President Donald Trump signed legislation Tuesday night requiring the federal government to study whether Fort Ontario in Oswego should be designated as a national park.
The Fort Ontario Study Act sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. John Katko received final congressional approval last month. Passage of the bill by the Senate was a major milestone in the effort to examine whether the fort should be given national park status.
The bill requires the Department of the Interior to commission a special resources study to "determine the suitability and feasibility of designating Fort Ontario ... as a unit of the National Park System." Before a new unit is added to the national park system, a special resources study is needed.
After Congress passed the bill, Oswego officials lauded their federal representatives — Gillibrand, Katko and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — for advocating for the study.
"Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum remind us of our nation's long history of welcoming those in need," Schumer said Wednesday. "With the Fort Ontario Study Act officially signed into law, we have taken a critical step forward in the quest to designate this location as part of the National Park System, which will attract attention and visitors to this worthy site."
Gillibrand added, "Fort Ontario has played an outsized role in New York state and our nation's history, and I have been proud to work to make sure that these central New York treasures can gain the recognition they deserve. A national park designation would be a fitting honor for these extraordinary sites and an incredible tribute to New York's proud history as a home to refugees."
The fort dates back to the French and Indian War. It was an active military installation during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and it was used during the Civil War period.
Near the end of World War II, nearly 1,000 European refugees who escaped the Holocaust were housed at the fort. The refugees resided at the fort from August 1944 to February 1946.
After the refugees departed the fort, it was used to house World War II veterans and their families. It became a state historic site in 1953.
The House passed the Fort Ontario legislation in September 2016, but it didn't receive a vote in the Senate. The lawmakers reintroduced the measure in January 2017. The House quickly passed the bill again.
In September, the Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent.
"Since coming to Congress in 2015, putting Fort Ontario on the path to becoming a national park has been among my top priorities," Katko said. "Fort Ontario and Safe Haven National Refugee Shelter are important sites both in our regional history as well as the history of our country. I could not be more enthused that this bill is now law and our treasured landmark is on its way to being nationally recognized."