HOT SPRINGS — The testimony from a recent House Committee on Natural Resources oversight hearing shows Hot Springs National Park’s historic leasing program works and can be implemented elsewhere, two members of the committee said.
The committee heard from local lessees before touring Bathhouse Row and seeing firsthand the work that has been done in preserving federal historic buildings for modern-day uses. U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-District 4, a committee member, said he gathered that Hot Springs made a good impression that will be carried throughout the country.
“I think the feedback I got was that this is a good program and I got feedback that this is evident in Hot Springs,” Westerman told the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record in a recent phone interview. “I think it was educational and also I think they were also surprised at what all was happening in Hot Springs.”
Following the hearing, Westerman said that seeing is believing, which is why he invited the committee to visit Hot Springs.
“It’s always good to get out in the field and actually see what’s happening, and when we consider the $12 billion of maintenance backlog within the Park Service and we see what Hot Springs National Park has done to alleviate that backlog here, I think it’s a great story to share with the rest of the country,” he said. “Getting the committee here, getting Chairman Bishop here is a really good way to highlight that.”
Westerman said he hoped the committee would take away that the lease program works, but the processes need to be streamlined “so that it can be used without as much headache as what we heard from some of the testimony,” with the object being to draw in long-term lessees to utilize those structures and take the backlog off to help the local economy.
Hot Springs, he said, has a lot of experience that can be shared with others in order to streamline those processes and implement the program in other parks across the country.
“It’s hard to get stuff along through Washington, D.C., but when you have locals who see the value of good relationships with the Park Service, that helps,” Westerman said.
Utah Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, the committee’s chairman, said Hot Springs National Park has a “very successful program that can be implemented in other places,” and that it should not matter if these buildings are on federal land if they are going to be of value to people.
Bishop and Westerman both commended Hot Springs National Park Superintendent Laura Miller, a native of Bryant who has previously said that she spent much time in Hot Springs growing up and has worked closely with local Park Service personnel through the years in other projects across the state.
“She brings an attitude because she cares (about the area),” Bishop said. “Often times when we bring land managers from other areas of the country, they don’t have that native understanding. … This is successful because the community is totally buying into that.”
Westerman said Miller “is a good fit” for Hot Springs National Park.
“She’s familiar and I think she gets it,” he said.
“She will be a real asset to the local park. I’m very proud of our local Park Service and local community for showing such hospitality. I think we made a good impression and the story of Hot Springs will be told throughout the country.”