"All history isn't pretty," said Soles, who noted that every fort in Delaware has been nominated by citizens as a possible federal park site.
One site that will not be on any list of finalists is the Great Cypress Swamp in Sussex County. Locals, apparently concerned about the potential for hordes of visitors, were upset in the 1980s when Sen. Joseph Biden, at the request of environmentalists, proposed a feasibility study for including the swamp in the National Park Service system.
"I told people when we kicked this off that the one place we will not be considering as a national park site is the Great Cypress Swamp," Carper said. "We don't want to get bogged down there."
The National Park System consists of 387 units in more than a dozen categories, including parks, battlefields, parkways, monuments, preserves, historic sites, memorials, cemeteries, recreation areas, rivers and seashores.
The park service has no role in the approval of an addition to the system, a decision that is made by Congress. It does, however, establish criteria for national significance, suitability, feasibility and management alternatives.
"I don't think it's going to be an easy task to meet the National Park Service's requirements," Soles said. "You have to be able to make a very compelling case."
Site Approval Can Take Years
The process of getting a new NPS site approved and built often takes years. Government officials say the record for the quickest site is likely the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, which was dedicated Sept. 24, 2002, just over a year after a hijacked airliner plowed into the ground during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Gerry Gaumer, an NPS spokesman in Washington, said the ability of lawmakers to persuade their colleagues in Congress can be a key factor in getting a site approved.
"A lot of it has to do with how good your congressional representatives are, how good a package you put together," he said. "There's a lot more to it than just a good idea."
Carper said he's up to the challenge and hopes to introduce legislation in the near future.
"With a really exciting concept that I and other Delawareans can get juiced up about … I'm prepared to give this issue a good deal of my time and energy," he said.
Even if the political battle is won, money is an issue.
Gaumer noted that several sites approved by Congress have yet to be included in the NPS system because land acquisition and private funding of other capital needs are incomplete. Those sites include Ronald Reagan's boyhood home in Illinois, memorials to Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr. and the John Adams family in Washington, and the Sand Creek Massacre site in Colorado.
Fortunately, perhaps, for a small state such as Delaware, potential visitation is not a factor for addition of a unit to the National Park Service.
While the Blue Ridge Parkway received more than 21 million visitors in 2002, the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, a volcanic crater in the Aleutian Mountains of Alaska, welcomed a grand total of 241 visitors.
If You Go...
NATIONAL PARKS: For a complete list of every national park site in the country, visit http://www.nps.gov/ DELAWARE: Local attractions include Fort Delaware, Cape Henlopen, New Castle and The Green. For details, visit www.visitdelaware.net/ or call (866) 2-VISITDE.