Proposed Gold Rush National Park explored in El Dorado County
A skeptical but intrigued audience greeted the idea of a California Gold Rush National Park as advocate Jennifer Chapman gave a spirited presentation last Wednesday night before the city of Placerville Recreation and Parks Commission.
In the audience were the curious as well as supporters of the idea who came to find out what it was all about although in the end the commission voted not to participate until the idea is “tightened up.”
Describing the purpose of such a new park, Chapman said it would help preserve the remnants of the California Gold Rush as well as interpret the significance of the gold mining period in the history of the state and country. As such, Chapman envisioned such a national park as a partnership incorporating federal, state and local governmental entities as well as private parties.
Some of those different historical resources that could be included in the park would be the Druid Monument, the Confidence Hall and the Jane Stuart Building (affectionately known as the mustard and ketchup buildings), the 1912 courthouse, the Placerville downtown district, the 1928 Clay Street Bridge, the 1939 historical post office and annex, the Ivy House archaeological site and many other remnants of that period.
“The area has heritage corridors both east-west and north-south,” noted Chapman, adding that national parks are moneymakers, bringing in $20 billion in spending in 2018. Tying all the elements together, she suggested, would encourage more people to explore this area and to stay longer.
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The country has over 400 national park sites, she noted. Creating a Gold Rush National Park would, she said, bring more people and money to this area in addition to helping preserve historical resources.
“It’s the idea of connecting to something larger,” she said, adding that the Gold Rush was about more than just finding gold. It was a period of transformation when the state transitioned from a territory to statehood, grappled with whether it would be a free or a slave state and underwent demographic change as vast numbers of people immigrated to California from across the United States and elsewhere in the world.
Chapman suggested such a park would be governed by an advisory board drawn from entities under different jurisdictions that would remain autonomous yet be part of the whole. For example, Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park would remain a state park and Gold Bug Park remain a city park yet also be part of the new Gold Rush National Park.
To give the audience an idea of how the park could operate she described how other park partnerships work such as the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor that is made up of 524 miles of navigable waterway, 365 miles of Canalway trail and 200 cities, towns and villages.
Such a model would offer greater protection to historical resources such as Old Dry Diggins Mine, Hangtown Creek, documents pertaining to various Native American treaties, the Pearson Soda Works Building, the history of the Pony Express and its connection to Wells Fargo, Fiddletown as a Chinese heritage site, El Dorado Ranch and the Miwok heritage site, the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm and the geology of the gold strike itself — encompassing an area 120 miles long and 4 miles wide.
Chapman said themes that could be included would be the effects of mass migration on creating a diverse population in California, the displacement of tribes in California by immigrants, the development of the canal system and of the water rights system, alterations to the ecosystem and the salmon fisheries, the effect of gold wealth on economic trends in the state and country and how gold mining led to developments in mining technology, transportation and communications.
Chapman suggested forming a working group to explore the concept further. The group could advocate for funding to study the issue and for support from Congress.
In the public comments that followed people expressed different concerns and interests. Jonathan Burgess suggested that history of the area represent everyone and someone with an independent point of view should tell the Gold Rush story.
Longtime resident Kirk Smith said the idea could bring economic development to the area and he wondered what kind of grant money is available to study the idea. He also decried that while the El Dorado Canal allowed the development of Placerville, the El Dorado Irrigation District Board of Directors has voted to tear it out.
John Clerici, a former Placerville City Council member, suggested to first ask city residents if they think it’s a good idea. “Do residents want this? It will take a lot of heavy lifting,” he said, adding that the historical resources listed by Chapman are not at risk and that it’s agriculture that sustains the area — not mining.
Chapman responded that such a park would involve more than just Placerville and she wasn’t asking the city to take it on but instead to be open to the idea.
Asked if she had talked to the National Park Service about the idea, Chapman said she had broached the idea but they aren’t allowed to lobby.
Interested in something more specific, commission member Jackie Neau asked for a letter of intent as she wondered if the National Park Service is interested in the idea. She also thought it necessary to talk to city residents about how such a designation would impact them. As an alternative she suggested just putting up signs about different historical resources to avoid the bureaucracy involved in forming a national park.
With various members on the commission suggesting the idea needed “tightening,” the commission unanimously passed a motion not to participate in the idea until it’s better defined and especially as it doesn’t fall under their purview as a commission.
That motion was passed by commissioners Jerry Barton, Andrew Mathews, Jackie Neau and Tiffany Brewster. Commissioner Kristin Becker was not in attendance.
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