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California’s Fort Ord to Become National Monument

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Fort Ord, the sweeping former military base north of Monterey, Calif., known for its oceanfront landscape and a history that dates back to horse cavalry soldiers in World War I, will become America’s newest national monument.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to establish the new designation on Friday, making Fort Ord only the second national monument he has created since becoming president in 2009.

“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,” Obama said in a statement late Thursday.

“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.”

More details are expected to be released Friday, but a White House official familiar with the plan said that roughly 14,650 acres will be included in the monument. That land is located on Fort Ord’s eastern half. It does not include the campus of California State University, Monterey Bay, the oceanfront lands along Highway 1 that make up Fort Ord Dunes State Park, or hundreds of homes and businesses located on the property in the towns of Seaside and Marina.

In most national monuments, all oil and gas drilling, along with mining, is banned.

The new monument, which will be supervised by the federal Bureau of Land Management, will include 7,200 acres now run by the BLM and open for hiking, horse riding and bicycling. It also will include an additional 7,450 acres where decades of unexploded shells and other ordnance once used for artillery practice are being cleaned up. That work is scheduled to be finished in 2019. That land is under the control of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Over the past year, environmental leaders, business officials and politicians in the Monterey Bay area have pushed for the former Army base to become a national monument. They wanted the designation to raise the profile of the area to attract tourism and business, and also to permanently lock in open space protections.

As recently as a week ago, U.S. Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., personally lobbied Obama on Air Force One while the two rode to Colombia to attend the Summit of the Americas Conference. Farr was a member of the Peace Corps stationed in Colombia in the mid-1960s and has worked closely on issues relating to South America and Central America.

Farr was traveling Thursday evening and unavailable for comment.

“We’re thrilled,” said David Beltran, his spokesman. “This will preserve the open space for future generations. It will help tourism and honor the memory of the generations of soldiers who served there.”

The former base, a 28,000-acre site the size of San Francisco, was put on the closure list in 1991, ending a storied history that began in 1917.

More than 60 years ago, Gen. Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell drilled thousands of infantrymen on amphibious assaults at Ford Ord beaches before they headed to Okinawa, the Philippines and the Marshall Islands. In the 1950s and early 1960s, then-unknowns Clint Eastwood, Jerry Garcia and current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta were stationed at Fort Ord.

When the base closed in 1994, roughly 15,000 soldiers and civilians from the 7th Infantry Division, and 22,000 family members, were moved to Fort Lewis, Wash.

Panetta, then the Monterey Bay area’s congressman, pushed hard to establish a new university, and in 1995 CSU Monterey Bay opened on the old base. Today the school has 5,100 students and 150 faculty members.

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