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Administrative History
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Road Controversies

As the decade of the 1980s ended several events occurred that conspired to diminish the quality of the park resource. In sum these circumstances are representative of the effects of urban development in the park community, local misunderstanding or lack of appreciation for the significance and mission of the park, and recurring instances of inconsistency in the management of this facility.

Urbanization of the park community continued. Most notable of the new developments was the construction of three new shopping centers within a half-mile radius of the visitor center. The combination of these businesses and the area's intensive residential development produced geometric increases in volumes of traffic on area roadways. By 1991 Old Battleground Road (State Road 2340) carried an average of almost nine thousand vehicles per day. The portion of park-owned New Garden Road that remained open to traffic handled four thousand seven hundred vehicles per day. These averages represented an essentially identical increase of two hundred seventy-five per cent for each roadway since 1971 when similar figures were compiled for the Environmental Statement and Development Concept Plan. [1] Little or nothing had been done to upgrade area roadways to accommodate increasing traffic volumes.

Management was justifiably concerned about the effects of heavy commuter traffic on Old Battleground Road. Aside from the never-evaluated potential for damage to cultural and natural resources caused by the release of hydrocarbons from vehicle exhausts, there was considerable danger to park visitors who were forced to twice cross busy Old Battleground Road to complete the battlefield tour. Collisions became increasingly common at Old Battleground's New Garden Road and Holt Avenue intersections. Old Battleground also constituted a significant intrusion on the historic scene. For these reasons management met and corresponded with City and State officials as early as December 1982 to seek some means by which Old Battleground Road could be closed at the park's boundaries. Out of these discussions came the conclusion that Old Battleground could be abandoned, but that in order to handle increased traffic flows on neighboring roadways preliminary improvements would have to be made to U.S. 220, Cotswold Terrace and New Garden Road. State and local governments all expressed their support for this concept but none were willing to provide even partial funding. Lacking financial support the proposal was deferred. [2]

Shortly thereafter park neighbors began making known to the City Council their concerns about heavy through-traffic on their residential streets. Most vocal among these were the homeowners on Cottage Place along the park's northern boundary. This group had opposed the closing of New Garden Road, fearing that their street would receive the bulk of the displaced commuter traffic traveling between Lawndale Drive and Old Battleground Road. Their fears had been justified. The Service had attempted to allay these concerns with assurances conveyed in the park's Development Concept Plan that within fifteen years a major outer-loop roadway system, Painter Boulevard, would eliminate commuter traffic from their neighborhood. By 1988 fourteen years had elapsed and Painter Boulevard remained an uninitiated, long-range plan. Out of patience and citing the danger that heavy traffic posed to the community's children, the residents of Cottage Place petitioned the City Council to close their street at its Lawndale Drive intersection. The Council assented and barricades were erected.

A backlash followed. Commuters complained of being inconvenienced and residents of other neighborhoods objected to this supposed evidence of partiality shown to the prosperous residents of Cottage Place. City planners, anticipating a deluge of identical requests from other subdivisions with similar traffic problems, sought a workable compromise that would allow the reopening of Cottage Place and silence citizen complaints. Their search led them to dredge up the old NPS idea of constructing an east-west by-pass through the park's northern periphery. Although this notion had been dropped from the 1974 Development Concept Plan, it remained a part of the widely-circulated 1968 Guilford Courthouse NMP Master Plan. The community's older residents could recall that for twenty years the Service had lobbied for the construction of a similar east-west connector to supplant New Garden Road. Seeing in this an irresistably simple solution to a tricky political situation, City Planners were dispatched to the park to formally request permission to construct the long-deferred east-west road through the park. They did not come alone. Representatives of the North Carolina Department of Transportation also attended and announced their intention of widening State Road 2340, Old Battleground Road, from eighteen to twenty-two feet. [3]

