National Park officials consider future of battlefield

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

REPUBLIC, Mo. -- Development isn't encroaching on Wilson's Creek National Battlefield -- at least not yet. But nature is.

Nearly a century and a half after the 1861 Confederate victory at Wilson's Creek, the trees and brush are so thick and the grass so tall that it may be difficult for visitors to imagine how a battle could have been fought.

With that in mind, National Park Service officials decided to come up with the Civil War battlefield's first management plan in 25 years. The 120-page document includes three different scenarios, including one that would leave things as they are. But no decision will be made without public comment, said Richard Lusardi, park superintendent.

While Lusardi would like to see the battlefield restored to its Civil War appearance, mostly he wants to fend off problems that have plagued other battlefields. Other cities have built roads through battlegrounds, allowed concessionaires in and paved over history with commercial developments, Lusardi said.

"It's what happened on the East Coast -- the same identical pressures," said Lusardi. "We are a few steps ahead of them in that there's still time to sit back and say, 'Can we do a better job of planning the road system or planning development around the battlefield?"'

Wilson's Creek is one of the few relatively untouched Civil War battlefields, Lusardi said.

Three options

The three options under consideration would:

Leave things as they are.

Restore the scene as it was during the Civil War. That would include clearing trees and brush and rerouting walking and equestrian paths to mimic trails that existed in 1861. Park officials could set limits on running, hiking, cycling and horseback riding. This plan is favored by Lusardi and other local officials.

Turn the memorial into a regional research center, stockpiling and interpreting information from battlefields west of the Mississippi. As researchers gathered information about the site and its surroundings, park management could seek agreements with neighbors to protect or acquire more property. Local park officials could make some areas off-limits to equestrians, cyclists and runners.

Lusardi noted there is still much to do before coming up with a final plan for the battlefield. A 60-day comment period will include public meetings and could involve rewriting the plan.

Unlike some other sites, Wilson's Creek isn't trying to rescue itself from development.

"Most of the other battlefields are being overcome with 'progress,"' said John Purtell of the Civil War Roundtable of the Ozarks. "Gettysburg is being destroyed by progress."

Nearly all the land on which fighting took place at Wilson's Creek is protected.

Nearby development

Still, development rumbles nearby.

"If you look at aerial photography," said Lusardi, "over the last few years you see massive growth in Battlefield and Republic and Springfield encroaching this way." Potential routes for a new U.S. 60 could pass within three-quarters of a mile of the battlefield, he added.

Judy Shoemaker, who runs Wilson's Creek Boarding Stables near the battlefield, agrees with that concern. "I'd hate to see it develop commercially," she said. "I'd like to see it kept in a rural atmosphere."

But limiting cycling or running wouldn't sit well with some people.

"We do appreciate the facility," said Mary Goss, who runs and bikes at Wilson's Creek. "We just enjoy it at a different pace."

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