NPS seeks input on Manhattan Project Park

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Building a foundation > Document will provide guidance for management of park

By Arin McKenna

A National Park Service team – joined by Department of Energy representatives – spent two days in Los Alamos this week, asking for input on what will become the Foundation Document for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The team visited Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford, Washington, during the previous week.
At a public meeting Monday, citizens were encouraged to provide their insights on the questions of:
• What is important about the park? What are its important stories?
• What do you see as the threats and challenges to the park?
• What visitor experiences and opportunities would you like to see?
On the last question, Interim Superintendent Tracy Atkins told attendees to “think big” and “think long-term.”
“Think 10, 20 years down the road,” Atkins said. “We’re not going to do everything at once. We’re a little baby park. We’re still just barely cutting out teeth. It takes us a while to move through all the planning processes to be fully operational.”
Atkins explained that the Foundation Document is the very first step in planning a new park, and supports all future planning.
“It really provides the core mission for the park staff and our DOE partners. And in this park, it provides a shared understanding of what’s the purpose of the park,” Atkins said. “What’s the purpose, what’s the significance and what are those key resources and values that we need to protect in order to achieve the purpose of the park and protect it and maintain its significance.
“So a Foundation Document doesn’t tell us how to manage the park. That will come in later planning efforts. It’s really telling us what we want to manage.”
Atkins spoke about some of the issues the team must address during the foundation planning.
“The NPS mission is a dynamic challenge between protecting natural and cultural resources and providing for enjoyment for the public for now and in the future,” Atkins said. “So we really have to find that right balance between protecting resources and providing for enjoyment in that visitor experience.”
The foundation plan will clarify:  
• The core purpose of the park: why Congress of the president created it.
• The significance: why this particular unit rises to the level where it should be included in the national park system.
• Fundamental resources and values: those things that, if lost, would be a serious detriment to the value, significance and purpose of the park.
• Interpretation: defining interpretive themes that tell the park’s important stories.
• An assessment for developing and prioritizing the park’s planning and data needs for the future.
The plan will be used to as a framework for all other plans, help prioritize future planning and the deployment of limited resources, provide consistency in decision-making as park personnel come and go and address emerging issues and challenges, including threats to the fundamental resources.
According to Atkins, the 50 to 100 page document and a summary brochure are also valuable communication tools which will be especially important for this park.
“We can use that in our communities – particularly with a park like the Manhattan Project Park – to align what the park service is doing with what the Department of Energy is doing as well as what’s going on in the community for these resources that neither the park service nor the DOE own and manage,” Atkins said.
Atkins urged attendees to be patient with the process of launching the MPNHP, noting the challenges of working in concert with the DOE mission and addressing the complexity of managing a park with three widely separated locations.
“We have a very thoughtful process in how we start and operate parks,” Atkins said. “There’s a lot of planning that goes into it. There’s a lot of consultation with local governments, local communities, local partners. We’ll have probably even a few national partners in this park because of the scope and different locations.
“So there’s a lot to do to get this park started, but you should be very proud of the things that are happening now.”
NPS Intermountain Region Director Sue Masica acknowledged local resident’s eagerness to get started.
“We would not be here were it not for the concerted and sustained effort of the community,” Masica said. “And I appreciate the tension that sometimes can exist with, it was a long fight to get the park established, and why haven’t we just flipped a switch and everything happens overnight?
“It is a partnership effort at its heart, and it’s going to take a lot of cooperation and communication. It’s totally different from other parks where there’s a nice neat line on a map, and the park service manages what’s inside of it and we go and do our thing. This is very different from that.
“So it’s a delicate act of balancing the many pieces across the three locations and trying to get this up and going.”
Masica pointed to evidence of the strong backing for the park and the desire to open it quickly, including an unexpectedly large initial budget. NPS had requested a startup budget of $180,000 for Fiscal Year 2016. Thanks to the House Appropriations Committee, Congress actually approved $340,000, which will be used to develop the park’s management plan.
“So I think that’s a great attribute to the support and the energy that the communities have brought to the question of how do we get this going?” Masica said.
According to Atkins, work on the Foundation Document is also moving with unusual rapidity, given that the park was not officially established until the Memorandum of Agreement between NPS and DOE was signed on Nov. 10, 2015.
“I think it reflects the visibility and priority that the regents and the National Park Service are putting on this park,” Atkins said.
NPS staff has another reason for moving rapidly. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis has issued a directive that all 409 units in the national park system must update their foundation documents by Aug. 25, the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. MPNHP is not mandated to meet that directive, since it was created after it was issued, but the team’s goal is to have “a very solid draft” by that deadline and to publish the Foundation Document by the end of the year.
Once that document is complete, NPS will move forward with steps such as asset mapping, prioritization, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) assessments and finalizing interpretive themes. Discussions on interpretation began in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the Nov. 10 MOA signing and are continuing in Denver, Colo., this week.
NPS is still accepting feedback on the Foundation Document. Send comments to Manhattan_project@nps.gov.