Hunkering down for a long fight at Valley Forge

In 1777 American rebels, broken, demoralized, undisciplined and on the edge of desertion, put up camp on some rolling hills about 10 miles from Philadelphia. As explained by USHistory.org, they emerged several months later “anxious to fight the British.”

Well, it’s 230 years later and the battle lines are being drawn once again, but this time it’s over use of part of the park land for a museum dedicated to the American Revolution.

WHYY’s Alex Schmidt traveled out to Valley Forge to talk to both sides in this land use controversy. Her piece is running on 91FM today and can be heard at this link (.mp3).

On one side is the the American Revolution Center, which recently purchased 78 acres at northern edge of the 3500-acre park. There plan is to build a museum and conference center, including, according to its website:

  • 30,000 square feet of exhibit space to inform and inspire people about the surprising, culturally rich and ethnically diverse period of the American Revolution
  • Auditorium for school and scholarly presentations
  • Outdoor terrace and programming spaces
  • Trails and walkways through the 78-acre site

On the other side, residents of Montgomery County and officials from the National Park Service are worried about what the paving and development of this piece of land will mean for the character of the overall site.  The park superintendent, Mike Caldwell, tells Alex that one of his major worries is that the American Revolution itself will be cheapened by the “branding” that the privately-owned ARC is seeking to put on this seminal event in American history.

Other members of the community worry about the precedent set by allowing one of the last remaining areas of open space in the country to be developed.

In searching for more information about this controversy, I came across the website for the ARC, the official website of Valley Forge Park, and a number of news stories about it, including this one that just went up at Time.com a couple of hours ago and this one from the New York Times.

What I haven’t been able to find, however, are any blogs or message boards that have any discussions among the supporters and opponents of the project.  Even the Philly.com story about the latest developments doesn’t have its usual “comment on this story” option.

So, here it is.

You can use the comments section of this post to get the discussion going.  I’d love to hear from folks on both sides, especially people who have been active on one side or the other and people who live near the proposed area. But even if you’ve just been following the story closely and have an interest in open space, the American Revolution, Valley Forge or federal funding for national park preservation, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ll be watching the comment thread pretty closely so let’s try to keep the discussion civil.

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35 Comments on “Hunkering down for a long fight at Valley Forge”

  1. Wayne Reed Says:

    It may seem unpatriotic on the surface to oppose a museum. An opportunity to educate about our history appears like a good thing, like the flag and apple pie. I regretfully have two main problems with the current ARC plans.

    One – Why does a museum need a 99 room tax-subsidized hotel, restaurant w/liquor license, and the rest of the development. Is it really that hard to find lodging, food, and drinks in the Valley Forge area? Would lack of these commercial operations keep school children from visiting a museum? How do we know that they won’t decide that they need a Walmart, theme park with rides, and other “non-profit” development later?

    Two – The location of a museum should be near the present Welcome Center, or at least within walking distance of it. The site currently under consideration presents many logistical issues, especially traffic, that would be easily resolved by moving this educational museum near the existing facilities. This is unless the museum is really a Trojan Horse and the real purpose is the hotel/restaurant development with a museum pushed in front to make it more palatable.

    Thanks for considering my comments,
    Wayne Reed
    Montgomery County Resident

  2. Dan Pohlig Says:

    Thanks Wayne. Both are excellent points and I have to say I agree. If you wanna build a museum… build a museum. As for the location of the museum itself, I don’t know how to approach that.

  3. Don B. Says:

    Sad but typical. More often than not, when a historic landmark remains in the hands of a private citizen/investor, the site is doomed to some type of insensitive development. Greed wins out and the average American couldn’t care less. In fact, developers bank on indifference. I’m sure the museum and hotel will do a booming business.

  4. Richard S. Says:

    ARC has identified itself as “an aggressive marketing company” that will “brand the American Reveloution”. How did Benjamin Franklin ever miss such an opportunity!That is the statement of its Director, Tom Perhaps that is exactly the kind of approach one needs in the selling of a commodity but it seems a little out of place when one is talking about an idea, force ,or historical event, like the American Revolution. However, when you put that statement in the contect of exactly what the ARC has proposed doing on this site one begins to understand what ARC is really all about. ARC needs Valley Forge National Historical Park to survive. However, surviving as a museum is not the objective. That could easily have been achieved with ithe museum’s location within the main area of the park, in the vicinity of the existing Visitors Cwnter. At that location it would have become an intregal part of practically everyone’s visit to the park. However, that is not what ARC is about. It is not about a museum for the purpose of a museum. It is not about a museum for the purpose of merely displaying revoluntary era objects and explaining their context or the ideas surrounding them. ARC is about creating a money. The museum is and the American Revolution is the “hook” That is why Valley Forge Historical Park is essential to ARC’S existence. It is it wants a hotel, taverns, liquor license, campgrounds, retail stores, studios etc., as part and parcel of its development within in Valley Forge National Historical Park boundaries. This is about making money not about a museum. Making money is a fine and worthy activity. But ARC wants taxpayers to fund its efforts.at making money. It wants millions of dollars from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as well as millions of dolls from the government of the United States. In fact it has already recieved millions of dolars in taxpayer funds. that is why this entire project is only discussed as a museum. ARC does want to talk about its entire project, Its emphasis is always the museum. Its like a shell game. The entire development is the pea hidden in the shell of the museum. Developing this site for a commercial complex is disgraceful and contrary to everything Valley Forge means historically.

  5. alex Says:

    hey there –

    this is alex schmidt. i tried to be even-handed in reporting the piece, but there was a lot that i didn’t have time to include. for example, the ARC originally wanted to build at the location of the current visitor’s center, and the park service led them to the location that they’re building at now instead. secondly, the lines of public parks are often drawn completely arbitrarily, and one could certainly argue that at Valley Forge, this is the case. many of the local residents who oppose the new development may themselves live on land where continental soldiers once marched. thirdly, the land on which the ARC is building was zoned for residential development. at the time that they purchased it, Toll Brothers was showing significant interest time as well. now, because the ARC owns it, 75% of the land will be preserved as open space, forever. the ordinance passed by lower providence is the most restrictive land use ordinance ever passed in the township, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ARC’s project.

    i can’t defend the ARC’s building of 99 rooms of lodging, and it would be unreporterly of me to speculate on why they are doing so. i’ll leave that to you all. just some food for thought, and i appreciate the discussion.