To no one's surprise, Superintendent Danielson opposed the City's by-pass proposal. It had been his objection to the Service's version of a similar east-west connector that precipitated its deletion from the park's Development Concept Plan. The City Planners probably had anticipated this rebuff. The next day the Greensboro City Council was briefed by the Director of its Traffic and Transportation Division, Richard Atkins, as to the state of traffic problems in the area. He also outlined the by-pass proposal, specifically noting the Service's earlier plan to build a similar roadway. He concluded that local park management's rejection of the proposition was irrelevant because, "I don't think the gentlemen out there can speak for the Park Service." The City clearly could speak for the State, however. The Council directed Atkins to pursue the east-west connector plans in discussions with the Southeast Regional Office. In return for this concession the City was prepared to close Old Battleground Road. [4] A delegation led by Richard Atkins traveled to Atlanta on 23 May 1988 to meet with the Southeast Region's Director Robert M. Baker, his staff, and the park management team. At this session Baker indicated his disapproval of the City's proposal. [5]

Meanwhile the State continued to assert its right to widen the very roadway that its agent, the City, simultaneously was prepared to abandon. In response to the Superintendent's request for guidance, the Regional Solicitor offered an opinion that the State's Old Battleground Road right-of-way was obtained by "prescriptive use ripening into prescriptive easement." The State concurred in this assessment. The Solicitor continued that this right-of-way was limited to the original width of eighteen feet that existed on the "dates that the underlying fee was acquired." Therefore, the road could not be expanded unless the Service first granted a right-of-way or permit. The State clearly did not share this view. Within two weeks survey stakes appeared on park property indicative of the State's determination to widen the road by a total of four feet. Investigating, management ascertained that a contract had been let that required the project's completion within thirty days. [6]

Seventeen days later the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation received notice from the Southeast Region's Director that the project would be permitted to proceed "without protest or legal action," or, for that matter, without the submission of an environmental impact statement or reference to the State Historic Preservation Officer. Grounds for approval were unspecified "safety considerations," and the definition of the under taking as "a maintenance project, even though the pavement will be extended three (two?) feet on either side." [7]

Simultaneously the City was engaged in planning another road expansion project that would require the accession of park lands. Early in 1987 park management received notice of the City's intent to widen Lawndale Drive along the eastern boundary. This proposal was mentioned at the 23 May Atlanta conference, and Regional Director Baker expressed his willingness to reconvene at a later date to consider that proposal. Not until 18 July 1988 was an application received requesting access to 1,024 linear feet (28,227 square feet) of park property for the extension of Lawndale Drive by thirty-two feet and the construction of sidewalks along the park boundary. In the interval Jerry Rogers, Associate Director for Cultural Resources, visited the park to inspect areas threatened by municipal encroachment. On this occasion he gave his approval to park management's proposal that the Lawndale right-of-way be granted as a quid pro quo for the closure of Old Battleground Road. [8]

This would have been a reasonable exchange for both parties. Municipal planners, sensitive to the City Council's complaints that they had been surprised by news of northwest Greensboro's burgeoning traffic problems, were anxious to upgrade the carrying capacity of Lawndale Drive. By their description the stretch adjacent the park was a "bottleneck" in a "twenty foot ribbon pavement street" that carried "nearly 20,000 units" per day. The City's willingness to close north-south Old Battleground Road in return for the construction of an east-west by-pass offered hope that they might see a much improved north-south Lawndale Drive as an even better trade. At least Lawndale and Old Battleground served similar functions. Such an exchange would not silence the complaints from Cottage Place, but it would significantly improve the area's transportation system. It would also enhance the City's most significant historical resource, Guilford Courthouse NMP. [9]

In due course the issues raised by the City's request and the park's counteroffer were submitted to the Regional Solicitor for Review. From the park's perspective his response could not have been more favorable. In an opinion offered in the autumn of 1988 the Regional Solicitor held that the Service's authority to grant rights-of-way across park lands was limited to cases involving "federal aid, interstate, or defense highways." As such, "no right-of-way may be granted to the City" for the Lawndale Drive extension. However, by virtue of the exchange authority of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, as amended, the park could trade the Lawndale property in return for "a conveyance of fee title to Old Battleground Road, after which the latter could be closed." He noted that a similar transaction had taken place at Gettysburg NMP, and that this "use of the exchange authority was approved by the Federal District Court in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Morton. . . ." [10]

