The National Park Service presence along the Chesapeake Bay grew in November as President Barack Obama designated Fort Monroe as a national monument.
Fort Monroe was closed as a military site in September, and the presidential action to protect the fort and surrounding beaches was urged by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, local officials, several Virginia members of Congress and many conservation groups.
The president's act will put 325 of the peninsula's 570 acres into the new national monument. The monument is composed of 90 acres concentrated around the fort and 235 acres of the North Beach area.
Other facilities are operated by partners. The Army will continue to operate the Casemate Museum, and the Fort Monroe Authority is the contact for organized recreational activities. The authority will develop the remaining acres.
"This is going to give an opportunity for people from all across the country to travel to Fort Monroe and trace the history that has been so important to making America what it is," Obama said in making the announcement Nov. 1. "It is also going to be an incredibly important economic boost to the region."
Local advocates said the action could help generate up to 3,000 jobs in the Hampton region.
Fort Monroe was built on the site of Old Point Comfort as a coastal fortification between 1819 and 1834 to protect the entrance to Hampton Roads.
Prior to the construction of the fort, Old Point Comfort was the site of a defensive outpost established by Jamestown settlers in 1609. In 1619, it was the site of disembarkation for the first African slaves to arrive in England's North American colonies in 1619.
Fort Monroe was an important Union fortification during the Civil War, and the destination for many slaves seeking freedom.
The action also protects beaches and ancient trees at the site, some of which date to arrival of English colonists in 1607. It is also along the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.
"The fort and its beaches are a national treasure, a 'pearl' on the string of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail and a vital part of the Chesapeake's natural and cultural landscape," said Charlie Stek, chairman of the Chesapeake Conservancy, one of the groups seeking the designation.
"As they become a part of the National Park Service, they will tell our nation's history to millions of visitors and provide much needed access to the Chesapeake Bay."
Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to make the designation. Unlike national parks, which must be created by Congress, the act allows presidents to designate national monuments. It has been used to protect sites from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty.