© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fort Ontario national park status being studied, public comment encouraged

A historic reenactor at Fort Ontario with Rep. John Katko in the background.
Tom Magnarelli
A historic reenactor at Fort Ontario with Rep. John Katko in the background.

The public can now weigh in on whether Fort Ontario in Oswego should be designated as a national park. The National Park Service is studying whether to include the fort in the national park system and is expected to make a decision by next year.

Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow said the national park status would be a great shot in the arm for tourism and the local economy.

“We know there are people nationwide who travel from park to park, landmark to landmark to be able to get that stamp or check off the box to visit all of the landmarks and parks,” Barlow said. “We’d be privileged and honored to have Fort Ontario on that list.”

He and other elected officials are encouraging people to submit comments online, by mail or phone. The fort must meet four criteria to qualify for inclusion in the park system, including a cultural resource not already represented.

It was built in 1755 and used by the British in the French and Indian War. It was destroyed but rebuilt over the years, during the American Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and in the 1840s. During World War II, it was used as the only refugee camp in the country for nearly 1,000, mostly Jewish, Holocaust refugees. Kevin Hill, board president of the Safe Haven Refugee Shelter Museum, said that’s what makes it so important.

“It’s vital that we maintain this history, we preserve it, we protect it, and we make sure that generations to come understand their struggles; the difficult positions they were put in in Europe, their time in concentration camps, the unimaginable things that happened to these folks,” Hill said. “It’s a story that has to be told. We have to tell it so we don’t repeat this history.”

Central New York Congressman John Katko said the fort was a humanitarian godsend.

“They were literally saved from having to be sent back to Europe as the war was raging in 1944,” Katko said. “That is something that didn’t happen anywhere else in the United States. That in and of itself is enough to be a park.”

A virtual public meeting will be held on Sept. 15.

Send written comments by mail to:

National Park Service, Denver Service Center – Planning Division

12795 West Alameda Parkway

PO Box 25287

Denver, CO 80225-0287

Project Manager: Hilary Retseck

By phone: Contact Retseck at 303-969-2425

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.