Monthly Archives: December 2011

Loudoun’s First Sesquicentennial Year in Review

On Friday, Leesburg Today ran a post by Margaret Morton reviewing the Sesquicentennial events held in Loudoun over the last year.  It is a good note to close out the year.  A few highlights that Morton pointed out:

  • The Mosby Heritage Area Association impressed with an April program detailing Loudoun’s place in the state’s secession
  • Announced at Oatlands, one of Loudoun’s Civil War sites, “This Hallowed Ground” received a $300,000 grant to plant 620,000 trees, representing the men who lost their lives in the war, along US Highway 15.
  • The county Sesquicentennial Committee worked with Visit Loudoun to produce an excellent web site that serves both residents and tourists.
  • Additions of markers around the county interpreting Civil War events.
  • Very successful Ball Bluff 150th commemoration and reenactment.

I would add  the April program at Harpers Ferry (hey, part of the park is in Loudoun!) observing the seizure of the vital military facilities by Virginia; and the John Janney House Tour and Lecture in May.   And of course I’d also mention the excellent presentations at our Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable - most all sesquicentennial themed.  Looking into next year, we have a lineup of great speakers on a range of 1862 topics.

If you haven’t noticed, I enjoy being in the “seat” of the Sesquicentennial here in Northern Virginia.

Have a happy New Year!  See you after the calendars roll over!

What might have been: Atlanta Campaign NHS

Another interesting National Park Traveler article today. This one, by Bob Janiskee, provides a list of National Park Service units that for various reasons were abandoned, dropped, or transferred out of the system. The article links out to more detailed examinations of these thirty-four sites – earlier articles written by Janiskee. Of interest to military historians, White Plains National Battlefield, a Revolutionary War site, never got organized. And Mackinac National Park in Michigan, while among the first parks established and including Fort Mackinac, fell victim to budget constraints.

From the Civil War perspective, Chattanooga National Cemetery and Castle Pinckney became units of the National Park Service due to Federal reorganizations in 1933. The cemetery, which probably shouldn’t have been a separate NPS unit anyway, eventually went to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Arguably Castle Pinckney should have become a unit within Fort Sumter National Monument (which includes Fort Moultrie also). But as reported earlier this year, there are efforts to preserve the fort.

But there is a third “lost” Civil War national park on the list – the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site… or to be exact, Sites. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built five rest stops, complete with picnic pavilions and interpretive exhibits, along the Dixie Highway in northern Georgia. These traced Atlanta Campaign actions (or inactions) at Ringgold Gap, Rocky Face ridge, Resaca, Cassville, and New Hope Church. The WPA pavilions included interpretive metal signs (such as one at Cassville) to which the NPS added the metal markers linked above.

During World War II, the Secretary of the Interior transferred the five picnic areas to the NPS. However, after administering the “Historic Site” for six years, the NPS transferred the property to the State of Georgia in 1950. Janiskee summarizes the ill-fated historic site in his article:

When the Secretary of the Interior issued an order on October 13, 1944, instructing the National Park Service to administer the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site, it could scarcely have been an occasion for an NPS celebration (not to mention that World War II was raging at the time). You’d have to have been at least one full bubble off plumb to really believe that a scattered collection of interpretive picnic pavilions belonged in the National Park System, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Yellowstone National Park and Gettysburg National Military Park.

However, I’d offer a different take on this.

Many preservationists are familiar with the “Antietam Plan.” In brief, when established the Antietam National Battlefield lacked funding. Instead of purchasing the whole acreage of lands, as was done at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, at Antietam the War Department worked with right-of-ways and easements. Thus the battlefield became more a tour route than established property. While that sounds like a disappointment, in the long run the plan succeeded, and quite remarkably so. Later parks followed this plan to various degrees and were generally successful.

At the time the NPS received the Atlanta Campaign unit, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield was in the system too, but facing court challenges in its protracted evolution. Only in 1947 did that park become “officially established.” The abandonment of the Atlanta Campaign NHS, meager though its holdings were, left only Kennesaw Mountain as the NPS unit representing one of the Civil War’s most important campaigns.

