Antiquities Act preserves Reach and other important places
One hundred and nine years ago this month, on June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law, allowing Presidents of the United States to designate existing public lands as national monuments when they have outstanding historic or scientific value.
One day and 94 years later on June 9, 2000, the Hanford Reach National Monument was created by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act to protect outstanding biological values along the Columbia River and the historic contributions of Hanford to World War II.
In addition to encompassing the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River in the United States, Hanford Reach reflects our region’s role in U.S. history. Plutonium reactors stand along the river, remnants of World War II and the Cold War. Plutonium from the B Reactor fueled the atomic bomb that the U.S. military released on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945.
Last year, Congress voted to give the monument an additional level of protection and recognition for its historic value by designating part of Hanford Reach as the Manhattan Project National Park. Efforts are already underway to plan and build interpretive sites to educate visitors about the Manhattan Project, the atomic bomb, and Hanford’s contributions.
Tri-Citians contributed in ways big and small to helping win the war, and a memorial and educational opportunities are a fitting way to ensure this is never forgotten. Senator Maria Cantwell and Senator Patty Murray were important leaders in this effort.
As a veteran, I am grateful that our leaders have seen fit to protect this area and memorialize this piece of our nation’s history, including all of the people who contributed to the Manhattan Project, military and civilian.
Presidents throughout history have used the Antiquities Act to protect places of historic military significance, including President Lincoln’s cottage where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. President George H.W. Bush called upon the Antiquities Act when he designated the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Presidents from both parties have used the Act to protect or expand seven different military forts around the country.
The act has been used by 16 different presidents -- eight Democrats and eight Republicans. While currently all eyes are on President Obama regarding his past and future use of the Antiquities Act, I found the thoughtful actions taken by Republican presidents to be particularly noteworthy and worthy of recognition: Statute of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Lewis and Clark, African Burial Ground, and Washington state’s very own Mount Olympus (now Olympic National Park) were all conserved for future generations.
Many veterans, including me, have adjusted from military to civilian life by seeking solace in the outdoors. Public lands, like the Hanford Reach National Monument, are the best way to access the outdoors. Our Columbia River provides outstanding fishing opportunities, and provides a place where everyone can spend time alone or with friends and family and leave their worries behind even if just for a few hours.
Whether you are a veteran or civilian, historian or angler, wildlife watcher or hunter, the Hanford Reach National Monument has something for everyone. Hanford Reach National Monument supports employment for 178,000 people, according to Headwaters Economics. Statewide, outdoor recreation on public lands in Washington yields $10 billion in annual expenditures, according to a 2015 study by Earth Economics.
During this anniversary of both the Antiquities Act itself and of the designation of Hanford Reach as a national monument, I reflect on the significant contributions Tri-Citians made to winning World War II. I am also proud of our country’s robust and varied tools for memorializing those contributions – tools such as the Antiquities Act. In the future, I hope presidents will continue to have the ability to designate places for all Americans to access public lands and get outside, and also learn about our nation’s history.
Rick Hegdahl is the Pacific Northwest Director for the Vet Voice Foundation and an Iraq War veteran. He is committed to protecting public lands for all to enjoy and providing a platform for veterans to serve after the uniform.