Local Advocates Will Plead Case for Great Falls Park

The Herald News
By:  Eileen Markey, Staff
March 13 , 2001

PATERSON - Local advocates of the Great Falls National Historic District take their show on the road today.

The city's director of community development and the president of a Passaic County booster club are set to testify in Washington, D.C., in favor of making the historic district a unit of the National Park Service.

The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands is scheduled to hear two hours of testimony about Paterson this afternoon.

"We live in hopes that they'll see the importance of this to the whole country," said Pat DiIanni, president of Passaic County Vision 20/20, a coalition of businesspeople and politicians that promotes economic development.

Anna-Lisa Dopirak, Paterson's director of community development, is ready to convey City Hall's support for a national park to the committee of 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats, she said Monday.

DiIanni and Dopirak are testifying in support of a bill Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, introduced in January.

The Great Falls Historic District Study Act of 2001 calls on the Department of the Interior to determine if the National Parks Service should set up shop in the historic district.

Last month, Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine, both D-N.J., introduced partner legislation in the Senate.

"We want to cover all our bases in terms of the economic argument, the historic perspective and some emotional appeal as well," said Joe Waks, Pascrell's director of communications, explaining how Dopirak and DiIanni were chosen.

"We want to bring forward the point that the city and this office and the Parks Service can be on the same page so this can go forward," Waks said.

Pascrell, Torricelli and Corzine are all scheduled to testify.

The area around the Great Falls has been designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the state and National Registry of Historic Places since the 1970s. Recognition as a national park, however, would bring additional federal funding and organization, uniformed park rangers and - the idea's backers hope - tourists willing to spend money in Paterson.

"We just hope to get benefits both from the economic point, but more importantly, from the pride," DiIanni said. "We've got a wonderful, wonderful site."

Paterson's waterfall, the second tallest in the northeast, was the inspiration for the nation's first planned industrial city. Founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1792 to ease the country's dependence on British manufacturing, Paterson was fed by the Great Falls and became an industrial powerhouse.

If the National Park Service came to Paterson, it would be to protect the district as a historic site, rather than as a natural site such as Yellowstone National Park, said Bill Brookover, a historical architect with the National Parks Service, when the legislation was introduced.

In the 1980s, Lowell, Massachusetts, another 19th century industrial city, developed a national park in its once-sagging historic district. The park, which traces the history of manufacturing in the city, combined with a minor-league sports stadium, attracts about half a million visitors a year.