The National Park Service is holding three public meetings the next four nights in the Beaufort region as it decides the future of the state’s newest national monument.
Reconstruction Era National Monument Superintendent Melissa English-Rias said the agency wants to hear from the public before deciding on a framework for the new park. The monument will cover five different sites across Beaufort County which focus on African-American history in the years during and immediately following the Civil War.
English-Rias said the feedback will be used to craft the park’s “foundation document” next year. “The foundation document is important because it’ll give us the beginnings of the developing the themes, topics and stories of Reconstruction National Monument,” she said.
The new park is not yet formally open, although anyone interested can still visit its historic sites. Most notable among these is the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. The Penn Center is the descendant of the first public school in the South set up to educate former slaves. Other sites include Bible Baptist Church, Darrah Hall on St. Helena Island, the old Beaufort fire station in Beaufort and Camp Saxton in Port Royal — which hosted African-American troops who served with the Union Army during the occupation of Beaufort in 1862-1863.
Monday night’s forum will be at the Penn Center’s Frissell Community House at 7 p.m. Tuesday will be at the Port Royal Town Council Chambers at 6:30 p.m. and the hearings conclude with a 6:30 p.m. meeting at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort Thursday night.
The open house sessions are part of a comprehensive planning process that will also include targeted stakeholder meetings, research and analysis needed for a foundation document. The document identifies a national park unit’s core purpose and significance, its most important resources and values, and the interpretive themes that tell its unique and significant American story.
“Public support is very important, because it is the document that’s going to begin the park,” English-Rias said.
Those unable to attend the meetings can also comment online on the park’s website.