Ms. Shannon Estenoz
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Fish and Wildlife and Parks
Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Deputy Assistant Secretary Estenoz,
We are writing on behalf of over 1,800 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), a non-profit organization composed of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System. As a group, we collectively represent over 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and historic resources. Among our members are former NPS directors, regional directors, superintendents, resource specialists, rangers, maintenance and administrative staff, and a full array of other former employees, volunteers, and supporters.
We are writing to express our opposition to former President Trump’s Executive Order 13934 of July 3, 2020, on building the National Garden of American Heroes, and its companion Executive Order 13978 of January 18, 2021, listing 244 so-called American heroes to be represented in the garden, and we urge the Biden administration to swiftly rescind them.
Our National Park System was created to commemorate the history of America through the protection of places that represent our common heritage, including individuals who impacted our shared history. This process of commemorating specific sites is a rigorous one, whereby Congress authorizes the NPS to study a proposed site to determine its national significance, as well as its suitability and feasibility to be part of the National Park System. If such a finding is made, Congress can then decide to designate such a site for addition to the park system.
Parks within the system are the revered places where the NPS can fully explore and communicate the significance of a person, place, or event and provide context to their contributions to our shared national history.
These units of the National Park System are a far more accurate representation of the American story than a garden of statues. Such a garden is a waste of federal resources to acquire the site, and/or to commission statues to be placed in the site, or to travel across the country as required by the Executive Orders.
In addition, the random assortment of 244 individuals proposed for inclusion defies any sort of logical pattern, theme, or justification. And while many of the names suggested are certainly worthy of admiration and study, their stories are better represented at a multitude of places throughout the country that tell a more complete story of the individual’s life and impacts, far more so than a lone statue in this proposed garden. Further, the list includes controversial individuals who would only amplify the divisions in our country that have been on wide display throughout the past year and which the Biden administration has pledged to move beyond.
We firmly believe that these Executive Orders are ill-conceived and unnecessary, and we urge the Biden administration to rescind them immediately. There are far better ways to truly protect and preserve the important and diverse stories that make up the fabric of our past, inform our present, and provide a framework for our future.
Chair, Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Cc: Shawn Benge, Acting Director, National Park Service