    -alex.

  6. Steve Palmer Says:

    I came across this “controversy” a few weeks ago when I received an e-mail chain letter pointing me to the web site http://www.savevalleyforgepark.org. One of the first things I did was to wonder about the credibility of that activist organization, so I ran a whois search on the domain. That domain is registered to an address on Vaux Lane. I looked that address up on the map and guess where it is? The same horse-shoe shaped region of private property where they are trying to shut out the ARC.

    So first impression – savevalleyforgepark.org credibility == 0. They’ve got a “not in my back yard” issue and they’re trying to frame it as patriotism and manipulate the community into standing behind them. If they really believed their claim about “hallowed ground”, they’d be asking the government to buy their own property and give it to the park too. I don’t like being lied to, so I decided to dig further.

    Second point – The museum, the hotel with 99 rooms, conference center and electronic access will let the entire nation enjoy valley forge park as well as the privately owned ARC. Open space will benefit the local community only. These are national treasures, not local ones. The patriots are the people who are trying to honor our revolutionary war heroes and make these national treasures available to all of us, not the activists who are trying to hoard things for themselves.

    Third point – The government already owns 40% (almost half) of the land in this country. Do we really want them taking still more of it ? A private caretaker will always be a better steward of property than the government. Our soldiers at Valley Forge risked, suffered and died in opposition to government tyranny, not so that a replacement government could gradually seize control over of our lands, 78 acres at a time.

    So thanks to the e-mail from http://www.savevalleyforge.park, I have a new cause. Support the ARC.

    Regards,
    Steve

  7. Don B. Says:

    I agree with Steve regarding credibility of the activists…I kind of wondered about them myself. They remind me of people who develop property in the country then complain about all the other people who do the same. But my experience in the preservation field leads me to believe that state and federal agencies are only “sometimes” less competent at managing historic properties. On average, private citizens tend to take the “I’ll do as I please with my property” attitude, regardless of historic resources on said property. I have countless tragic examples of “good stewardship” by private citizens. The federal government, at least, is held somewhat accountable for its actions thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. If ARC does not utilize federal funding for any portion of its proposed project, it can do as it pleases. We can only hope they act responsibly. And I have to disagree with the argument that open space benefits only those who live near it. Open space benefits everyone. When I travel to Valley Forge, as I’ve done in the past, I want to see as much open space as possible. Its difficult to imagine an 18th century farmstead when there’s a 99-room hotel in the middle of it. Yes, much of the surrounding area has already been developed and occupied by the very same people who now protest this project, but do we really need to add to the problem? We have to remember that Valley Forge is a historic “landscape.” Building more structures upon it, regardless of their educational value, defeats the purpose of preserving such a resource. And don’t we have enough hotels and restaraunts?
    Good discussion—thanks!

  8. Steve Palmer Says:

    In regards to Richard S. at June 4, 5:45 pm –

    Richard says: “ARC is about creating a money.” along with lots of other text that basically implies the same point, in a decisively negative tone.

    However, the time.com article linked by Alex Schmidt above says “…The money to build the nonprofit center would come from individuals, corporations and foundations, along with $20 million from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania….”

    I note the use of the word “nonprofit”. I also note that the ARC web site says that they are a 501-(c)3 organization organization.

    So I think that we can dispense with the ARC=Enron line of argument. Now personally, I’d be happier if they did their thing with no taxpayer money at all, but $20 million from Pennsylvania for a museum and education center is better than all the money the Federal government would spend on doing nothing with it.

    With regards to Don B. at June 5, 2008 at 3:14.

    1.) I stand corrected. A private caretaker will *almost* always be a better steward of property than the government.

    2.) What historic property are you speaking of preserving? I grew up in Lower Providence and live nearby in West Chester now. I might be mistaken, but I believe the land we’re speaking of has been in use by St. Gabriel’s for 30 or 40 years, probably much longer judging from the style of the building. I would guess that any historic remnants of the revolutionary army must be long gone from that land at this point… I think that any historic items on this land will be artefacts brought there by the ARC and its museum.

    Also, have you looked at the planning diagrams on the ARC web site? Here – http://www.americanrevolutioncenter.org/images/Land%20Development%20Plan.pdf for example? It looks to me like they’re planning on doing a pretty nice job of preserving the historical landscape you mentioned.

    “And don’t we have enough hotels and restaraunts?”
    Maybe, but if the ARC is going to increase tourism (which I assume it will), then an expanded infrastructure to support the additional tourists sounds like a good idea to me.

    Last, I forget who threw out the “liquor license” argument, but the reality is that many Americans like alcohol and many tourists who come to see Valley Forge will desire to have a drink with dinner at their hotel. In the state of PA, that requires a liquor license. This seems sort of an irrelevant ad-hom attack to me.

    Regards,
    Steve

  9. Dan Pohlig Says:

    Hey folks,

    In case you are following these comments through an RSS feed, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve started a new thread for this story, which you can find by clicking on this link.

  10. Wayne Reed Says:

    Steve,

    Just to clarify, my reference to a liquor license was meant to distinguish this commercial development of the hotel and restaurant with a museum from the more accepted museum with a snack shop and gift shop. I have no objection to providing modest meals to visitors, but the Valley Forge/King of Prussia area does not need 99 more rooms of lodging or another full fledged restaurant, especially on Pawlings Road.

    Having met the people involved in the http://www.savevalleyforgepark.org/ organization, not just identifing the residence of the domain owner, I feel that this is a group of concerned citizens that really care about the history and value and future of Valley Forge Park. Those involved in resisting the current plans include a lot more than a few neighbors to the site. I for one do not live in Lower Providence Township, but have to occasionally deal with the Pawlings Road traffic jams, and do not feel this is a viable location to draw thousands of new visitors.

    Saying that the ARC is officially a non-profit organization does not explain why they need this hotel. Studies have indicated that there are ample vacant rooms in the King of Prussia area, trying to compete without the tax benefits of the ARC.

  11. Steve Palmer Says:

    Hi Wayne,

    I’m a little confused by your post.

    First off, it seems like you’re saying that the SVFP activists are sincerely motivated out of concern for the park and its history, but then you immediately move into arguing “not in my back yard” type of issues. OK, so let’s forget about history for now and talk about those.

