WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday announced the creation of the Fort Ord National Monument, a stretch of grassland, oak and shrub landscape on California’s Central Coast where 1.5 million American soldiers trained before heading off to war.
President Barack Obama used his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to set aside the federal land off the Pacific Ocean for wildlife habitat and for the pleasure of people who explore its 86 miles of rolling trails on foot, mountain bike and horseback.
“Fort Ord’s dramatic landscape lives in the memories of thousands of veterans as their first taste of Army life, as a final stop before deploying to war, or as a home base during their military career. This national monument will not only protect one of the crown jewels of California’s coast, but will also honor the heroism and dedication of men and women who served our nation and fought in the major conflicts of the 20th century,” Obama said in a statement.
Fort Ord, near Monterey Bay, about 80 miles south of San Francisco, was a major Army training center during the Vietnam War. It became a base in 1917 and was closed in 1994. The Bureau of Land Management soon opened its more than 14,000 acres for recreation, and more than 100,000 people have used it annually.
“That national monument designation, it really is a national and international brand in its own right. It really will enhance tourism here,” said Dennis Donohue, mayor of nearby Salinas, Calif. He said that the beauty of the land in the area is “really part and parcel to our quality of life and our economic vitality as a region.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the national monument designation _ the second Obama has made _ was part of the administration’s strategy of asking communities about land that should be protected and taking action in places where there is strong local and bipartisan support.
Fort Ord lies alongside the agricultural fields of the Salinas Valley. Its scenic landscape includes coastal oak woodlands, grasslands and maritime chaparral, a habitat of manzanita and other plant species adapted to the foggy climate on the coast. The land is home to shrub-land birds such as the California quail and safe sparrow, as well as other species, including mountain lions and golden eagles.
A presidential proclamation of a national monument doesn’t require congressional action. Sixteen presidents dating back to Theodore Roosevelt have used it to protect more than 100 sites, many of which later became national parks. President George W. Bush created six national monuments, including protected marine areas in the Pacific Ocean.
Obama’s other national monument designation was Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., a site important in the history of slaves seeking freedom.