Great Falls Park Proposal Advances

The Record
By:  Michael Casey, Staff
March 23, 2001

PATERSON -- Despite opposition from the Interior Department, a House subcommittee voted Thursday to approve a bill that would authorize studying the merits of adding the Great Falls to the national park system.

The House Committee on Resource's Subcommittee on National Park, Recreation, and Public Lands passed the bill on a voice vote. The full committee will consider the bill next week.

"I am elated that the subcommittee listened carefully to our testimony and that they think the Great Falls are worthy of further consideration as a national park," said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., who introduced the measure in the House. "I am especially heartened given the sentiment of some in the Bush administration that there should be a moratorium on these types of studies. The subcommittee spoke loud and clear today in a bipartisan way that this bill should move full steam ahead."

Last week, a Department of the Interior official recommended the committee defer action on the bill until the National Park Service reduces the $4 billion backlog of studies and projects. President Bush has asked the department to reduce the backlog within five years.

The department, which would do the study of the Great Falls, is imposing a temporary moratorium on new park unit designations or new studies so that it can focus existing staff and resources on taking care of what it already owns.

On Thursday, Department of the Interior spokeswoman Stephanie Hanna said her agency's position had not changed despite the vote.

"The Department of the Interior would continue resisting efforts from members of Congress to create new units of the national park system," she said. "It's the Bush administration's view that the national park administration has focused on new acquisitions, while the backlog on trails and sewer systems has been neglected."

Still, Thursday's vote was welcomed in Passaic County, where a coalition of community leaders, politicians, and historians have for years championed turning the Great Falls into a national park.

The 119-acre district in Paterson includes the 77-foot Great Falls, the Paterson Museum, and former manufacturing mills. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970 and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1976.

"We're vindicated," said Pat DiIanni, president of Passaic County Vision 20/20, a non-profit group concerned with quality of life issues. "We've been trying for the last few years to get things going. We have high hopes this bill will be passed by Congress. If it becomes law, we'll prove a park is suitable, feasible, and needed."