Great news out of Washington, D.C., this week for Bay lovers and history lovers. On Tuesday, President Obama designated Fort Monroe a national monument, permanently protecting this historic landmark overlooking the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Va.
National monument designation puts the more than 175-year-old former U.S. Army fort, its moat, and nearby areas under the auspices of the National Park Service and paves the way for Congressional action to make the fort a national park.
As the local Virginian-Pilot newspaper editorialized this week, “Under the park service's stewardship, Americans will learn the story of Frank Baker, Shepard Mallory and James Townsend, three slaves who sought refuge at the Union-held fort in the early days of the Civil War. Gen. Benjamin Butler's calculated decision to take them in prompted an exodus of thousands of slaves to ‘Freedom's Fortress’ and helped lay the groundwork for the Emancipation Proclamation.
“Those stories and many others, stretching back centuries, await visitors. It's likely, as National Park Service historians delve more deeply into Fort Monroe's history and explore its archaeology, that new chapters will be written. And, it's certain, as all of this takes shape, that new businesses and new jobs will breathe new life into Phoebus and surrounding neighborhoods.”
But there is more. Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort also are home to waterfront buildings, green space, and more than eight miles of beaches and shoreline. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), one of many local organizations that successfully advocated for national monument status, has identified key opportunities there for restoration of living shorelines, oyster beds, riparian buffers, beaches, dunes, and wildlife habitat, as well as improvements that would reduce stormwater runoff. Such environmental projects not only would restore natural resources and improve Bay water quality, but also would enhance Fort Monroe for tourism and recreation while providing much-needed natural protection from storms and floods.
“National monument status for Fort Monroe represents an exciting opportunity to combine Bay restoration with public access, land conservation, and historical preservation activities,” says Chris Moore, CBF Hampton Roads scientist. “Fort Monroe can truly be a model for successful watershed restoration as Virginia and the other bay states begin implementing their Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction plans. The site also offers some wonderful opportunities for environmental education and community engagement.”
So tip your hat to the thousands of local citizens, groups, preservationists, conservationists, and elected officials – including Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb and the rest of Virginia’s Congressional delegation -- who worked together for the past six years and led the way to this week’s presidential announcement. And stay tuned for more good news from Fort Monroe in the days, months, and years to come as one of America’s most historic sites becomes one of America’s most “Bay friendly” sites.
Chuck Epes, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Photos: Aerial of Fort Monroe (top), courtesy of Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park; Civil War drawing, courtesy of Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe; living shoreline, CBF.