Senator Schumer’s Letter to Secretary McHugh and Secretary Salazar
Dear Secretary McHugh and Secretary Salazar,
I write to you today to urge you to explore the feasibility of transferring the National Historic Landmark known as ”Constitution Island,” a unit of the Department of Army under the management of the United States Military Academy at West Point, to the United States Department of Interior for the purpose of preserving and enhancing the public’s ability to enjoy this national treasure in the Hudson River Valley. As you may know, the island is most famous for the Great Chain that was placed across the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War from 1778 to 1782 and the Warner family who lived on the Island during the 19th century. The Warner House and ruins of the Revolutionary War fortifications are primary points of interest for Island visitors. Moreover, the Island’s 280 acres are covered with hiking trails and pristine natural landscapes that are currently underutilized as historic tourism attractions. The Constitution Island Association, a preservation organization founded in 1916, acts a caretaker in conjunction with West Point to preserve and protect the history and traditions of this unique American site. However, it has become obvious that a greater federal preservation role is needed, as the public has very limited access to the island and historic structures are increasingly in need of rehabilitation. Therefore, I request that your two departments consider exercising the President’s authority under Section 2 of the Antiquities Act to establish a new role for the Department of Interior in the preservation and enhancement of this great historic and natural beauty.
Sitting in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, a location that helped fuel the American industrial revolution and gave inspiration to some of the great artists in American history, Constitution Island has long been a gem of nature, ripe for tourism development. My local constituents have urged for better access to the Island and new programming so that activities like kayaking, historic tours, hiking trails, and bike paths could be introduced as attractions to promote greater public involvement with the history of the site. Despite the great efforts on behalf of West Point, as an academic agency within the Department of Defense, the tools in their toolkit are very limited in terms of historic preservation and access.
For example, tourists must currently board the ferry at West Point to travel from the mainland to the island. Upon arrival, visitors must travel through military security, a process more onerous than most national monuments or parks. Additionally, under West Points purview, Constitution Island is only open a fraction of the year, less than 100 days in total. The Association has also been trying to stabilize and renovate some of the historic structures in conjunction with the Academy, but again, I do not believe this is the proper role of the Department of Army and strongly urge the Department of Interior begin investigation of these issues. Despite these challenges, the Island currently receives over 5,000 visitors per year from 40 states and 19 countries.
There is recent precedent for this request. As you know, the President recently advocated a transfer of Fort Monroe in Virginia to establish a new National Monument and a shared management structure was established between the Commerce and Interior Departments to create the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in the American Samoa. It is conceivable that these examples could be models for this request.