Since that time development along the I-75 corridor encroached upon the battlefields. Decades later, there is still some hope for these battlefields. Not covered by the original WPA sites, Picketts Mill is now a State Historic Site. Likewise work continues for the Resaca State Historic Site. Ringgold Battlefield received a National Register of Historic Places selection in March of 2011. Markers are in place or going up for Rocky Face Ridge. Organizations like the Georgia Battlefields Association have made strides. But much has been lost since the 1950′s, particularly closer into Atlanta.

Yes, a five-picnic-pavillion park on par with the larger parks does seem outrageous. But on the other hand, logically those five sites could have become part of an extended park with Kennesaw Mountain. As seen at other locations, just “being” a park provides some impetus to further preservation efforts. Perhaps an “Antietam Plan,” but at the broader perspective. I have to wonder if those five pavilions, had they remained in the NPS inventory, could have become the grains of sand to culture a string of pearls?

A River in Danger: Ozark National Scenic Riverway

Back in October,  National Park Traveler reposted a two part series (Part 1 and Part 2) by Susan Flader outlining the history and problems encountered at the Ozark National Scenic Riverway (NSR). The set are worth a read if you have not seen them already (and I do apologize for not mentioning these earlier).  While I could mention some specific Civil War related connections to the park, that particular region of Missouri was a backwater within a backwater of the war.   But I’ve got several non-Civil War reasons to bring these articles to your attention.

Ozark NSR was the first park of its type in the National Park Service when created in 1964.  The first of Flader’s articles details the issues faced establishing the park.  Some of the issues are probably familiar to those versed in the battlefield park histories – land acquisition and park administration for instance.  But since a riverway park was a new concept, the NPS took a long time drafting the overall general management plan.  Although dedicated in 1971, the park didn’t have an approved plan until the 1980s.

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Big Spring: the largest of several in the park

The plan’s delay was in part due to being the first attempt at preserving a watershed.  There were hundreds of native species, some endangered, finding refuge within the new park boundaries.  There were also some unique geologic features, chiefly the multitude of caves and springs, worth preserving.  Archeologists found numerous prehistoric and historic sites worth cataloging.  Indeed the story of the “hill folks” was interwoven with that of the river.

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The Mill at Alley Spring

But on the other hand, there was the question of river use.  Canoeing and fishing were long established activities along the Current River.  The best the park could do is regulate them.  But with time came new activities, such as motor-boating and four-wheeling, along with recreational horseback riding.  The park’s visitation swelled through the 1980s and 1990s (this author included in those numbers), as did the pressure on the park’s infrastructure.  Many visitors saw the park more “recreational” than “preservational.”

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Old visitor station at Big Springs - Constructed by the CCC

Flader does a better job chronicling the park’s history and these issues than I can (or have space to).  What I will say is that the clear, swift flowing waters I floated along in my youth became a crowded – and in places trashy – secondary destination for many.  Not only did visitation decline, but in May 2011, American Rivers named the Current one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the U.S.

The problem was scope. Flader closed her examination with a quote from then park superintendent Ben Clary to Congressman Bill Emerson in 1996:

We have withdrawn from the rivers, our primary resource and purpose for the park. We have withdrawn from preserving and interpreting the Ozarks cultural heritage which is so important to the area…. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate where we are headed. Are we in fact Ozark National Scenic Riverways or Ozark National Scenic Campgrounds? While all of our activities and visitors are important to us, I think that it is time to start looking at quality and purpose as opposed to quantity.

Although the battlefield parks and historic sites, and even other scenic parks, have perhaps different challenges than that faced in Ozark NSR, there are lessons that may be applied. We are right to ask questions about the focus of treeline restorations; or new roadways; or additional horse trails; or changes to access policies. It is after all not Gettysburg National Tour Parkway nor is it the Great Smoky Mountains National Hunt Club.  (And that is not to say we should oppose such changes, but rather that we should ask if such changes are within the spirit of the park’s purpose.)

The National Park Service has a somewhat thankless role preserving, protecting, and ultimately presenting some of our most treasured public properties and lands.  Each of these gems has a slightly different reason for being.  Each park draws visitors for different reasons.  And each visitor takes away different experiences.

In the end, as Clary said, it is quality and purpose which makes those parks our national treasures.