The three other sites Obama will designate are the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio and the San Juan Islands National Monument in Washington state.
The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Dorchester County, honoring the native Marylander who escaped slavery and then helped guide other slaves to freedom, will be the first national monument commemorating an African American woman.
Donald Pinder, president of a small group in Dorchester that runs the Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center and has been advocating for the national designation, said he was “very grateful” to Obama.
“Here’s Harriet Tubman, someone that was born into slavery, actually had to run from the South to North to escape her bondage and then helped others,” Pinder said. “This particular woman had several other choices, and the first choice would have been to start a new life and to live as a free citizen of the United States, but she chose to work on the Underground Railroad to save others.”
Obama is using the authority he is accorded by the Antiquities Act, which presidents have exercised for more than a century to protect natural and historic sites such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.
But not everyone applauds the idea.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the public lands and environmental regulation subcommittee, accused Obama of designating federal lands by “executive fiat.”
“The use of the Antiquities Act cuts out public participation,” Bishop said in a statement. “There is a right way to designate federal lands, and there is a wrong way. Executive fiat is unquestionably the wrong way and is an abuse of executive privilege. The fact that Congress doesn’t capitulate to the President’s political whims on his specific timeline is hardly justification for taking unilateral action.”
But proponents noted that each of the five sites had strong support from local officials as well as conservation groups. They suggested that Obama was designating the sites by executive authority because the last Congress has failed to pass legislation creating new national parks.
The White House had no official comment Friday because Obama does not plan to formally announce them until Monday. A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that Department of the Interior lands support $363 billion in economic activity annually and 2.2 million jobs across the country.