    On one hand you say that the area already has enough restaurants and hotels and doesn’t need more. Apparently, it would be OK with you if it were a museum, snack shop and gift shop, but you are opposed to the 99 room hotel and full-service restaurant, so now we’re talking about “what” goes there, not “whether” it goes there.

    But then you talk about traffic on Pawlings Road… If “thousands of new visitors” are coming to Valley Forge and the ARC as you suggest, then an on-site hotel seems to me like the best way to reduce their impact on traffic and the community. Would you rather have them all driving in from King of Prussia tying up Audubon road, Egypt Road and Pawlings Road on their way to visit the museum, snack shop and gift shop?

    Believe me, I do remember the Pawlings Road traffic (and Audubon Road). That’s why the onsite hotel strikes me as a good idea. They could have tour buses from the hotel across the Betzwood bridge and tourism would have a small traffic impact on the area.

    As to competing with established businesses, I would imagine that the increased tourism would make up for the competition, although that’s just a guess. I’m sure someone has studied that question though. They’re not going to put up establishments like those if the economics don’t work.

    The thing that got me interested in this controversy, though, is that I wish people would stop doing what you just did. If this is a “not in my back yard” issue, then that’s what it is. It’ s OK to argue those points, but be sincere. Don’t pay lip-service to history and patriotism and then try to change the subject hoping no one will notice.

    Regards,
    Steve

  12. Rick Brown, Lower Providence Township Supervisor Says:

    To Alex Schmidt and whoever else thinks “because the ARC owns it, 75% of the land will be preserved as open space, forever. The ordinance passed by Lower Providence is the most restrictive land use ordinance ever passed in the township, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the ARC’s project.” Alex, this is just not true, please give me a call.

    I will try and keep this simple for everyone, Mr. Lenfest and Mr. Daly struck a compromise with the township, we agreed to allow them to build the 99 room byright hotel and conference center and they agreed to limit their impervious coverage to 11.7 acres. When a developer gives you his word it should be kept, especially with 42 eyewitnesses in the room. When someone gives me their word and a handshake, I expect that to mean something. Maybe my moral compass is old fashioned, but I think not, I hope that I have been able to pass that compass along to my children, grandchildren and their heirs. If you think that a Hotel, Bar, Restaurant, and a Conference Center are a legacy, I would question your moral fiber and your real exact interest in this business.

    The ARC led us to believe that they would sign a covenant limiting the impervious coverage to 15% or 11.7 acres, at the 11th hour they refused to sign that covenant. Now I learn at the planning commission meeting they stated that the impervious comverage would be 19 acres, and they would be disturbing 65 of the 78 acre site. This ordinance can be changed at any time in the future to allow 50%, 60%, 70% covereage, if the board of supervisors so choose. Currently under the ordinance they can apply for a conditional use to allow for a 200 or 300 room lodging facility. The next item here is an excerp from our covenant agreement that they refused to sign. “#4. All open space required pursuant to the proposed Ordinance, shall be restricted from further development. A conservation easement upon all required open space to the benefit of the County of Montgomery, Pennsylvania, shall be recorded at the time of land development.”

    And finally if you had a chance to read the ARC letter to the editor, they claim they only plan to take up less than 2 acres, the rest is trails, walkways and parking, if that were true, then 11.7 acres would surely have been overkill for their project. They also threaten the neighbors with 292 homes, that is nothing more than a scare tactic, on that 78 acre site, there is a high tension easement, a gas pipeline easement, a sewer pump station and collection system easement, these easements cannot be built upon. No bubble plan was ever put together for this property to see how many houses could actually be built. My best estimate would put it somewhere between 85 to 95 houses taking into consideration the unbuildable land and areas needed for roads and stormwater retention.

    An as far as Toll Brothers being interested in buying the land, a little proof would be in order here.

  13. JR Former Resident Says:

    ALEX —

    Another comment on what you added to the story, above.

    It is either untrue or inappropriate for NPS to “lead them to the site” ARC wants to build on now.

    The park had an official ‘Land Protection Plan’ in place when the Toll property was purchased. It is clear that ALL undeveloped land should be protected.

    If what Alex says is true, someone needs to DOCUMENT who in the National Park Service would have violated policy in the approved land protection plan. If ARC is just making this up, then THAT should be documented.

    Alex’ statement that park boundaries are arbitrary ignores the plain fact that park boundaries are FEDERAL LAWS, whatever his opinion about their legitimacy. The truth is George Washington DID operate on both sides of the River when he set up his encampment at Valley Forge. The truth is that there were enormous strategic advantages of being able to cross the river at will to either evade the British or strike the British. It is true that the original park boundary on this side of the river was just a strip of land, but then the truth is Congress decided to expand it. It is true that some people argued that the new land in the boundary should be used for visitor center development, in the same way park alternatives always consider this or that land for development. But, the truth is the Park Service eventually determined that none of the undeveloped land on the north in the boundary should be developed, because in order to properly interpret Valley Forge this historic setting should remain undisturbed. The truth is the significance of the archeological material discovered was that it demonstrated that Washington did in fact use both sides of the river; the archeological material is not some sort of call for an archeological preserve, but for proper park management. The truth is, despite Alex’ demeaning of the sacred park land inside the boundary by calling it ‘arbitrary’ and implying that a development was considered feasible by the Park Service, no one in the National Park Service has ever prepared ANY such plan and environmental review and circulated it to the public [as would be the case with any real plan anyone could consider consistent with the Act of Congress adding this land to the park. The truth is, as has been covered by the Media elsewhere, park service officials for several years have spent their time negotiating to buy this land to keep it undeveloped, even to the point of asking a non-profit group to take an option to buy the property as a space saver.

    No one in the Park Service with any understanding of their responsibilities COULD have proposed to put this huge development on an undeveloped area of the park. Once before, Toll Brothers ALSO had said a park official proposed to agree that development with restrictions WOULD be appropriate, and at that time the Park Service and Senator Spector and Senator Santorum all said such a development could NEVER be appropriate, and reputiated any statements Toll claimed to have from an inexperienced official.

    Park officials are required to operate out in the open, in accordance with laws and policies, and would have to take changes in the purposes and use of a park to the public for review. Any other statement, as ARC must know, is not legitimate, and should be put in the light for review and explanation.

