Harriet Tubman Home, Inc., and the National Park Service are close to finalizing an agreement that will detail how the entities will manage the main sites associated with the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn.
Frank Barrows, superintendent of Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome and project lead for the Tubman park, said Wednesday that the implementation agreement is under National Park Service internal legal reviews. An executed agreement is expected within the current fiscal year.
The federal government's fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Barrows didn't have a specific timetable for the completion of the agreement, but explained that negotiations are ongoing between the Tubman home and National Park Service.
"It's important for us to have a full understanding of how resources will move back and forth between the park service and the Harriet Tubman Home and how we'll be able to work in cooperation to preserve and protect the resources associated with Tubman," he said.
Harriet Tubman Home President and CEO Karen Hill described the implementation agreement as a broad document that will guide how the two sides will operate the park. The parties will be responsible for jointly managing the South Street property where Tubman's brick residence and the Home for the Aged are located.
The implementation agreement won't require any additional approvals from the federal or state governments. But a conservation easement, which is necessary for the National Park Service to have a role at the South Street property, will require the state attorney general's review.
Hill expects the conservation easement process will begin once the implementation agreement is finalized.
One issue the implementation agreement could help address is staffing. Once the park is fully operational, it's anticipated that National Park Service rangers will be on site. Despite the park being formally established last year, park rangers haven't had a permanent presence at the Tubman home because the implementation agreement isn't in effect.
Barrows noted that park rangers have been able to assist the Tubman home during times of need. When a Tubman home staffer was ill, park rangers filled in to provide tours. And when larger groups visited the site, park rangers helped with programming.
Once the implementation agreement is completed, Barrows said it's possible that rangers could be available for temporary assignments at the park this year.
"We've been fortunate that we've been able to work that out at least in this interim period," Hill said of staffing. "Our expectation is that that becomes something that is more facile once we have an agreement in place on how we share those resources."
The National Park Service's work at the Thompson Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Parker Street continues.
Barrows said the agency's preservation crew is at the historic site and is working on renovating the church and neighboring parsonage. The crew is restoring window frames at the parsonage and have nearly finished improvements to the front porch.
Contracts are being prepared to remove the existing roof, which will be replaced with cedar roof shingles. Chimney repair work is also planned and a bathroom that is complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act will be installed, according to Barrows.
There is also some other basic work being done at the sites, including basement and foundation repairs and replacement of heating and cooling systems.
"They're moving right along," Barrows said.
Hill is looking to secure federal funding that would finish renovations at the brick residence and enable visitors to access the structure.
The Harriet Tubman Home organization has spent "considerable resources" on the site, she explained. Now she's hoping the federal government will come through with support.
"I believe that there's an openness about doing all that is possible to bring the resources forward to help complete the Tubman brick residence so we can add that to the body of work that has already been completed at the Tubman site and make the brick residence a full part of the tour," she said.
She estimated that the final renovations would cost about $400,000. Most of the exterior work has been completed, she said, but the interior needs to be finished. And the Tubman home would like to install a lift at the rear of the brick residence that would allow those in wheelchairs to enter the first floor of the home.
Park service presence
Beyond assisting at the Tubman home, the National Park Service is establishing a regular presence in Auburn.
Beginning this month, park rangers will participate in the city's First Friday events. Last week, a park ranger delivered a presentation on the basics of the national park system.
The agency's goal of joining the First Friday event lineup, Barrows said, is starting the educational process about what it means to have a national park in the area.
"We're very excited to start building those kinds of relationships and participating in collaborative programming," he said.
The annual Tubman pilgrimage is a few months away, but Hill shared some details about the event.
The pilgrimage will be held Saturday, June 2. It will begin with an 8:45 a.m. service at Tubman's grave site in Fort Hill Cemetery. Later in the day, a program will be held at Auburn High School.
Hill said the program will recognize the work of U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Katko. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, and Katko, R-Camillus, introduced legislation that would ensure Tubman's likeness is placed on the $20 bill.
Park rangers will staff the Tubman home during the pilgrimage, Hill said. In the past, they had to close the property during the pilgrimage ceremony.