Thirty-four preservation projects in 19 states have been awarded $2.58 million in federal grants aimed at preserving the nation’s maritime history.
The money comes from the Maritime Heritage Program, a partnership between the National Park Service (NPS) and the Maritime Administration.
Funded through a portion of the sale or scrapping of obsolete vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet, the program was suspended in 1998 due to environmental concerns over ship scrapping. After these issues were resolved, the grants were resumed in 2014, and over the past two years nearly $5.2 million has been awarded to 69 private, state or local institutions that are preserving historic maritime resources.
In the 2015 funding round announced in April, a broad range of maritime education and preservation projects were selected. They include restoration of historic ships and lighthouses; launching public education initiatives about commercial fishing; underwater archeology and shipbuilding; digitalizing maritime archives, magazines and historic documents; and creating interactive websites and interpretative exhibits.
“As a nation with vast coastlines and interior waterways, our maritime heritage is an integral part of the story of our economic growth and the defense of our nation,” NPS director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a statement. “These grants will enable our state historic preservation partners to connect local communities to their maritime heritage from sea to shining sea.”
Grants are evenly split between preservation and education initiatives, but each project must include an educational component that would reach a broad audience. This could involve a simple concept such as allowing visitors to watch the ongoing restoration of a vessel, or as complex as an online research database of historic photographs.
The NPS said there’s been a strong response from the maritime community to the annual request for proposals. Each year about $2 million worth of funding has been available, while grant proposals have totaled $10 million. The NPS anticipates that this trend will continue.
The agency says such demand shows a longstanding need for sustained maritime heritage funding, especially at a time of the growing threat of sea-level rise. “NPS has determined that land-based maritime sites and resources are highly vulnerable to this threat, anticipating the need for more documentation and relocation projects in the coming years, and a growing number of projects are addressing the threat directly,” the agency said in a posting on its website.
In the meantime, NPS said the future of the program’s funding is uncertain, as it depends on the continued sale or scrapping of obsolete vessels, “which in turn depends on the notoriously volatile price of scrap metal. While previous years’ proceeds guarantee two more years of grant cycles in 2016 and 2017, a dedicated funding source independent of market fluctuation is necessary.”
Examples of this year’s grants include: an educational program providing students studying state history at certain California schools an overnight stay aboard historic tall ship Spirit of Dana Point; a plan to rehabilitate four offshore lighthouses to enhance public education and tourism related to Michigan's unique maritime history; refinishing the steel superstructure of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown in Maryland; restoration of the Steamboat Sabino in Connecticut; establishing an interpretive exhibit on shipbuilding in Wilmington; producing a film about the the New Bedford, Mass. fishing industry; and further restoration of the USS Constitution in Boston.
Applications for the 2016 grant cycle will open May 23 - Aug 5.