A new bill approved by the U.S. Senate last week would designate Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie as a national park, potentially lifting their national profiles and increasing their visibility to visitors.
The measure was part of the largest federal lands package to be considered by the Senate in a decade. Combining more than 100 different bills, it also added about 1.3 million acres of protected wilderness and established five new national monuments.
The bill would also give the Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County national park status.
Right now, both Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie are managed by the National Park Service as part of Fort Sumter National Monument.
This bill, if approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the president, would rename the sites as the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historic Park.
The different designation would not change the boundaries or operation of the historic forts, said Paula Ogden-Muse, the head interpreter for the sites.
The primary benefit, she said, is the recognition that comes with being known as a national park.
"It can make it easier for the public to find us," Ogden-Muse said.
Located on a small island in Charleston Harbor, Fort Sumter is the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1861. Fort Moultrie on nearby Sullivan’s Island is one of the oldest forts on the U.S. coast and was first built out of palmetto logs and sand during the Revolutionary War.
Fort Sumter has been recognized as a national monument since 1948, and the National Park Service has overseen Fort Moultrie since 1960.
The park would also include the Sullivan’s Island Life Saving Station Historic District, site of the Sullivan's Island Lighthouse. First illuminated in 1962, it was the last mainland lighthouse built in the U.S.
The interior of the lighthouse is only open to visitors a few times a year, Ogden-Muse said, and the National Park Service hopes to make some much-needed improvements to the structure to make it more stable and accessible.
Being designated as a national park could help them secure funding for that project, she said.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Park Act, along with former S.C. Rep. Mark Sanford, in the summer of 2017.
In a statement, Scott said that establishing the two local historic forts as a national park would “help ensure the preservation of these important sites for generations to come.”
"If being a national park increases our visitation, then we all gain," Ogden-Muse said, "because that helps us keep telling these stories."
A national network of Reconstruction Era sites would also be established under the bill. Overseen by Reconstruction Era park in Beaufort, that network would serve as a connecting point for other sites significant to the period of history following the Civil War.
Established by President Barack Obama, the Reconstruction Era National Monument is still in development. Limited services are available to visitors, but, according to the National Park Service's website, people are encouraged to visit partner sites like the Beaufort History Museum.