As Valley Forge Turns

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

Recently on a visit to a remote island, just before departure on a rainy day, my abundant supply of reading material dried up. Refusing to pay ridiculous prices for American magazines I sat back to enjoy some TV. The satellite based system offered few choices that afternoon. It seemed to come down to the hardly cloaked anti-Americanism of BBC, a wrestling match in Italy or America’s idiomatic medium: a soap opera.

So the soap won. It was the usual fare. The mother on her way to a counseling session with her son and ex-husband downs a few drinks and gets arrested for DUI. The ex-husband, a cop, decides to punish her further by refusing to post bail while her ne’er do well boyfriend manipulates matters to exert more control over her. While a character that apparently has been dead for 19 years is suddenly resurrected for his long, lost daughter. Didn’t get to watch the next installment but if history holds true if I catch another episode in 6 months I won’t have missed much.

Connoisseurs of the soap genre can predict their outcomes. There are virtuous characters that will turn into villains in a matter of minutes. The surreal death strategies of characters whose contracts have either run out or won’t be renewed. The very apparently, in reality, pregnant star who is likely going on maternity leave, runs a script that has her shipped off to rehab for six months.

The problem with this particular episode is that it struck home. It took me off that island back to southeastern Pennsylvania’s own political drama that’s played out over a decade in a most unlikely place: Valley Forge.

About 10 years ago a group of well meaning people decided to build a museum in Valley Forge National Historic Park to honor the American Revolution. They designed a lovely building, bought a magnificent collection of historic objects and then ran into an entrenched bureaucracy at the National Park Service that could not make up its mind about ownership of the museum. And, as the virtuous turn into villains, an aggressive manager was hired by the well meaning people who sometimes made up for what he lacked in diplomatic skills with hyperbolic rhetoric. What dialogue there was, on both sides, had nothing but nasty connotations.

To make peace the backers of the museum decided to take the next best step. They bought their own land overlooking Valley Forge Park and announced that they would put the museum there.

But peace was not to be had.

Enter the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a cabal based in Washington. Its self appointed mission is to protect our national parks. Now here is where villainous and virtuous intentions blend into the surreal. Originally the museum’s owners had decided to put a hotel, on the land they own, adjacent to the museum. NPCA objected to a commercial component overlooking the park. After months of deliberation the museum’s backers announced that they would not build the hotel for at least 15 years. Still NPCA is suing them in Federal Court. After a century of neglect and private ownership, the land that the museum bought is suddenly deemed by NPCA to be historically sacred territory.

The dynamic of the drama is that if NPCA’s argument prevails in court it will condemn a $4 million parcel and render it useless. Think that’s impossible? Four years ago, in one of its most heinous decisions, The US Supreme Court allowed New London Connecticut to condemn the home of a young nurse who had worked hard to buy and restore it. The city needed the condemnation to build a marina adjacent to a pharmaceutical company. It seems clear that in its judicial attempt to seize private property, NPCA is taking its cue from Kelo v. New London.

So the drama plays out in Valley Forge. Will NPCA see the error of its ways and move along to more important matters? Will the owners of the museum take another hard look at moving the project to Virginia? Will the National Park Service finally recognize that it might lose the opportunity altogether and come to some common ground? Someday we’ll know, just stay tuned for the next edition of as Valley Forge turns.

Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research; a Harrisburg based non-profit educational foundation. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected]

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