Monday, March 23, 2009

Saving the First Day's Battlefield

Above: For God's Sake Forward by Don Troiani. Below: Gen. James Archer

After eight years of federal funding cuts, Gettysburg National Military Park is finally receiving some additional money for operating costs and landscape restoration. Additionally, the park may now be able to fill its seventeen vacant positions, which they were previously unable to replace after those workers moved on or retired.

As it turns out, this new money may be used to purchase the former Gettysburg Country Club, a golf course which was the scene of intense fighting on July 1, 1863 between the Federal Iron Brigade and the Confederate brigade under the commander of General James Archer, who was captured on this site by a Private Patrick Maloney of the 2nd Wisconsin. After the advance of the Iron Brigade, there was a counterattack unleashed upon them by Gen. James Johnston Pettigrew and his command of North Carolinians. Obviously, this terrain is highly valuable land both historically and monetarily. I sincerely hope it is not turned into a housing development and that the Park Service or Civil War Preservation Trust may be able to preserve this significant site. The following is yet another fine article from the Hanover Evening Sun:

Funds make country club purchase possible again

Gettysburg National Military Park has $2.2 million to spend on land acquisition, and the Gettysburg Country Club is a high priority on the list of potential purchases.
The Evening Sun

For the first time since 2001, Gettysburg National Military Park has a budget that includes money for land acquisition - to the tune of $2.2 million.

And, if the pieces fall into place, some of those funds could potentially be used to purchase an easement to protect the Gettysburg Country Club from further development. "At the moment our goal is to discuss an easement," said park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon. But the park might consider outright purchase if an easement limiting development weren't possible, she said.

The 120-acre golf course is listed as a high priority on the park's list of properties within its 6,000-acre boundary but not owned by the National Park Service. In Gettysburg, that is true of about one out of every six acres. But properties are not always up for sale, and when they are, the park does not always have the funds to make a purchase. "Now we've got both of those, potentially," Lawhon said.

The Gettysburg Country Club fell into financial distress last year, and the bank ultimately foreclosed on the property. It went up for sale at a sheriff's auction for a minimum of $2.79 million in February, but no one placed a bid. That transferred the property back to Susquehanna Bank as the new owner. At the time, the bank's attorney implied that the property would eventually be up for sale. "Banks don't operate golf courses," Eugene Pepinsky said.

The park had been in discussions about purchasing the property with the club's previous owners, but an agreement was never reached. Now that the property is for sale and the funds are available, Lawhon said the park will likely try again. "I think it shows that there's certainly a greater chance," she said.

The Gettysburg Country Club was the site of significant fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg. On the first day of the battle, the famed Iron Brigade attacked across Willoughby Run onto what is now the golf course, driving back a Confederate brigade and capturing its commander, Gen. James Archer. Later in the day, Confederate Gen. James Pettigrew's North Carolina brigade advanced across the golf course to attack the Iron Brigade near the run. Both brigades lost more than 1,000 men that day.

If the park does succeed in acquiring the property, it couldn't come at a better time for some preservationists. Earlier this week, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) released its annual History Under Siege report, which names the top 10 endangered Civil War battlefields. As usual, Gettysburg is on the list. But this time, the Gettysburg Country Club is specifically named as a property at risk of further development. "We'd love to see it preserved," said Mary Koik, spokeswoman for the CWPT.

Like the park, the CWPT has also inquired about purchasing the property, but Koik said the asking price is just too high. In other words, there's no guarantee the country club will go from the bank to a group, like the park or the CWPT, interested in preserving it.

It's also not the only property the park could use the $2.2 million land-acquisition funds to purchase. The country club is one of 80 parcels of land within the park not owned by the Park Service. Of those 80, 33 are listed as high priority.

Lawhon wouldn't comment specifically on what other parcels are on the park's radar. Again, it depends on whether there's a willing seller, she said. "If somebody wants to talk to us about selling an easement or selling their property, we want them to call us," she said. "It's not going to do us any good if the owners aren't interested in talking to us."

Lawhon said the park received word of its $6.5 million 2009 budget just recently. In addition to the $2.2 million for land acquisition, the budget also includes an increase of $689,000 for park operations and $200,000 for battlefield rehabilitation. About $152,000 of the operations increase is allocated for fixed-cost increases, such as salaries, and the rest is allocated for additional programming, Lawhon said.

The operations budget increase is welcome news, Lawhon said, because the park has for years not been able to fill positions when employees left or retired. The result is a total of 17 vacant positions in Gettysburg, she said. "That (increase) is a direct response to that concern," she said. "There's so many vacant positions because money has been so tight."

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