    Alex, you should know this too. Parks aren’t like private property to be developed at the whim of a landowner; Park Service people are public servants who’s job is to protect the park.

    At Gettysburg when the park superintendent several years ago and the Regional Director both permitted the railroad to make a road cut through the park without thorough review and explanation, both were removed.

    Face it, Alex, the only issue is why ARC and the park service could not agree to develop the center (without the hotel and revenue generators) in the existing development zone. That area was developed when the park service took it over, and all agreed it was the appropriate place. When Congress approved of the park service to develop an agreement for a joint center with ARC, Congress was told BY THE PARK SERVICE that the center would go in the area ALREADY DEVELOPED. All this was in writing at the time, given to Congress, in justification of the proposal. No park official ever went BACK to the Congress saying, never mind, now we think developing on the undeveloped land is OK.

    There are private lands all over America located within national parks. Almost always, unless specifically determined in law or policy, or subject to a rigorous review, it is assumed that all undeveloped land will remain undeveloped or should be acquired by the park service for protection.

    If Alex is implying there was some sort of insider deal here, and that is why the park service did not ask for the money to buy this land, then we should know the names of the individuals party to the deal, because anyone who knows anything about how parks are to be managed knows such a deal is wrong.

    JR
    (former resident, before King of Prussia development squeezed all local character out)

  14. Joe F Says:

    Arguments against this project.

    1 – Site application

    This is hallowed ground. The applications submitted now (hotel and conference center) and the recent past (the Toll Brothers McMansion Project) are not proper for this site. If it cannot lie fallow the only proper application is for the burial of service people. Arlington is out of room and there is not yet operational a Veteran Cemetery regionally. Arlington was General Lee’s plantation; it was converted to the cemetery so that nothing else could be done with his land. The same thing can be done here. It would be a place where service people would want to go because of where it is, the birthplace of the United States Military.

    This site may already be a cemetery because the troops from 230 years ago were not shipped back to South Carolina or Vermont. Given the depth of the traffic study submitted at the Zoning Board Meeting (see below), I would not trust any archaeological survey performed by the ARC. They are motivated by getting the project up and running.

    2 – Zoning application (the point of last Wednesday’s meeting).

    Look at the plans. One Entrance / Exit will not allow proper service in case of emergency. Given the number of parking spaces the ARC wants, a disaster is not serviceable to this site by fire, police, emt’s.

    A flawed traffic study as presented has traffic entering Route 422 at Route 23 near the main park entrance, exiting at 29 – In Collegeville. Traffic would move down Black Rock and go behind the Lowes’ Shopping center, in front of a regional sewer plant, crossing over the Perkiomen Creek using a small private bridge. Lower Providence Planners must love this plan because only about 1000 yards of the traffic plan is in Lower Providence. The brunt of the traffic is coming thru Upper Providence.

    If you Google this route, you can’t make it work because traffic is not allowed over the small private bridge (it is marked as a railroad trestle west of 422). You will also notice while Googleing the map, 422 has an Egypt Road Interchange. As stated before, the approved plan has traffic exiting at Route 29 and not at Egypt Road. If this is because the traffic load at Egypt Road would be too great, then it begs the question about how well the private bridge would hold up.

    Upper Providence Supervisor Fieo spoke at the Zoning Board Meeting stating that he only heard of this plan earlier in the week. He stated the plan is not viable for his township because they are in the process of approving an Expo center in Oaks and the road system on his side of the creek won’t handle both projects. He also stated that townships can’t use private bridges for planning projects this size. When asked, he stated his township will not be using this bridge for their project for their projections.

    The argument of the closeness of the proposed site to the main part of Valley Forge Park is going away by virtue of the developers own plans. How long would a trip from the main part of the park to this site take? Google estimates well over 20 minutes on a good day. Factoring in normal 422 traffic, (on traffic reports every day warnings about Oaks to Trooper, or slowness at 29 or 23, or the St. Gabe’s curve are just part of our day broadcast to a region of over 5 million people) and you can just hurry up and wait.

    Large vehicles like buses cannot come from the Phoenixville (West) side of Pawlings Road because of the low railroad bridge on the Chester County side of the Schuylkill River.

    Essentially the real entrance to this site is the intersection of Audubon and Pawlings Road. This traffic funnel was barely discussed, except for the residents who comments on the 200 year old church at the corner, and the increased traffic around the ARA fields, and the proximity of the Audubon Home. This intersection cannot handle current traffic loads, much less the plans’ extrapolation of cars (by virtue of the large number of parking places).

    Nowhere in the presentation of the approved plan was mention of the 422 slip ramps at Pawlings Road. Even if there are ramps at Adams Avenue, then the traffic would be flowing thru Adams to Audubon to Pawlings, but into a crawl situation.

    This is a developer cashing in on the name Valley Forge, over the dead bodies of heroes from 230 years ago.

    3 – Straw man arguments (somebody else will build over 300 homes on this site).

    78 acres – 300 homes (< .25 acre plots). Too dense given the constraints of the property. You would need a road system back there to support such a project as well as open space percentages, eroding the 78 acre total usable land.

    The Army Corp of engineers would need to study this site from a flooding standpoint. A large portion of this site is riverfront, eroding the 78 acre total usable land.

    You would need an archaeological study to determine what is actually there. If they actually find the exact location of the commissary, does that erode the 78 acre total usable land?

    What about traffic studies? As referenced above, there would need to be improvements made outside a complex like this.

    What about the water table on this site. Many residents are still using wells here.

    What about the impact on the school system? You cannot have any more 55+ housing than we already have.

    Do market conditions allow building of such a project?

    Yes, a couple of rich people could put a few mansions in there, but that is a different set of arguments. Would Toll Brother sue because they backed down about a decade ago over this site with that type of project?

    It has also occurred to me this entire project is a straw man. If the hotel convention center gets shot down, has the zoning board inadvertently (or by design) with its recent activity now allowed the construction of this type development? In other words, by allowing these people to get this far, has the ARC already damaged the property by removing zoning protections afforded for the number of cars allowed on the property?

    Rebuttals To Other Posts.

    One post attacked the person sounding the alarm on this project as a NIMBY with no credibility. This resident has stood up against a pretty stiff amount of resistance. I guess it would be fair to ask the attacking person the outside radius one needs to reside before being granted any credibility. Was also wondering if it is a sliding scale of credibility as to where one lives to a project.

