Preservation of Fort Monroe and its rich historical heritage enjoys across-the-board, across-the-spectrum backing. Among Virginia's congressional delegation, three House Republicans have joined two of their Democratic colleagues, along with Virginia's two Democratic senators, to introduce legislation establishing a national historical park at Fort Monroe. Governor Bob McDonnell is on board as well.
It's not difficult to understand the appeal of national park status.
Fort Monroe and its progress and its blemishes has been an important part of our nation's story since the earliest days of European settlement.
After Captain John Smith came ashore in Virginia more than four centuries ago, he pronounced the present-day site of the fort an "isle fit for a castle," and settlers built a fort on what is still called Old Point Comfort. The fort was where enslaved Africans were first brought to the New World.
In its present configuration, the stone Fort Monroe was completed in 1834 to guard the strategically vital Hampton Roads, the deepwater passage that British forces had used during the War of 1812 to sail unhindered to attack Washington DC, burn the Capitol, and put the White House to the torch.
Construction of Fort Monroe's walls and moat was overseen by a young lieutenant, Robert E. Lee, who went on to play a vastly bigger role in America's history as commander of the Confederacy's Army of Northern Virginia.
Fort Monroe was at center stage during the conflict that rent America. Held by Union forces, the fort overlooked the seminal 1862 battle of the ironclads in Hampton Roads that presaged far deadlier naval conflicts of the future. Fort Monroe was a refuge for escaped slaves and became known as "Freedom's Fortress."
As America commemorates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Virginians are working together constructively to sort out Fort Monroe's future and keep its history alive for our children and grandchildren.
As Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said recently: "With such a rich history, it's no wonder that so many feel passionately about ensuring the site is preserved for future generations."
The preservation appeal of Fort Monroe has overcome the partisan boundaries that too often frazzle and distort debates about conservation and stewardship.
While every park proposal arises within a different political context, the Fort Monroe case is a heartening example of local citizens and elected officials working together to bring something of lasting value to their countrymen. We would do well to heed their call.
Jim DiPeso is the Policy Director at Republicans for Environmental Protection