Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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Another Master Plan Revision

With the Nathanael Greene Monument restoration finally completed, management was at last free to focus on issues confronting the park as it approaches the twenty-first century. Aggressive urban development continues to be the order of the day in the park's environs. Old Battleground Road remains a major safety hazard and obstacle to the effective interpretation of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. Roughly ten thousand vehicles per day cross the park on this roadway. This road with its heavy traffic volume was cited in a 1994 General Accounting Office report as as an instance of serious damage to a historical landmark inflicted as a result of "activities originating outside the [park] boundaries that adversely affect park resources . . ." [1] Total park visitation for 1994 was 3,268,604, almost four hundred per cent more than the first comprehensive counts made in 1966. Key issues identified in the Statement for Management and the Resource Management Plan included definition of the park's place in an increasingly urban environment, the closure of Old Battleground Road, and the lack of archaeological data to support effective protection, interpretation and maintenance of the historic scene. [2]

Superintendent Woods noted soon after his posting to Guilford Courthouse that the park's 1968 Master Plan bore only a general resemblance to reality. Aside from the never constructed northern by-pass road whose conception had caused such problems during the then late 1980s, planners clearly had not foreseen the pace of urban development or the extent of its multiple impacts upon the park. As such it offered little meaningful guidance for effective facility mangement in the future. Nevertheless, since the completion of the 1968 Master Plan and the subsequent Development Concept Plan, management had failed to identify additional park planning needs. Woods corrected this oversight by updating the Outline of Planning Assessments and requesting a Management Objectives Workshop for 1994, thus setting the stage for a Master Plan (now called General Management Plan) revision.

A two-day Management Objectives Workshop was held at the visitor center in May 1994. Participants included more than thirty representatives of City, County, State, and Federal agencies, as well as academic institutions, neighbors and interested citizens. At these sessions a series of six clear statements of intent were hammered out to guide park management and provide parameters for the new General Management Plan. Among these Management Objectives or goals were declarations encompassing Interpretation and Education, Cultural/Natural Resources Preservation, Visitor Experience, On/Off-Site Circulation, Partnerships, and Recreational uses. [3] Four of the six management objectives are directed toward fostering visitor appreciation of the battle's history and the park's purpose as mandated in its enabling legislation. The others relate to establishing partnerships in the community and facilitating non-traditional recreational uses that do not conflict with other management objectives.

The next stage in the process was a Visitor Use Survey prepared in conjunction with the Office of Park and Tourism Research, North Carolina State University, and conducted in August-September, 1994. Results of this survey indicate that most park visitors (70%) live within five miles of the park, arrive by automobile (60%), visit in the summer (88%), average 2.2 visits per week, favor Saturday over any other day to use the facility (68%), and remain in the park 1.75 hours per visit. The most popular activity, engaged in by fifty-six per cent of visitors, is "to walk or jog along the Tour Road." Twenty-seven per cent note that they use walking trails primarily to view plants and twenty-five per cent use the trails to view theme-related exhibits. Forty-seven per cent favor permanent closure of Old Battleground Road. [4] This survey tends to confirm staff observations that most visitors use the facility for recreational purposes.

Combining the Management Objectives with insights into visitor use activities and preferences derived from the survey, four preliminary General Management Plan (GMP) scenarios were developed by staff members of the Southeast Region Division of Planning and Compliance in consultation with the park management team. Each proposal has an overriding theme, and each calls for progressively greater changes in park operations.

"Alternative 1" calls for little change in the way the park is managed. Three physical changes are contemplated. The abandoned Atlantic and Yadkin Railroad bed, currently used as a voluntary foot trail, would be revegetated to resemble its 1781 appearance. A proposed Bicentennial Greenway would be rerouted away from the railroad bed to a path closer to the visitor center. The tour road bicycle lane would be widened to its original width of eight feet. [5]

"Alternative 2" concentrates on improved visitor service by emphasizing changes in information dissemination and interpretation. Specifically, additional bulletin boards and wayside interpretive structures would be placed at key park locations. Information about the park's landscape and environment would be integrated into the battle story. Traffic control devices would be considered for the Old Battleground Road-New Garden Road intersection.

