A woman with three men panning for gold in
California (circa 1850) – courtesy of USGS.gov

PLACERVILLE, Calif. February 11, 2020 – On February 19, the City of Placerville Recreation & Parks Commission will host a special presentation introducing concepts for a new national park that would preserve remnants of the California Gold Rush and interpret the significance of the gold mining period in the Sierra Nevada. The proposal for California Gold Rush National Historical Park is to establish a partnership-based park with a limited role for the federal government, and a visitor center in Placerville’s Historic District. The Placerville Historic District itself was proposed by the City’s Historical Advisory Committee in 2012 and has not yet been formalized.

The current park proposal will be presented by Placerville resident and preservation advocate Jennifer Chapman as part of the regular Recreation & Parks Commission meeting at 6:00 PM, February 19, Town Hall – 549 Main Street, Placerville. The goal of the presentation is to initiate community discussion, and determine if there is interest in forming a working group to develop the national park concept further. Individuals from several organizations have already expressed interest in this concept including American River Conservancy, National Pony Express Association, Oregon California Trail Association, Wopumnes Nisenan-Mewuk Tribe, California Druids, Friends of Historic Hangtown, Placerville Historic Preservation League, and Napa County Landmarks. 

“There are many unique historic resources here that can still be preserved and others that can be restored,” Chapman said. “It makes a lot more sense when you see it as part of the larger, comprehensive story that the California Gold Rush represents in American history. Marshall Gold Discovery, Old Sacramento, Wakamatsu Farm, the Placerville Historic District and Gold Bug Park are just a few of the sites that could be connected and enhanced as part of a national historical park,” she continued.

In contrast to more familiar national parks like Yellowstone or Yosemite, a partnership park includes a variety of sites under different jurisdictions and ownerships, while providing a cohesive framework for planning and interpretation. Examples of other partnership parks in California are Rosie the Riveter / WWII Homefront National Historical Park in the City of Richmond, and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area based in the City of Thousand Oaks.

Sites within a partnership park retain their individual identity. For instance, there are six California State Parks located within Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area:  Topanga State Park, Red Rock Canyon State Park, Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Point Mugu State Park, and Will Rogers State Historic Park.  Likewise, Keweenaw National Historical Park in Michigan includes over 20 sites associated with the rise, domination and decline of the copper mining industry on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Some of these sites are owned by private businesses or non-profit organizations. 

“So many of our local conflicts center around what seem to be the competing interests of historic preservation and economic development,” Chapman stated. “Instead, the two could be unified.”

Conflicts include different visions for the use of historic buildings like the 1912 courthouse; removing the 1926 Druid Monument from its historic context; or altering an intact segment of a historic ditch system built in the 1800s. Meanwhile, not far away, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has connections to the California Gold Rush story, generated over $1 billion in visitor spending in communities near its park sites in 2018. (See also: Economic Contributions of National Park Visitor Spendinghttps://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/vse.htm )

“We could do amazing things if we put our energy toward a common goal,” said Chapman, whose public lands career has included serving as park ranger and curator at Mount Rushmore National Memorial during the Memorial’s 50th anniversary when an expansion of visitor facilities was accomplished almost entirely through private fundraising. 

A preview of the concepts for California Gold Rush National Historical Park can be viewed at: 1848gold.wordpress.com .  Comments can also be shared by sending a message through this website in addition to attending the presentation on February19th.