A new bill making its way through Congress could be the first step in turning the Hudson River Valley into a national park. In March, the House approved the Hudson River Valley Special Resource Study Act, a bill that would authorize a National Park Service (NPS) study on adding a 182-mile stretch of land on both sides of the Hudson from Fort Edward in Washington County south to Westchester County. Written by Congressman Maurice Hinchey, the legislation will go for a vote before the Senate in the coming months.
“We are thrilled with Congressman Hinchey’s proposal and his leadership toward the possibility that the Hudson Valley might qualify to become a National Park,” said Joan K. Davidson, chair of the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission. “The designation would bring federal money in. It would help with conservation of natural resources and historic properties, it would help get the river cleaned up once and for all, and it would be a tremendous boost for the right kind of tourism and economic development.”
Davidson is on the steering committee of an organization called Our Hudson Tomorrow, whose goal is to create a long-term plan for the Hudson Valley. She said she expects the group’s ongoing studies on everything from environmental conditions to agriculture and marketing would be considered should the NPS study go forward.
Though support for the bill has been strong, some property rights advocates have opposed it, even though it prohibits forced acquisition of private land. In January, Carol LaGrasse, president of the Property Rights Foundation of America, testified before the Committee on Natural Resources that the region would face a significant loss of local tax revenue if the tax status of some federal, state, local, and nonprofit sites changes. Yet historic and environmental groups have applauded the measure, envisioning a more secure future for at least 25 of the 41 state parks and 14 historic sites threatened with closures due to budget cuts in the coming fiscal year.
Mark Castiglione, acting executive director of the Hudson River Valley Greenway, which also manages the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, said these organizations and others would be positively affected by a National Park designation for the region. He said there would be a potential for heritage areas to gain more national funding, allowing them to develop more dynamic programming.
In a release from his office, Hinchey said that his proposal would require the NPS to consider the economic impact of a national park designation in addition to its environmental impact. Sections of the park, as well as national river and recreation areas, would have to encompass non-federal lands and the NPS must collaborate with private property owners to achieve its goals. The bill also has guidelines for the NPS to consider similar national park models, including the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a 72-mile corridor in Minnesota that, like the Hudson River Valley, includes a range of natural, historic, and economic resources.
The NPS study, which could take up to 24 months, is required before the Hudson River Valley becomes part of the national system. If the plan is found to be feasible, Hinchey said he would immediately introduce legislation necessary to make the designation.