Unfortunately, by the time this supportive opinion was issued the situation had changed fundamentally. On 8 July 1988 a summit conference was convened at Guilford Courthouse NMP to allow the City's representatives to make their case for the by-pass road on site. Representing the City were Assistant City Manager James Baugh, Assistant Public Works Director Tracy Peters, and Traffic Engineer Richard Atkins. Appearing for the park were Associate Regional Director for Planning W. Thomas Brown, Deputy Regional Director Carroll W. Ogle, and the park management team, Superintendent Danielson and Chief Ranger Charles A. Taylor. Also in attendance was Thomas Phillips representing the Guilford Battleground Company, who to their credit had risen above past differences and opposed the cession of park property for municipal road-building purposes.

The City had pared its original request to construct a thirty six foot by-pass on a sixty foot right-of-way. The revised proposal called for a less obtrusive twenty-four foot road on a thirty foot right-of-way. Greensboro's only daily newspaper reported that this change was not well received. "The Park Service made it pretty clear that building a road on park property was not acceptable." The press account also made it clear that neither side evinced notable diplomatic skills in this parley. The Service's favored alternative would have the City purchase and raze twenty-two neighboring homes, at an estimated cost of three million dollars, to make way for the desired connector. Assistant City Manager Baugh rejected this proposal saying, "That doesn't sound like a good deal for the citizens of Greensboro." The balance of the meeting might be characterized as an extended comparison of traffic conditions and motorists' expectations in Greensboro and metropolitan Atlanta. The clear and tactically unfortunate implication of these remarks was that local drivers expected too much, and that Greensboro's traffic problems were insignificant. A typical exchange began with a Park Service representative's observation that Pisgah Church Road, a mile south of the park, was an acceptable connector between Lawndale Drive and U.S. 220. The conclusion, "That doesn't sound like much of an inconvenience," was challenged by Assistant Public Works Director Peters who remarked, "The people who drive it think it is." "Drive Atlanta for a while," replied Associate Regional Director Brown. "Our people are used to a different standard," concluded Assistant City Manager Baugh. [11]

The municipal conferees duly reported the results of this session to the City Council on 14 July 1988. Public Works Director Michael Dawkins characterized as "cool" the Service's reaction to the by-pass proposal. He further indicated that a written version of the plan would be submitted to the Southeast Regional Office where he expected it to be rejected.

The Council reacted with some heat to this news. One member fumed, "I cannot understand their thinking. There's no way we'll be able to close that road [Old Battleground Road] now and help them out." Mayor Victor N. Nussbaum responded acidly, "Their thinking is no thinking." [12] Deprived of their simplest immediate solution for the area's traffic problems, the Council elected to concentrate their efforts on initiating the long-deferred Painter Boulevard project and upgrading Lawndale Drive.

The City delegation made another, more successful trip to Atlanta to plead their case for the widening of Lawndale Drive. This meeting were arranged by Greensboro Parks Director Roger Brown who had prior acquaintances with several members of the Regional Office staff. Significantly, the Guilford Courthouse management team was not privy to this session. Local management's first and apparently only indication of the meeting's outcome came by telephone. An exchange had been arranged whereby the City would obtain 28,277 square feet of park lands needed to widen Lawndale Drive. In return the park would receive property of equivalent value. Unfortunately the consideration the park would receive was not the closure of Old Battleground Road. Although the City had been willing enough to abandon Old Battleground for the right to build the east-west connector, they would not make the same concession for Lawndale Drive. For reasons that were never explained, they did not have to do so. In negotiations conducted by City and SER officials it was decided that in exchange for the Lawndale property the park would receive a plat of comparable size along the inaccessible and steeply sloping banks of old Lake Caldwell on the eastern boundary between the Military Park and the Country Park. [13]

Superintendent Danielson declined to appeal this decision to Associate Director Rogers, on whose authority the Lawndale for Old Battleground negotiation was initiated. With that judgment the question essentially was settled. The battlefield would be sandwiched between major multi-lane roadways on its eastern boundary and western approaches, and Old Battleground Road would continue to bisect the the park between the first and second battle lines.