    If activists have no credibility because they speak up, then do silent activists have more credibility? In other words can we compare you to your own “credibility meter”?

    It looks like the attacking person doesn’t like dissent. Sorry, that’s what makes this site special. The fact that blood was spilled here so people can speak their minds.

    Conclusion

    If the ARC wants a museum so badly, then it needs to be placed where there is already museum quality artifacts, at the main buildings of the Park. There are too many physical issues with the proposed site. Those who want this project can fund it by donations, not by admissions, if after all this is a project for everyone, and these are our national artifacts, why should a regular citizen need to pay to see it.

    Doing business on a tract like this is allowing moneychangers in the temple. (Yes, this land means that much.) Any structure placed here that collects any money cheapens what occurred here 230 years ago.

  15. Cinda Waldbuesser, National Parks Conservation Association Says:

    Alex,

    Thanks for your coverage of this issue. As someone who has been deeply engaged with this issue, I would like to respond to some of your comments from your posting.

    To put the issue in perspective first: the intense interest and emotion this issue generates illustrates how many Americans, both locally and nationwide, care deeply about Valley Forge. This truly is a national issue. Valley Forge today is a national icon where visitors can contemplate who we are as a nation. If the Continental Army’s encampment grounds can be lost to this outsized, commercialized museum complex, no site, however historic, is safe.

    How it started
    In 1999, Congress authorized the NPS to work with what is now the ARC to build an American Revolution museum. Together, they planned the museum to be built on already-disturbed land near the park’s Welcome Center. For years the two entities worked to move this partnership forward, together producing the museum building design, among other things. While the road was bumpy, when the ARC ended the partnership most of the stated conflicts had been resolved, and the NPS believed they were making progress on resolving the remainder. When the NPS and ARC initially discussed the Pawlings Farm, ARC was proposing a museum — not the outsized, commercialized complex ARC now plans.

    Others successfully partner with the NPS on comparable projects
    The NPS has a proven record of successful, comparably-sized partnerships with private partners — for example, the new museum-visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park, the Constitution Center, and the visitor center at Independence National Historical Park. It’s unclear why the NPS requirements in effect for those partnership projects are too onerous for the ARC to operate with at Valley Forge.

    Preservation remains an option
    There are other choices beyond the outsized, commercialized ARC museum complex, and housing. Remember the national campaign just a few years ago when Toll Brothers wanted to build a luxury subdivision on other historic, private land in the park? There was enormous public outcry. In the end, Senator Specter secured federal grants for the NPS to buy the land from Toll Brothers. A new proposed housing complex would meet as much — or more — opposition as the ARC proposal is now facing. The public strongly supports adding this historic land to the park, as Congress intended.

    To paraphrase Forrest Gump: Open space is as open space does
    Finally, the new ordinance approved last September has many flaws. Land planners and landscape architects who have reviewed the new ordinance find it quite weak. For example, the ordinance defines open space to includes sidewalks, stormwater management ponds, and courtyards — astonishing, illogical — and true.

    ARC’s current plans will disturb 70 percent of this historic land, and remove more than half of existing woods and other vegetation. The site plans tell the story. Little true open space will remain.

    The Continental Army’s encampment grounds should be protected
    Actually, boundary lines for protected areas usually represent difficult compromises between political considerations and the need for historic and natural resources protection. A scholar who spent a decade studying the original encampment documents says that the lands at risk from the ARC project are just as historic as any other lands inside the park boundary.

  16. Steve Palmer Says:

    I haven’t got time for a full reply to the lengthy comments above right now, but I’m very curious about this excerpt, from Joe F.

    “This is hallowed ground.”

    What exactly distinguishes the hallowed ground on private property under St. Gabe’s hall from the ground on private property under Vaux Lane, Chapel View Lane, Valentine Lane and Camiel Lane?

    And I will take some time for a response to this…

    “Was also wondering if it is a sliding scale of credibility as to where one lives to a project.”

    No there is no sliding distance scale of credibility. As I suspect you are aware but chose to ignore, the credibility problem arises when an activist lives on ground that is indistinguishable from the ground under controversy, but says the government should take the ARC’s property while leaving Vaux lane under private ownership. In the words of the activists, Vaux Lane is “inside the boundaries of VFNHP”. A credible policy would treat both pieces of private property the same.

    If the activists believe that the ARC’s ground is “hallowed”, then the activists should believe that Vaux Lane is “hallowed”. If the activist wants to promote policy A for the ARC property, but policy B for Vaux Lane, then I find them to be lacking in credibility.

    And last, I have almost no idea what this means…

    “If activists have no credibility because they speak up, then do silent activists have more credibility? In other words can we compare you to your own “credibility meter”?”

    But yes, please do evaluate my credibility. I’ve already mentioned that I grew up in Lower Providence and now live nearby in West Chester. Neither of those locations are/were inside the boundaries of VFNHP and to the best of my knowledge, neither of them are on “hallowed ground” (some Lenape Indians might disagree if given the opportunity and for that matter, there might have been continental soldiers in both locations.). Additionally, I am fully consistent in my position in that I don’t want the government to take over the ARC property and I also don’t want the government to take over my own property (and I also don’t want the government to take over ownership of Vaux Lane).

    Can you say the same, Joe F.? Is your policy prescription for Vaux Lane consistent with your policy prescription for the ARC? Is the ground under Vaux Lane “hallowed ground”?

    Regards,
    Steve

  17. Wayne Reed Says:

    Well,

    Maybe I can have some credibility as a person who cares about this misguided development plan even though I don’t live on and have never previously heard of Vaux Lane. Whew! (Talk about your ad homs!) In fact, I doubt that my normal travels will be affected significantly by this project. At the risk of losing credulity I will admit I have been close enough to the site to have witnessed traffic jams on Pawlings Road, and I believe that that area is poorly suited to a large influx of additional traffic.

    I see no problem with those trying to save open space and historical property from improper development even though the NPS does not have the funds to buy up all previously developed property that might be within the boundaries. After all, if they had the money they would have locked up this still-undeveloped section for preservation before the ARC got it and we would not be having this discussion.