The theme of "Alternative 3" is action to further unify the park's cultural and natural resources while providing a safer environment for visitors. In accord with City of Greensboro development plans for the long-awaited urban loop, Old Battleground Road traffic would be rerouted away from the park. Park visitors would not be in contact with local traffic. The Greenway would be integrated into the park trail system. Park foot trails would be extended by several thousand feet to form a continuous trail system. A new sign system would direct park visitors as they follow the foot trails.

Unity on a grander scale is the theme of "Alternative 4." This scenario would have the NPS seek the cooperation of neighboring public parks and facilities to form a park cluster. Each unit of this cluster would preserve its own identity and mission, while working to support each other along common grounds, such as connecting walking, jogging, and biking trails. "School groups, tour groups, greenway travelers, and other park visitors would benefit from the coordination of programs, signing, and interpretive material." As in "Alternative 3", Old Battleground Road traffic would be rerouted. [6]

Public information and comment sessions were held over a four day period in March 1995. Greatest interest seemed to converge on Alternatives 3 and 4. Local media coverage emphasized that these two of the four proposed alternatives advocate the "closure" of Old Battleground Road. [7] Regular park users seemed to favor this step, but the community at large had not been heard from on this question. Given the park's history of public perception problems, as well as its emerging pattern of predominantly recreational use, it remains to be seen if this facility could successfully "preserve its own identity" as a cluster element as advocated in Alternative 4. In this context it may be worthy of note that the Preliminary Alternatives were prepared without direct input from park or regional historians.

This fact, in itself, is suggestive of the greatest challenges facing park management in the twenty-first century. Can this small, heavily encroached upon area remain true to its original purpose of preserving the Guilford Courthouse battlefield in a community marked by boisterous urban development that spawns specific and implicit demands for uses that have little in common with the purposes for which the park was established? For that matter, can this relatively little-known area effectively compete for historically inadequate and inevitably diminishing resources within the National Park Service? These are, in fact, the same central questions that might have been asked at any point in the park's modern history. Judged according to the record of past performance, the likelihood of success seems remote on both counts.

As we have seen, the park is small because its nineteenth century founders never conceived of preserving the entire battlefield area. It was adopted as a National Military Park at a time in which Congress, seeking ways to minimize historic preservation costs, favored the "Antietam Plan" precept of preservation via purchase of key sites. No parent Federal agency, neither War Department nor NPS, subsequently considered substantial additions to the area. So determined was the NPS to maintain Guilford Courthouse as a small site that management was prepared to revise its interpretation of the battle and associated structures, without benefit of additional historical or archaeological inquiry or evidence, to divest the park of acreage made burdensome by external forces of urban encroachment. That they were prevented from doing so, and were forced instead to make small additions to the site was due to the intercession of local political leadership.

NPS managers neither foresaw the park's future as a part of Greensboro, nor prepared for it. The impact of urban encroachment was heightened by management's unwillingness to work toward the maintenance of adjacent land in uses that would approximate their historic appearance. The word "easement" appears nowhere in the historical record of this facility, other than instances in which the City obtained easements for lake construction. Management was, in fact, generally oblivious to activities in the neighboring metropolis, whose long-term economic vitality foreshadowed Guilford Courthouse's modern status as an urban park. They made little or no effort to influence the outcome of local zoning decisions, or to bring to bear relevant statutes for the preservation of historic and archaeological resources. They generally failed to sway State and local governments to support the park's interests. Even more seriously, they have been unable to rally Federal agencies, including at several critical junctures the National Park Service's Southeast Regional staff, to support the park. They have also alienated the park's leading local advocates by inconsistent applications of policies and regulations.

The most critical lesson that recurs throughout this area's history is that Guilford Courthouse National Military Park's managers must be successful advocates. Whatever their skills as administrators, consensus-builders, or diplomats, no one else in or out of Government, will speak for this park or act unbidden in its behalf. Unless the park is represented by aggressive champions who will relentlessly make the case for the importance of this site's preservation before the community, its representative governing bodies, and the ruling councils of the National Park Service, its future likely will be as checkered as its past.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003