Philadelphia Inquirer Says Pennsylvania Should Consider Taking Valley Forge Back

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A symbol of the epic struggle to found our nation is suffering from years of neglect by our national government. Valley Forge National Park is in trouble. It may be time for Pennsylvania to take back control of it, before a penny-pinching Congress and a paralyzed National Park Service do more damage.

Valley Forge, established as Pennsylvania's first state park in 1893, became a national park in 1976. Its purpose, Congress said then, was to commemorate the "hardship and determination and resolve of Gen. George Washington's Continental Army during the winter of 1777-78."

Since it fell into the feds' hands, the park has known only hardship and lack of resolve. Starved for funding, it's fallen into shameful disrepair. In 2000 and 2002, it made watch lists of the country's most endangered parks.

The federal government "has run it into the ground," says Pennsylvania Gov. Rendell.
Now the National Park Service has imposed unreasonable demands on a private partner that offered a chance to turn the park's fortunes around. The American people deserve a better caretaker than this. Pennsylvania would do a better job.

"In the 29 years since establishment, little of the progress and protection intended by Congress has resulted," says a recent Park Service planning document. "The decline since 1976 is measurable."

Historic structures, "which were in reasonable condition when conveyed from the state," are seriously deteriorated, the document says. Much of the park's museum collection, featuring American Revolution military artifacts and documents, is housed poorly in terms of security and preservation. Less than 1 percent of the collection can be publicly displayed.

Appalled by the buildings' condition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Valley Forge one of America's "11 Most Endangered Historic Places" in 2000. The trust didn't just lament; it acted, helping the park secure $1.15 million to stabilize buildings - $680,000 from Pennsylvania. Renovations would cost more than $18 million.

The park's inability to serve visitors landed it on the National Parks Conservation Association's 2002 endangered list. Despite recent improvements in education, interpretive staff can reach only 3 percent of park visitors. School groups don't find much to do. Only two buildings - the Welcome Center and Washington's Headquarters - are open year-round.

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