The issues that gave rise to the unfortunate road controversies of the late 1980s had multiple sources. Most significant was the refusal of local and State governments to act on their outer-loop plan, originally proposed in the late 1950s, before development had overburdened area roadways and driven up associated land acquisition costs. City government compounded this omission by essentially abdicating its traffic engineering responsibilities in northwest Greensboro until the outcry from Cottage Place forced them to take action.

NPS actions exacerbated this situation. The Service's long-term advocacy of a northern by-pass to supplant New Garden Road must be considered myopic given the consistent evidence that Greensboro would inevitably overrun the park, bringing with it geometrically expanding traffic volumes on all local connectors. The renunciation of this concept was clearly in the best interest of the area's preservation, but it was not handled skillfully. The widely distributed 1968 Master Plan was never revised to reflect this change; and the Service's contention that Painter Boulevard would accommodate displaced commuters seems disingenuous at best. It must also be noted that minimal effort was expended to acquaint the community with the specifics of this change or to explain the reasoning behind it. Direct results included the use of the park Master Plan as justification for a proposal to achieve the City's traffic engineering and political ends. The turmoil that erupted on Cottage Place might also be considered a consequence, in that the State and City both stated that the Painter Boulevard project was "unscheduled," clearly meaning that the likelihood of its completion was remote. This set the stage for the growing disillusionment of area homeowners that in turn led to the City's demands for cessions of park lands.

The Service's refusal to help the City's leaders out of their predicament clearly soured park-municipal relations. City Council sessions in this contentious period were often punctuated by statements indicating lack of sympathy for the park or profound ignorance of its purposes and responsibilities. The 14 July 1988 meeting where Mayor Nussbaum stated, "Their (NPS) thinking is no thinking," has been previously cited. An earlier (1 June 1988) session is also noteworthy in this context. With regard to the Lawndale widening project it was interjected that some people considered the park land to be sacred; that if the Service clung to this point of view the road would have to be expanded to the east toward businesses and residences, thereby entailing greater construction expenses. Councilman Robert Mays, whose constituency included the testy Cottage place residents, retorted that the notion of the park property along Lawndale Drive as "sacred" was "ridiculous." He saw there only a gravel-strewn road shoulder, in an area that earlier generations of NPS planners had argued was unworthy of inclusion in the park. Mayor Nussbaum concurred: "That is what Congressmen are for." [14]

Such exchanges clearly suggest that City leaders were inclined to view the park as available open space to be utilized as needed to resolve municipal problems, traffic or otherwise. From such a climate of official disrespect it is perhaps not surprising that an unprecedented act of vandalism would grow.

A troubling aspect of this phase of park history was the handling of the initiative to widen Lawndale Drive in return for Old Battleground Road's closure. The decision to cease this line of negotiation certainly seems to represent a lost opportunity to dramatically improve Guilford Courthouse NMP. Ironically, the very statutory authorities that could have been used to countenance this exchange were employed to justify the final settlement that was of much greater benefit to the City than to the park. [15] Even more troubling is the fact that park management was excluded from this decision-making process, even with regard to the selection of City property to be added to the park via exchange. From this it must be inferred that either the City found Southeast Region officials to be a more receptive audience, or that SERO lacked faith in local management's abilities, or both. In either case the suggestion is clear that park management was incapable of effectively representing the National Park Service and serving as advocate for Guilford Courthouse NMP. This would be a perilous position for any National Park, but particularly so for a small area in a rapidly evolving urban environment. Just how costly such a leadership vacuum can be to an avowedly enduring resource was made clear on the night of 4-5 July 1989 when the park's most notable historic structure was essentially destroyed, and in the following weeks and months when the restoration was sadly mismanaged.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003