    I don’t argue the historical or legal aspects of this project,, because I am not an expert in either of these fields. I just prefer to see the history preserved and displayed near the Welcome Center, where I feel it will make a much better experience for visitors. And, as I mentioned before, don’t try to hide a commercial hotel project under the cloak of a history museum.

    Sincerely,
    Wayne Reed

  18. Joe F Says:

    Mr. Palmer,

    No one is trying to make a buck on the streets you mentioned by hawking Revoltionary wares. People are just living there for the last 60+ years. That is before the Nation Park Service wieghed in on what is actually part of the park, thus defining the hallowed ground. Hopefully, you can allow someone to have authority over this definition.

    St Gabe’s is a juvinille detention center that has a working farm. It is doing nothing to dishonor the memory of what happened at Valley Forge.

    As for discounting someone’s opinion for where they live, I also find that offensive. In this country you should be able to speak freely, no matter where you live. Someone near the property has more to lose or gain when something like this project comes up. Their word actually should be given weight, since they will be trapped by lowered property values by this thing.

    As for your assetions about whether soldiers or indians were there or not, I wouldn’t believe anything the developers are saying if they did an archeaological survey, basically from the mirror arguement of your NIMBY idea. These developers see money. I guess they wouldn’t lie to get it?

    Rick Brown has outlined the ARC’s being more than a little fast and loose with their dealings.

  19. Steve Palmer Says:

    OK. Probably my last post. It’s obvious that y’all can produce more volume than I have time to respond to and I probably don’t have much to add that wouldn’t be just rephrasing what I’ve already said anyway. I think the points I’ve made remain valid, but we’re obviously not going to come to an agreement. No sense rehashing the same arguments with different words over and over again.

    Joe F., I note that the short form of the answer to my question, “Is your policy prescription for Vaux Lane consistent with your policy prescription for the ARC?” would be … “No”.

    I have a hard time with the distinction you draw, but thank you for answering clearly. Personally, I think that constructing a museum, an education center and an exhibit hall is a far better way of honoring our revolutionary war heroes then “just living there” or putting up some more bicycle and walking paths. I certainly don’t see the ARC as dishonoring “the memory of what happened at Valley Forge”.

    I also note that you once again bring out the ARC = Enron line of argument with your statement “No one is trying to make a buck on the streets you mentioned by hawking Revoltionary wares. …” This despite the fact that we have established that the ARC is a nonprofit organization. If you have evidence that a nonprofit organization is “trying to make a buck by hawking Revolutionary wares”, I hope you have informed the relevant authorities so they can look over that organization’s 501-(c)3 tax status.

    From where I sit, it looks like the ARC is trying to honor and preserve our history and also to provide us with an avenue for education and appreciation. We don’t need the government to preserve and interpret our history. A private institution can do it just fine. Probably better…. And the government certainly doesn’t need another 78 acres of land.

    It appalls me to think that the patriots who railed so vigorously against the British Troops being forcibly stationed in their homes are now being used as pawns in an argument to relieve modern Americans of their own property rights.

    I haven’t seen anything in any of the arguments so far to convince me that the ARC is not entitled to the same property rights that are enjoyed by Lower Providence residents at Vaux Lane and also by other non-profits in the township.

    You also said — “In this country you should be able to speak freely, no matter where you live.”

    I absolutely agree. Have I in any way called for silencing anyone? I think not. If anything I said could be interpreted that way, I apologize sincerely. It was not intended. Whether I believe them or not, I am thankful that we live in a place and time where these activists have the right to argue their case.

    However, when someone speaks freely and in doing so displays a contradiction between speech and action, I think we should also be free to observe the contradiction. Personally, I put more weight in people’s actions then I do in their speech. I see here a contradiction between action and speech and it is relevant. I am inclined to believe that someone’s action by choosing to live “inside the boundaries of VFNHP” tells me more about their beliefs than anything they might say in an attempt to vacate someone else’s property rights on an identically situated parcel of land.

    “…the Nation Park Service wieghed in on what is actually part of the park, thus defining the hallowed ground….”

    I hadn’t realized that the National Park Service was in the business of defining “hallowed ground”, I seem to remember something about church & state? However, if we’re going to use the National Park Service boundaries as a definition of “hallowed ground”, then St. Gabe’s Hall is quite clearly *not* on hallowed ground. Please consult a map (maps.google.com, for example). The green part is the National Park, which you say would be hallowed ground. The white part is not part of the park, and so (by your definition) it would be ground of the unhallowed variety, (as would Vaux Lane).

    And also — “These developers see money. I guess they wouldn’t lie to get it?”

    Would you lie in order to get your own pay check or to promote your own business? What, exactly, is the point that you’re trying to make with that statement?

    I guess that’s it. I can’t tell in the web form, but I bet this is getting long. Thank you all for the discussion. It has been enlightening.

    Regards,
    Steve

    Oh, Joe F., Before I go, I do want to say that your points two messages ago about bridges and entrances and the ARA field intersection seemed reasonable to me. If correct, I hope that those issues can be worked out. I was unaware of those points before, so I am glad that you mentioned them. Thank you.

  20. Joe F Says:

    Mr Palmer,

    “I also note that you once again bring out the ARC = Enron line of argument with your statement “No one is trying to make a buck on the streets you mentioned by hawking Revoltionary wares. …” This despite the fact that we have established that the ARC is a nonprofit organization. If you have evidence that a nonprofit organization is “trying to make a buck by hawking Revolutionary wares”, I hope you have informed the relevant authorities so they can look over that organization’s 501-(c)3 tax status.”

    I like the idea of comparing ARC to Enron. Never thought about it, thanks. There are some other parallels here with the powerful local pols backing dubious schemes.
    A non-profit organization just means that it isn’t issuing stock. It still makes money.

    “We don’t need the government to preserve and interpret our history. “
    I disagree. We need to government to step in to preserve our history, but you, personally, need to have enough breadth to interpret it.

    “And the government certainly doesn’t need another 78 acres of land.”
    They need this land.

    “I haven’t seen anything in any of the arguments so far to convince me that the ARC is not entitled to the same property rights that are enjoyed by Lower Providence residents at Vaux Lane and also by other non-profits in the township.”

    Last year the ARC came into Lower Providence with deep pockets and rewrote the zoning to allow what they are doing. We have been watching with amazement all the way thru, Some feel this is a case of spot zoning. This case I hope will make it to the courts. Before this zoning, I believe this property was R2 – now it has its own overlay ordinance. These people, to me, have far exceeded their rights.

