Katko: Safe Haven Progressing Toward National Park Status

Congressman John Katko discusses the progress of his effort to elevate Safe Haven and Fort Ontario to national park status.

Congressman John Katko discusses the progress of his effort to elevate Safe Haven and Fort Ontario to national park status.

OSWEGO, NY – Congressman John Katko visited Safe Haven today (June 30) to discuss the progress being made to designate it (and Fort Ontario) as a national park.

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Congressman John Katko discusses the progress of his effort to elevate Safe Haven and Fort Ontario to national park status.

“I didn’t know, all those years ago growing up playing hockey right over here against Oswego High School and Bishop Cunningham when I was at Bishop Ludden that over here was a fort. I just thought ‘Fort’ was the name of the rink,” the Congressman said. “Over the years, as I got to know this area better, I’m really in awe of what it represents.”

When he got elected to Congress, he made it his mission to try to elevate the Fort Ontario and Safe Haven to National Park status, he said.

Oswego’s Safe Haven housed “the guests” of President Franklin Roosevelt “is a very unique part of American and world history,” said Safe Haven Board President George DeMass.

“I know the presence of those 986 refugees are here with us today,” he added. “Less than 100 are left (alive). But their presence is felt here today.”

Standing in front of the Safe Haven site, with local leaders, community members, elected officials and stakeholders at Fort Ontario and Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter on the steps behind him, Katko outlined progress on legislation that he introduced to advance the designation of the site towards National Park status.

His legislation was recently unanimously approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

It will soon head to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for a vote.

“I am so proud of (Safe Haven). It is one of the great pieces of Jewish heritage in this country, and indeed the world,” Katko said. “When I was in Israel last year, I mentioned it to some of the folks in the Israeli Cabinet and they were really fascinated by it.”

In addition to the swift movement in the House on his legislation, Katko requested in April that the National Park Service conduct a reconnaissance study to assess the best way to preserve the site.

Today (June 30), Katko announced that the NPS granted his request and will begin the reconnaissance study in 2017.

“ I am very excited. We’re on our way to achieving our dream. It’s because of the great people behind me that we have this opportunity. There is no question that this historic site deserves to be preserved and protected as a national landmark. The legislation that I’ve introduced is continuing to gain support in the House and today, I’m happy to announce that the National Park Service has agreed to complete a reconnaissance survey of Fort Ontario and the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum,” said Katko. “The survey, a foundational study, begins the process of assessing the significance and suitability of this historic site and is another positive step towards establishing Safe Haven and Fort Ontario as a National Park.”

Fort Ontario and Safe Haven are “a great jewel of our area,” he added.

It’s important from an historical as well as a tourism standpoint, he said.

He said he is fairly confident the site will become a national park.

“The hard work’s been done and now it’s just getting some floor time to get it moving,” Katko said. “I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would be opposed to this. We have some good partners in senators (Kristine) Gillibrand and (Chuck) Schumer who are supporting this.”

The bill commissions a special resource study of Fort Ontario to evaluate the site’s national significance and determine the suitability of its designation as a part of the National Park system.

This study is a prerequisite for receiving a National Park designation.

DeMass, on behalf of Safe Haven and the Friends of the Fort, thanked the Congressman for his efforts.

“The significance of Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter is such a unique part of world history that it deserves National Park status. We are so appreciative of Congressman Katko’s constant endeavor and strong support to make this a reality,” he said.

The refugees, he added, “Would say, ‘Don’t forget our story.'”

“This site is one of our greatest assets in the city of Oswego,” Mayor Billy Barlow said in a prepared statement. “I greatly appreciate Congressman Katko’s efforts and commitment in spearheading this effort in Congress. Marking Fort Ontario and Safe Haven as a National Park will undoubtedly grow our region’s tourism-based economy and bring much well-deserved attention to this destination.”

“As Oswego County Clerk, protecting and preserving our history is a key function of my job. I am thrilled to see Congressman Katko’s legislation to recognize Fort Ontario and Safe Haven a National Park gain momentum both in the House of Representatives and with the National Park Service. Our entire community looks forward to seeing this historic local treasure recognized nationally,” Oswego County Clerk Mike Backus said in a press release.

Congressman Katko represents the 24th Congressional District, which includes all of Onondaga, Cayuga and Wayne counties and a portion of Oswego County.

For more information, please visit https://katko.house.gov or www.facebook.com/RepJohnKatko.