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Federal legislation includes funding for improvements at Hoover birthplace

Federal legislation includes funding for improvements at Hoover birthplace

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Leslie Hoover-Lauble, great granddaughter of President Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, at President Hoover's birthplace at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch.

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site is looking forward to getting a sliver of the $9 billion Great American Outdoors Act signed into law by President Donald Trump on Tuesday.

Although the actual amount is not yet known, Superintendent Pete Swisher is “clearly anticipating” funding for work on a number of buildings at the National Park Service’s West Branch site where the nation’s 31st president was born.

The Hoover birthplace has identified $3 million in deferred maintenance needs it hopes to address with the funds that are part of the Great American Outdoors Act. Approved by Congress last month, it establishes a National Park and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to provide up to $9 billion over the next five years for deferred maintenance at wildlife refuges, forests and other federal lands, with $6.5 billion earmarked specifically to the 419 National Park Service units.

The legislation also guarantees $900 million per year in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which comes from royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters.

It appears the 186-acre Hoover National Historic Site is the only one of six National Park Service sites in Iowa in line for funding at this time. The others are the American Discovery Trail, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail and Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area.

At the Hoover site, top priorities for the funds would be $450,000 to rehabilitate and preserve the P.T. Smith House and $420,000 to replace a failing foundation on the James Staples House, which is used to house summer staff, Swisher said. Other priorities include $356,000 to paint and rehabilitate the Amanda Garvin House, $181,000 for lead abatement and cedar shingle replacement on two historic houses and $160,000 to replace the failing foundation and exterior cellar door bulkhead on the Wright House.

The homes, whether operational or not, “all serve as sort of a backdrop to the Hoover cottage and give context to Hoover’s home,” Swisher explained. Plans call for using the Smith House as an interpretive site for visitors.

Swisher doesn’t expect work on the projects to begin until after the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year, possibly not until the 2021 construction season.

Despite the needed repairs and rehabilitation, Swisher believes a good job is done of maintaining the site that attracts 126,000 visitors in a typical year and has a $9.7 million economic impact.

“The number one comment we hear from visitors is how well the park looks,” he said, adding that an annual survey has found at least 99% of visitors are satisfied with their experience.

Due to COVID-19, the Park Service now is using a phased approach to increasing access. Historic buildings, grounds, paths and four miles of trails are open. The Visitor Center remains closed.

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