HAMPTON -- As federal officials toured Fort Monroe and discussed the post's future with community, state and congressional leaders, Virginia's two senators introduced legislation to create Fort Monroe National Historic Park.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis toured the 565-acre historic landmark site, which was ordered closed by the 2005 base closure commission.

Secretary Salazar has asked the National Park Service to hold additional public meetings in Hampton in the weeks ahead to continue the dialogue with the community on next steps.

The state is scheduled to take over Fort Monroe in September and there's been ongoing debate about what to do with the property.

The Fort Monroe Authority earlier this year voted to seek national park status for the entire peninsula on which the historic fort stands.

'You can read many chapters of our nation's history in the stones of Fort Monroe, which is one of the many reasons people feel so passionately about the protection of this special place, ' Salazar said after the tour, which included looking out atop a parapet from which soldiers once kept watch for foreign warships at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. 'This stone fort is one of our nation's special historic and cultural treasures, and we must work together to ensure this place is preserved for future generations.'

Fort Monroe was built for coastal defense between 1819 and 1834. The largest stone fortification in the U.S., the Army post is known as the Fortress of Freedom and the Gibraltar of the Chesapeake.

'Fort Monroe played a significant and historic role during the Civil War and in the end to slavery in America,' Senator Warner said. 'The Fort's preservation by the Park Service will allow visitors to study, experience and celebrate that history firsthand. while also providing additional tourism and economic development opportunities for the Peninsula and Hampton Roads regions.'

Sen. Jim Webb added, 'As we observe the Civil War sesquicentennial, Fort Monroe's closure offers a unique opportunity to conserve an area of national historical and cultural significance.'

He said the post should be preserved future generations and that its natural and recreational resources should be available to visitors, noting that the designation will boost tourism.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-3rd District), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-2nd District), Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, Virginia Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Terrie Suit, chair of the Fort Monroe Authority Board of Trustees, also attended Wednesday's meeting.

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