Your Newest National Monument: Virginia's Fort Monroe designated at last!

Note: We are happy to report that since this blog in 2011, six more national monuments have been designated. They include:

What does Fort Monroe, Virginia, have in common with places like Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly and Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients? These days quite a lot. That’s because Fort Monroe was officially designated the nation’s newest national monument on Nov. 1. Now this old civil war fort joins the ranks of highly celebrated historic and natural sites managed by National Park Service. 

And after months of urging president Obama to designate Fort Monroe as a national monument, preservationists and conservationists alike are celebrating the win, not only for what it means for Fort Monroe, but also for what it means for the future of unprotected wildlands in America.

While The Wilderness Society usually works to protect wildlands, Fort Monroe is special to us, both for its historic value and surrounding wetlands, and because it is the first national monument to be created by President Obama using the Antiquities Act of 1906 – an important and bipartisan presidential conservation tool that has come under fire by anti-conservation members of Congress.

Now that Obama has designated Fort Monroe, he joins the ranks of presidents who have had the foresight to protect our nation’s lands and historic sites using the Antiquities Act. The move shows that the president has not been cowed by repeated and unwarranted attempts from some in Congress to limit his ability to use the Act. 

Any lover of American cultural, historical and natural legacies should undoubtedly commend the president for this move. Using the power granted to him under the Antiquities Act of 1906, President Obama became the 16th president to utilize this right. Fifteen prior presidents have used the Antiquities Act to protect iconic places – such as the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty – since the Act was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.

Fort Monroe is where slavery began and where slavery began to end

Through the new protections, Fort Monroe’s Chesapeake Bay waterfront area will be safe from development, but more than that, so too will an important part of American history.

Fort Monroe – located in Hampton, Virginia – has a history dating back to settlements in the early 1600s. Enslaved persons first landed on the peninsula that holds the fort in 1619, and during the Civil War, the fort became a passageway to freedom. The Fort also holds significant conservation values as it is surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay waterfront and a small wetland with nesting Ospreys.

President Obama’s decision to designate Fort Monroe as a national monument does not come as a surprise, but instead reflects the will of a broad coalition of local and national organizations. Hundreds of local citizens spoke out in favor of protecting Fort Monroe at town hall meetings, while local elected officials – including the Mayor of Hampton, Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell and most members of the Virginia Congressional delegation – supported the designation.

Places like Fort Monroe may be under attack again

Some lawmakers have introduced legislation that would limit the president’s authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act. These members – including Congressmen Bishop (R- UT), Nunez (R -CA), Herger (R-CA), Rehberg (R-MT) and Labrador (R-ID) and Congresswoman Fox (R-NC) – have all introduced legislation that would that would weaken the right of Obama, and all presidents in the future, to designate national monuments.

These attacks clearly go against broad American support for protecting special places that define the American spirit. While designating Fort Monroe is a decision aligned with the values and spirit of the American people. Our hope is that Fort Monroe will be a strong indicator of things to come.