Why Is St. Louis So Excited to See Grant’s Farm as a National Park and Why Does the NPS Not Want it?

{Grant's Cabin at Grant's Farm – Is Hardscrabble the piece most worth preserving?}

Glossed over in the several weeks of headlines about Grant's Farm and the NPS is the seemingly insurmountable chasm between St. Louis's hope and expectations and the NPS evaluation of Grant's Farm. Whether in news stories or online comments, many in St. Louis seem excited about the prospect of Grant's Farm becoming a National Park. And why not? National Parks are great tourism drivers and are uniquely prestigious, not to mention they have the permanence we would like to see for Grant's Farm.

There appears to be two distinct and divergent storylines in the recent news concerning Grant's Farm the National Park Service's evaluation of the property as a potential National Park. The basics are: the Busch family owns Grant's Farm, AB-InBev owns the animals and pays to maintain the park at a cost of ~$4M per year, the NPS has worked with the Busch family to study the park as a possible National Park. (full NPS reconnaissance study is below)

But what I find special about visiting Grant's Farm and what other's have stated they want to preserve are the same things that a recent evaluation finds least likely to be managed by NPS: the clydesdales, open-range animals, zoo and free beer. Would we want Grant's Farm preserved in perpetuity without any of these?

The assessment was technically a study of the possible expansion of the 10-acre existing Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site adjacent to Grant's Farm. Therefore, the focus was on whether or not Grant's Farm could help tell the story of President Grant. Unsurprisingly, they study found that while there are several items (the Hardscrabble cabin, for one) that would add to the site, the larger Busch property, Big House, menagerie and zoo would not.

A full study will require Congressional authorization and could consider whether the Busch history on the property is worthy of National Park consideration on its own. This initial assessment seems to agree that additional study may show the property to be an eligible addition, though it raises pointed questions about feasibility regarding the acquisition and maintenance of the property. Specifically, the study states that it is not within the mission of the NPS to manage zoos. Also, the study concludes that the site is currently well maintained and not threatened.

To sum up the issue: Grant's Farm as a whole doesn't work as an expansion of the Ulysses S. Grant Historic Site. The Busch family likely doesn't want to subdivide the property. Grant's Farm could be considered independently by an act of Congress, but what makes Grant's Farm a popular destination are unlikely to be preserved as a National Park. A recent Post-Dispatch story does a good job of giving examples showing why the obstacles identified in the study may not matter. A new national park is a political issue and requires an act of Congress. The last word will come from politicians: "What legislation they pass is what the National Park Service will do," Tim Good, park superintendent of the Grant historic site told the Post-Dispatch.

Grant's Farm Preliminary Boundary Adjustment Evaluation Reconnaissance Study