National Park Service Seeks Input on Civil War Battlefield Preservation

As the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the National Park Service (NPS) is asking for public feedback about the future of the war’s touchstone battlefields. The NPS’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) has released a draft report about the conditions of the nation’s Civil War battlefields.

The draft report is online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/battlefields and the ABPP invites public comment on its contents and recommendations. The comment period is open until October 12, 2012.

As directed by Congress, the report highlights battlefield preservation efforts over the past 20 years and sets new priorities for federal, state, and local action. The report will help focus the efforts of an active Civil War community and provide useful information to federal, state, and local officials responsible for making land use decisions on historic Civil War battlefields.

In 1993, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission produced a landmark report that outlined actions needed to save the nation’s Civil War battlefields from destruction and its recommendations have guided decisions about the allocation of limited public and private sector resources to Civil War battlefields for two decades. The ABPP’s update of that original document looks at what has happened to the battlefields since 1993 and seeks to draw attention to battlefields that have become increasingly vulnerable to development today.

“This report is much more comprehensive than the 1993 report. It provides better baseline data as well as highlighting efforts of preservationist across the United States,” said Paul Hawke, Chief of the American Battlefield Protection Program.

Many of the battlefields endangered in the early 1990s remain threatened, according to the ABPP. Places such as Gettysburg (Pa.), the Wilderness (Va.), Port Hudson (La.), and

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Mobile Bay (Ala.) face ongoing development challenges or have important structures in need of emergency repair. At other battlefields, however, landowners, preservationists, and government entities have collaborated to help protect large portions of the historic landscapes, often through conservation easements. Among the success stories are Antietam (Md.), South Mountain (Md.), Bentonville (N.C.), Brice’s Cross Roads (Miss.), Cedar Creek (Va.), Perryville (Ky.), and Corinth (Miss.).

The report places special emphasis on battlefields that 20 years ago were considered to have few threats and those that were thought to be unsalvageable. The ABPP found that a number of historically rural battlefields are now seeing development pressures. For example, places like Averasborough (N.C.), Cedar Mountain (Va.), and Fort DeRussy (La.) are being splintered by the subdivision of older farms for new houses.

However, the ABPP also found that some battlefields deemed fragmented or “lost” in the commission’s 1993 report do still harbor pockets of preservation-worthy land. The ABPP’s data indicates that the Moorefield (W.Va.), First Suffolk (Va.), and Belmont (Mo.) battlefields retain large portions of their historic landscapes, but are now used as the locations for a sewage treatment plant, housing developments, and an industrial park, respectively. The report elevates the profiles of these and other threatened battlefields and suggests ways in which communities can work with landowners, public agencies, and nonprofit partners to ensure the battlefields’ survival as evocative historic landscapes.

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