U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested to President Donald Trump last month that Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Jessamine County could be made into a national monument, according to a memo obtained by The Washington Post.
If that happened, Camp Nelson would be the first national monument in Kentucky. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorized the President to declare by public proclamation landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on lands owned or controlled by the government to be national monuments.
Camp Nelson, south of Nicholasville, was a Union Army supply depot, training center and hospital during the Civil War. It was the third largest recruitment and training center for black regiments in the country.
Zinke recommended to Trump that the Department of Interior “begin a public process to weigh designating this location as a national monument.”
A national monument is one of several designations for sites in the National Park system. Many sites are created by acts of Congress.
The National Park Service website lists Mammoth Cave as the only national park in the state; Cumberland Gap near Middlesboro and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace in LaRue County are the only national historic sites. Other places in the National Park System within Kentucky are Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County and Tennessee; Fort Donelson, a Civil War site on the Kentucky-Tennessee border near Land Between the Lakes; and the Trail of Tears that runs through nine states including Kentucky.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, introduced a bill last year that would authorize the Department of Interior to conduct a study that would be the first step toward bringing Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park into the National Park system. Barr reintroduced the bill in April, and it was forwarded to a subcommittee.
In a statement Monday, Barr’s deputy chief of staff Rick VanMeter said the congressman “has been a strong advocate for Camp Nelson and he appreciates that the Trump Administration is considering making this significant historical site in Kentucky a national monument. He also appreciates that the Department of Interior is going through a thoughtful and deliberate process in making these decisions with local input.”
The civil war park is owned by Jessamine County. The heritage park was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2013. It is also part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Because it is in a rural area, Camp Nelson is better preserved than other African-American troop sites that were in urban areas, said Jessamine County Judge-Executive David West.
“I think that’s certainly worthy of a national monument designation,” West said Monday.
If it were part of the national park system, that could mean more money for Camp Nelson’s operation, West said. “I think it would enhance tourism in the area,” he added.
Zinke’s memo also recommended that four large national monuments in the West be reduced in size, potentially opening up hundreds of thousands of acres of land revered for natural beauty and historical significance to mining, logging and other development, the Associated Press reported.
Zinke recommended that President Trump create two other national monuments. One was the Jackson, Miss., home where civil rights activist Medgar Evers was shot and killed in 1963. The other was the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area in Montana, which is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Nation.