeavor through 2025.
We do not dispute the high value of the Park Service and the historic site in Clark County and the Pacific Northwest. Fort Vancouver is a priceless asset for our community. But Congress should recognize that the solution proffered by Herrera Beutler is nothing new; it existed, indeed, flourished for years. HR 716 plows no new ground. It simply asks the federal government to allow local control of a museum that already has been locally controlled.
That was the big problem for Park Service officials, allowing the trust to schedule and run events that Park Service officials believed did not meet agency regulations. The historic site wants events that promote history; the trust wants events to cater to broader community interests.
Herrera Beutler is on solid ground with this pronouncement: “My hope is this can be seen as a local issue and not something for or against national parks. We all love national parks.” Just as we have loved the Pearson Air Museum as operated by the local trust. The 3rd Congressional District representative has “pledged to help restore (Pearson Air Museum) as an accessible community resource. … I intend to shepherd this legislation through Congress as quickly as I can.” We hope she succeeds, and we hope the House subcommittee recognizes the importance of approving HR 716.