National Park System Growing Rapidly, Coltsville Awaits OK

When U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Hartford a little more than a year ago, the hope was that his support would push plans for a National Park designation for Hartford’s Coltsville complex over the goal line in Congress.  The project has been advocated for more than a decade by state political leaders in Washington, most visibly by First District Congressman John B. Larson.  The slow pace of final approval may be related to what USA Today recently described as a “growth spurt” in the national park system. Among states with pending National Park Service sites: Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio. Ten sites have been added since May 2004; a record 33 were added in 1978. Only Congress can create national parks, but the president can designate national monuments. A commission that proposed goals for the National Park Service's future recommended in 2009 that the process for selecting new sites be streamlined.

“The Coltsville National Historical Park Act,” introduced in Congress two years ago and again last year, would establish a  National Historical Park after certain conditions are met, including the donation of at least 10,000 square feet in the East Armory to be used for a Colt museum and the donation of the land within the proposed Park boundaries. The bill would also give the Secretary of the Interior authority to enter into written cooperative agreements with the various land owners living in Coltsville as well as with various museums in order to acquire different artifacts for display in the Colt museum.

The proposed park has two goals: commemoration and economic revitalization. “The Coltsville National Historical Park Act of 2011 is designed to preserve the important story of Samuel Colt and boost our economy by revitalizing downtown Hartford,” Larson and Senator Joseph Lieberman wrote, in an op-ed in the Hartford Courant. “A recent National Parks Conservation Association study found every federal dollar invested in national parks generates at least $4 in benefits to state and local economies. Connecticut deserves this boost.”

Hartford waits, but is certainly not alone.