Friday, November 14, 2008

Guest Column: St. Augustine should have a national historical park
St. Augustine
Publication Date: 3/26/07

Real estate speculators (some foreign-funded) continue to destroy our local wildlife, habitat, nature and history. Roads are clogged. Noise abounds. Our way of life is being destroyed. Unfeeling, uncaring Philistines are turning St. Johns County into an uglier, unreasonable facsimile of South Florida. Unjust county government stewards allowed an asphalt plant near homes. Another plant reportedly emits 50 tons/year of volatile organic compounds into residents' and workers' lungs and brains.
Speculators are even trying to build homes on top of unremediated septic tanks/fields, while vacationing boaters pollute our Bay front with untreated sewage (the only boat-pumpout-station is at Conch House Marina). Our Bay front (which lacks a harbormaster) had an oil spill Jan. 15. Developers demand to build docks over city-owned State Road 312 area marshes for boat-owners' pleasure. Enough.
Let's invite environmental tourism by preserving an "emerald necklace of parks," including the city-owned marsh.
Ask Congress to hold hearings to map our "St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore" (SANHPNS), using 1928-style trolleycars to save gasoline, uniting the Castillo and Fort Matanzas National Monuments, "slave market park," downtown streets, Government House, Red House Bluff indigenous village (next to historical society), marshes, forests, National Cemetery, GTM NERR, Anastasia State Park, Fort Mose and other city, county, state and St. Johns River Water Management District lands.
Let's cancel future shock/schlock/sprawl/ugliness/skyscrapers and eliminate temptations to abuse/neglect/misuse state parks and historic buildings for golf courses and rote, rube commercialism.
In December, State Sen. Jim King suggested Florida donate "deed and title" of state buildings to our city. I suggested that we deed them to the National Park Service (NPS), with St. George Street visitor center in restored buildings, saving millions (as in the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park).
St. Augustine needs a national civil rights and indigenous history museum, celebrating local residents and national leaders, whose courage helped win passage of 1964's Civil Rights Act. Why not put the museum in the old Woolworth's building, restored to its former glory, with wood floors, lunch-counter and exhibits on the civil rights struggles that changed history (well- documented in Jeremy Dean's documentary, "Dare Not Walk Alone"), with "footsoldiers monument" across the street ?
Why not (finally) implement the 2003 National Trust for Historic Preservation and Flagler College study on how to protect our history? Let's tax tourists more to fund historic preservation, as in Charleston/elsewhere.
Let's preserve/protect the quality of our lives and visitors' experience (and property values) by preserving forever what speculators haven't destroyed (yet).
Let's adopt a three-year moratorium on growth, while we work to adopt truly comprehensive plans worthy of the name.
Colonial National Historical Park (NHP), Philadelphia's Independence NHP and NHPs in Boston, New Bedford, Valley Forge, San Francisco and Saratoga.
There's a Martin Luther King historical site in Atlanta, NHPs for "Rosie the Riveter" (California) and the "War in the Pacific" (Guam), and new parks slated for ten Japanese internment camps.
Florida hosts Everglades, Dry Tortugas and Biscayne National Parks and Canaveral National Seashore. Let's add St. Augustine to the list.
From sea to shining sea, America's coastal areas enjoy national parks. Where's ours?
Let's make parts of State Road A1A a National Parkway and hiking/biking trail, like the Colonial National Historical Parkway and the Baltimore Washington, George Washington, Rock Creek and John D. Rockefeller (Wyoming) Parkways and the Appalachian Trial and C&O Canal.
Let's add St. Augustine to the list of our nation's most beloved national parks, joining Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and the Great Smoky Mountains.
Florida's 500th and St. Augustine's 450th anniversaries are only six and eight years away (2013 and 2015). Enacting a national park and seashore will forever preserve the treasures that we love. It will halt the sprawl we hate, increase tourism and reduce local taxes, paying speculators to stop.
Mayor Joe Boles' mother graciously thanked me for speaking out on these issues after the Jan. 22 City Commission meeting -- issues that Mrs. Boles has been outspoken about for "30 years." Let's honor/heed Mrs. Boles' wisdom -- and those who proposed a national park before World War II. Let's save St. Augustine and our environment forever.
Ed Slavin lives in St. Augustine.

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