Jaime Herrera Beutler today called on the National Park Service (NPS) to preserve a legacy of local community access to the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. She raised concerns over recent denials of community event permits by the NPS, notably the Youth Soccer Fair and the annual Clark County All Church Picnic.
Late last week Jaime spoke with Fort Vancouver National Historic Site Superintendent Tracy Fortmann, and today followed up with a letter. Jaime's office has heard growing concerns from the local community that access could become increasingly restricted under NPS management.
"As a public agency, it is your duty to protect and allow the public the right to use the facilities that their tax dollars and private contributions have purchased," wrote Jaime. "This community has partnered with the National Park Service through financial support, volunteerism, and advocacy, and these most recent actions by the agency harms the trust that has been developed."
Jaime also requested the NPS to reconsider the request it denied from the annual Clark County All Church Picnic. "Fortunately, the All Church Picnic is not scheduled to take place until later this summer," she wrote. "Please review this event permit request with a greater consideration of the salient facts and a higher value on community access."
The full text of the letter is below:
June 20, 2012
Ms. Tracy Fortmann
Superintendent, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
National Park Service
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site
612 East Reserve Street
Vancouver, WA 98661
Dear Superintendent Fortmann,
I appreciate you taking my call late last week. As we discussed, I am asking you to place a higher value on local public access when considering permit applications for local community events to be held on the Fort Vancouver historic site. The National Park Service's (NPS) recent denials of permits for the Youth Soccer Fair, and most recently the annual Clark County All Church Picnic, suggest a desire to severely restrict public access to this valued community treasure. This is unacceptable.
On May 28, I was honored to participate in the Post to Park ceremony. I commended the NPS for its work to preserve the local history of the Fort and newly acquired East Barracks. However, by choking off public access, you are undermining the very purpose for preserving it in the first place. The community and Fort have grown together, and the Fort Vancouver National Trust (Trust) has been an important partner by helping facilitate public access and enjoyment.
I am perplexed by the standards you are applying to these permit denials. For example, the Washington State Youth Soccer Association submitted a timely permit application to hold its Youth Soccer Fair dedicated to involving children in healthy outdoor recreational activities. This application was denied due to the impact vendor booths and planned activities would have on the site, yet the NPS's own "Get Outdoors Day," an event with a similar footprint, was approved for June 9.
Your denial of the All Church Picnic -- an annual event at the Pearson Air Museum involving more than 100 churches and organizations that draws thousands of Clark County residents -- was particularly disappointing and seemingly unwarranted. The NPS's permit denial response seemed to be based on misinformation and inconsistencies.
Noise levels: the NPS documentation notes that complaints had been generated in the past for this event, but in fact, the complaints were for a different event not associated with the All Church Picnic.
Activities including Pony Rides, Slip and Slide, Bounce House, etc.: The NPS Get Outdoors Day event included activities such as Frisbee golf and a climbing wall that are nearly identical to the activities listed in the permit application.
Fortunately, the All Church Picnic is not scheduled to take place until later this summer. Please review this event permit request with a greater consideration of the salient facts and a higher value on community access. The Fort Vancouver Historic Reserve was formed to foster community partnerships and to celebrate the historic richness and diversity of this incredible asset. On its website, the NPS mission statement commits to "celebrating local heritage." Community churches have played a role in the Fort's history from the very beginning. The region's first open air sermon was preached from Fort Vancouver. It is for these and other reasons that the Trust, which operates the Air Museum, supports having the event on the museum grounds. Please respect its position as a partner in these decisions.
As a public agency, it is your duty to protect and allow the public the right to use the facilities that their tax dollars and private contributions have purchased. This community has partnered with the National Park Service through financial support, volunteerism, and advocacy, and these most recent actions by the agency harms the trust that has been developed. Further, there is great concern about the precedent you are setting. By denying the All Church Picnic due to assumed loud music, will veterans groups and other community organizations also be denied access to their land?
The National Park Service website states: "We are proud that tribes, local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individual citizens ask for our help in revitalizing their communities, preserving local history, celebrating local heritage, and creating close to home opportunities for kids and families to get outside, be active, and have fun." I urge you to act in accordance with this mission statement.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your timely response.
Jaime Herrera Beutler