    “However, when someone speaks freely and in doing so displays a contradiction between speech and action, I think we should also be free to observe the contradiction. Personally, I put more weight in people’s actions then I do in their speech. I see here a contradiction between action and speech and it is relevant. I am inclined to believe that someone’s action by choosing to live “inside the boundaries of VFNHP” tells me more about their beliefs than anything they might say in an attempt to vacate someone else’s property rights on an identically situated parcel of land.”

    Vaux Lane is not part of the land in the VFNHP. There are no contradictions.

    “I hadn’t realized that the National Park Service was in the business of defining “hallowed ground”,

    The NPS did exactly that when they made their boundary lines. They were doing their job properly when they did it.

    “I seem to remember something about church & state? “

    I feel sorry for you if you can’t see the true value of the land we are talking about. This land is hallowed, or sacred in the sense of what our nation’s founders did there.

    “However, if we’re going to use the National Park Service boundaries as a definition of “hallowed ground”, then St. Gabe’s Hall is quite clearly *not* on hallowed ground. Please consult a map (maps.google.com, for example). The green part is the National Park, which you say would be hallowed ground. The white part is not part of the park, and so (by your definition) it would be ground of the unhallowed variety, (as would Vaux Lane).”

    As stated in a previous post, Google Mapping isn’t always right. I would suggest looking at the exact boundaries of the park by contacting Mike Caldwell at the park.

    “Would you lie in order to get your own pay check or to promote your own business?“

    No, I wouldn’t – maybe you are showing a little too much of yourself here.

    “What, exactly, is the point that you’re trying to make with that statement?“

    That some people will use whatever pretzel logic they can to get their way.

    Kind of like knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  21. Steve Palmer Says:

    One last post to correct some obvious mistakes, then you really can have the field to yourself.

    Joe F. This map, from the national park service, clearly shows that St. Gabe’s is no more part of Valley Forge park then Vaux Lane is…. But you know that, don’t you?

    http://www.nps.gov/PWR/customcf/apps/maps/showmap.cfm?alphacode=vafo&parkname=Valley%20Forge%20National%20Historical%20Park

    Maybe you could ask Mike Caldwell to come here and tell us all about the inaccuracy in the National Park Service map?

    “A non-profit organization just means that it isn’t issuing stock. It still makes money.”
    Ummm, no. A privately held corporation doesn’t issue stock. A public corporation does. A non-profit doesn’t make a profit.

    Maybe you have points with your zoning claims, maybe you don’t, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. However, the personal attacks and inaccuracies in the remainder of your post make me skeptical. You attack me for having the audacity to disagree with you. I guess you’d attack the ARC without much foundation too. I’ll wait to see if it “makes it’s way to the courts” rather than draw any conclusions based on your undocumented assertions.

    Regards,
    Steve

  22. JR Former Resident Says:

    Dear Steve:

    on your point “the national park service is not in the business of defining hollowed ground.

    Actually, the NPS is supposed to make RECOMMENDATIONS to the Secretary of the Interior [for national landmark boundaries] and to the Congress, on National Park Boundaries. If the President makes a National Monument, then the park service makes recommendations to her/him, via the Secretary of the Interior. Many laws have the park service making recommendations to congress about national significance.

    However, these are recommendations. The Congress and the Secretary and the President DO have authority to declare the national signficance of a site.

    In the case of Valley Forge, this has already been done. Congress has drawn a boundary that includes St. Gabes. If St. Gabes chose to sell, or chose to redevelop their property, the park service is usually expected to immediately act to acquire the property, to preserve the hollowed ground. This issue for St. Gabes, in the overwhelming majority of cases is “change of use,” and I believe the Land Protection Plan for the park would require that, unless ‘someone’ has gotten to the Bush Administration and the park service was forced to the Plan to help the developers.

    does anyone know?

    So the park service is supposed to make determinations on what is hollowed ground, but Congress, the Secretary or the President actually makes the declaration.

    JR

  23. Steve Palmer Says:

    Hi again, I will take a few minutes for a small comment in response to Sara and JR’s posts, since it would not be just rehashing an argument that’s already been made.

    First, I want to make sure I understand government representative/park ranger Sara’s post. She opposes the museum because

    1:) Private sector competition would interfere with her ability to get “the message” out
    2:) She would prefer if this amazing and sensitive area would remain inconvenient/inaccessible to the rest of us.

    She’s happy to see that the government is winning though.

    Is that an accurate paraphrase? If so, I’m unpersuaded. If not, please clarify.

    With regards to JR’s post…. JR, this is the second time you’ve mentioned the land preservation program and it looks relevant. However, both times you mentioned it I ran some unsuccessful web searches trying to find details. Can you please direct me to something I could read describing the program, and specifically how it pertains to Valley Forge Park? I would like to know more about it.

    Regards,
    Steve

  24. Steve Palmer Says:

    Ooops. I’m sorry about the smileys. I didn’t realize the blog was going to do that to my [colon] [right-paren].

  25. JR Former Resident Says:

    REGARDING THE LAND PROTECTION PLAN question from Steve:

    1. The same thing happened to me. I also have not been able to get the plan either, although I did ask for it. I got a run around, after I could not find it on the website.

    But the fact that it was hard to get is what is making me think somebody high up must be changing the plan, to permit development like this.

    That, at least, would go along with Alex when she says NPS officials directed ARC toward this site. Previously, during the Toll Bros. thing, park officials and the then-Director of the park service said the park protection plan was clear that any development on undeveloped land in the park would undermine the historic setting, and would require the park to seek funding to buy the land before it was destroyed. That was used as a rationale for seeking funding at the last minute for the Toll Brothers site, nearby. Does anyone else notice these inconsistencies??

    2. Steve, on the other part of your question, all parks are supposed to develop and get approved ‘a land protection plan,’ to prepare park officials to respond properly to threats of inappropriate development in or near the park.

    They used to be called ‘land acquisition plans,’ but the thinking when they changed the name is that it is not always necessary to buy land to protect the park values. St. Gabes is the perfect example of why parks leave many private landowners alone.

