Great Falls Park Another Step Closer

The Herald News
By:  Andrea Gurwitt, Staff
March 29, 2001

PATERSON — Chugging its way steadily through the legislative process, a bill calling for a study to consider giving national park status to Great Falls passed the House Committee on Resources in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

The 50-member committee voted unanimously to pass the bill to the full House for consideration despite recent opposition by the Department of the Interior.

A Department of the Interior official told a House Resource subcommittee two weeks ago that the department will not undertake new studies or create new parks until it fixes up parks already in the system.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, who introduced the bill, said he was not discouraged by the testimony, and was not surprised by Wednesday’s vote.

"We just kept on plodding along," he said. "We worked very hard on this and we’re going step by step. We’re not going to give up the ship."

The Department of the Interior remained steadfast in its conviction even in the face of 27 Republican votes in favor of the study.

"The priority must be at this point to take care of the maintenance needs within the existing parks that we have," said Stephanie Hanna, spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior. "We would oppose creation of this new unit."

The Pascrell camp took the vote as a sign that the GOP will not necessarily toetow the party line where national parks are concerned.

"It’s a Democratic bill. It’s a Republican Congress. The Bush administration has expressed reservations about new studies and new parks. This flies in the face of their wishes and their sentiments," said Joe Waks, Pascrell’s press secretary.

The House will vote on the bill this year, Waks said.

U.S. Democratic Sens. Robert Torricelli and Jon Corzine introduced similar legislation and arecurrently preparing a request for hearings before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Adam Herbsman, Torricelli’s deputy press secretary.

The Great Falls District is 118 acres, and includes the 77-foot Great Falls, mills and a museum.

If Congress approves the study, the National Park Service would consider whether the area is suitable for the national park system and what kind of role the federal government should play in preserving it, said Edie Shean-Hammond, a National Park Service spokeswoman.

These studies usually take a year to complete, Shean-Hammond said. The National Park Service then will present its findings to Congress. The study will either make a recommendation or give several alternatives, each with an estimated price tag.

The National Park Service manages 384 historic sites of which 55 are national parks.

Paterson was the country’s first planned industrial city and its success lay in the hydroelectric power generated by the Great Falls. It was listed as a National Historic Place in 1970, and made a National Historic Landmark in 1976.