    Usually, ‘change in use’ is the key that park officials are supposed to use to get them to act against inappropriate development. But, as with St. Gabes, the park officials here have always felt St. Gabes was OK as is, and basically that is what the former Director said the valley forge plan called for. The former park superintendent told me they would not try to condemn land at St. Gabes because it was in religious ownership, and the park service avoided that. He also said St. Gabes promised there would be no sale to develop, only to the park. What happened with that promise?

    At the time, the park was opposing both the Toll Bros, and also a cemetery just about where this development wants to go. And now, a religious organization no longer owns the land, so why not condemn it? Or, renegotiate a voluntary agreement with ARC so they move back to the developed zone and sell the undeveloped land to the park voluntarily.

    I learned about all this when I got involved talking to the national park service at other parks about their land plans, which is how I know about it. Park service officials used their plan to guide their decisions on new development proposals. This is the first time there has been confusion about what is in the plan that I know about, and I heard a park official wonder about the valley forge plan when the location change was announced.

    CONSIDER THIS: Doesn’t it seem strange that the Director would oppose the cemetery (as she should) for being wrong for the park, but say nothing about a multi-million dollar extravaganza in the same place? The cemetery would be less visible than this thing. That is the other point (along with this silence on the land protection plan) that makes it look like there may be a special relationship, and raises the question if somebody in the park service or interior department must have a special relationship with the people calling the shots at ARC.

    The Inquirer implies that some of these people have worked on organizational Boards together, or give significantly to political campaigns or projects near and dear to key federal elected and appointed officials. Will Congress shine a light on these relationships so we know what is going on? Are they pals with Lenfest, but not Toll?

    Otherwise, what would explain why the park has not purchased the land here, as they did for Toll Brothers? Or explain the Director not opposing this new development in the same area, where she did oppose the cemetery?

    Bottom line is the park people need to make it clear to ARC that no inappropriate development will be built within the park boundaries because the park service will condemn any improper development, that the only right place to build this museum would be within the park development zone, and then work to put together an agreement with ARC that respects the rights BOTH of ARC and the park.

    ARC should not be a poison pill within the park, and the NPS needs to be smarter about using the existing laws to restrict the things that make this proposal inappropriate (like building on undeveloped land) but also understand that non-profits can be both accurate and imaginative in telling the historical story.

    If this is not an inside deal, then what we are dealing with are sadly inexperienced park service leadership who are all too new to have known better, and now need to correct the problem they failed to anticipate. Rather than a cover-up, they may just be afraid to admit they don’t know what they are doing. But they have a public responsibility, and that is more important than hiding mistakes.

    Anyway, I cannot find the park protection plan either.

  26. Sara Says:

    Regarding previous comments I have left here, let me clarify that the opinions posted were mine alone, and not of the national park service. I apologize if they were interpreted as representing the NPS, as I do not represent the NPS and should not have identified myself as doing so. I am new to the park and the NPS and am still learning about the history, resources and issues involved within it.

  27. JR Former Resident Says:

    Whoops ! Poor Sara ! Looks like someone ‘committed truth,’ and got a talking to back in HQ !

    Don’t worry about it Sara. These new park leaders are pretty green, and so get riled pretty easily. When you are not very good at what you do, you worry more about how things look than what your responsibilities are. So, lets beat up the new hire!

    But, other than these collaborators with the Bush Administration, most of your colleagues are pretty steady, which is why the public respects those older. straightforward rangers so much. Or the younger believers. I’ll bet you went to work for the park because you thought an open expression of ideas is what America is about !

    I wonder if they think they will protect the park by just getting you to shut up.

    No one reading your comments could have thought you were speaking for the park service.

    It is obvious he park service is saying nothing about losing control of one of the most important parks in the country.

  28. GardenJeans Says:

    The ARC has already provided a revolutionary learning experience for me…a lesson about how money and political connections can influence a major newspaper like the Philadelphia Inquirer, to stop investigational reporting and only print editorials in favor of building this commercial development, with a museum attached, within the boundaries of our sacred Valley Forge Park!


  29. […] may remember this project as the one that sparked such a huge discussion on this very blog just a few short weeks […]


  30. […] may remember Alex’s past reporting about the controversial museum and hotel complex here, here and here.  In addition, the Philadelphia Inquirer just ran an interview of one of the […]


  31. […] why does a museum need a 99-room hotel and resort? Others question why American history needs to be “branded” by a company like the American Revolution Center. Still others disagree with the assertion that government is less qualified to preserve open space […]

  32. Lindsay Emigh Says:

    I stumbled onto the Pawling farm three years ago. The beauty of the land and the romance of the structures there are striking. It seemed that it was a forgotten place, but it had such a sense of history to it just the same. You can feel that something important went on there. The sensation is in the breathtaking scale of that barn, in the gorgeous ruin of the mansion, in the huge American Sycamore trees and in the field that lies across the road from those trees. Before I knew anything else about Pawlings Farm/Walnut Hill I knew it was special because it resonates with the energy of the 15,000 or so men that took refuge there while they regained their strength to fight the battle of Monmouth. It doesn’t need to become a museum. It is a museum.

    How about we just make a nice sign that explains what that land means to our country and do a thorough archeological dig? Let people experience it the way that Washington and his men did. Otherwise, there’s no real point to doing anything at all there. Except to try to make a profit on one of the most extraordinary sites in American History.

  33. Glen Martin Says:

    It would be a sad, sad day in American History if the plans to develop this land were approved and the bulldozers rumbled across this beautiful and absolutely historic land of Walnut Hill/ Pawlings Farm. I do not know all of the politics tied into this parcel, but one thing I do know is that it would be an utter disgrace to our heritage.

    This is not my ego talking. I have set that aside to simply state that there is no need to build a McDisney establishment on this land. Even if an extensive archaeological dig took place ahead of breaking ground for the proposed structures, the landscape would be lost and so would our only snapshot into true American History. History books are being rewritten on a regular basis because archaeologists have revisted areas and their technology has improved and is even less invasive. Lock that all in 100 tons of cement and it is lost forever.
    Our historical sites have suffered in the past when poor choices have been made. Going forward, we need to make the right choices. I use my common sense and intuition to see that this is a mistake that can never be taken back or “fixed”.

    I like Lindsay’s idea, who commented ahead of me, to educate us, the public, on the true deep history this land holds in a simple non-invasive manner.

    I believe we should not kill our grandparents, so to speak, just to admire their grave stone.


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