National Park Service

State of the Park Reports

State of the Park Report for
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Chapter 4 - Key Issues and Challenges for Consideration in Management Planning

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park preserves a vast landscape upon which occurred a strategically consequential event in perhaps the most tragic and transformational period in American history. The park has become one of the most important recreational green spaces in a major US metropolitan area, receiving more than 1.9 million visitors in 2012. It is the most visited Civil War Park in the NPS system. Managers have a continuing challenge to balance the multiple goals of preserving these outstanding cultural and natural resources while providing for increasing demands for outdoor recreation opportunities from a growing metropolitan area population. Of the utmost importance for all park users is safety.

Access to the top of Kennesaw Mountain is considered a "mission critical" element of the park interpretive experience, helping visitors understand the strategic importance of Kennesaw Mountain during the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War. The mountain road was constructed for vehicular access. It is steep (12% grade), winding (9 blind curves), and narrow (10-feet. wide driving lanes), with little or no shoulder. The foot trail to the top of the mountain is steep and rocky, and is not handicap or stroller accessible. The 1.5 mile road has become a popular exercise and training location for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, creating significant safety concerns. These activities have increased dramatically within the past ten years, amplifying safety issues and generating substantial conflicts between different user groups. Pedestrians, often 2–3 abreast and pushing baby strollers, walking dogs, wearing headphones, and some walking backwards, travel in the traffic lanes which interferes with approaching vehicles, therefore forcing vehicles into the oncoming traffic lane. Bird enthusiasts regularly gather in groups of 20–50 on the mountain road obstruct traffic lanes, with binoculars focused skyward unaware of approaching traffic. Bicyclists often ride two or more abreast going uphill, requiring vehicles to pass in the oncoming traffic lane. Bicyclists regularly exceed the 25 mph speed limit on their descent, reaching speeds in excess of 40–50 mph and creating a hazard for themselves, pedestrians, and motorists. An Engineering Study prepared in 2003 by the Federal Highway Administration identified major safety concerns with the mixed usage of the Kennesaw Mountain Road. This was echoed by a 2004 analysis by Federal transportation planners who found it imperative that safe alternatives for pedestrians and bicycles be developed. Many mountain road users recognize these dangers, and have shared their concerns regarding "near misses" between all three user groups.

The park is an island of green surrounded by suburban development, consisting of 38 homeowner associations. The park roadways have become a commuter traffic thoroughfare. The majority of this traffic is cut-through or non-park traffic as confirmed by the high number of non-recreational visits (11 million non-recreational to 1.9 million recreational). The park estimates that 97,000 cars pass through the park per day. Virtually all park roads are already operating beyond capacity and affecting roadway safety. The park experiences about 200 accidents per year including several fatalities. The level of service on many roads is D, E, and F. Projections show a worsening situation representing gridlock (LOS F) in 2030. Over the years, park resources and the visitor experience have been progressively fragmented and degraded by the growing traffic volumes and its associate affects. Visitors are affected by the poor capacity and safety on park roads, the fragmented resource, and the degraded visitor experience. To tour the park's significant sites, visitors must leave and return to the park several times while traveling on a series of congested park, state, and county roads. This circuitous, congested routing distracts from the desired visitor experience, fragments the interpretive story, and also impacts law enforcement and maintenance capabilities. There is pressure to expand the park-owned roadways to better accommodate the heavy volume of commuter traffic.

Park trails extend to either side of several busy public road corridors. Because the park maintains trails that extend to either side of at least three busy road corridors, the park staff has been adding traffic signals and traffic calming elements as possible. Currently these are used to link trails, parking lots and other park features. Crossings of most concern presently include two along Burnt Hickory Road, and one along Dallas Road. Cobb County Department of Transportation assisted park staff with the crossing at Cheatham Hill Road by installing a flashing yellow light that can be activated by the park visitor. The park plans to add more traffic calming and pedestrian safety features such as flashing signs to improve safety at pedestrian crosswalks.

Staffing is very limited for the size of the park, with only fourteen full time employees, one term employee, and four seasonal employees. The National Park Service staff to visitor ratio average is 1:18,500, Civil War Battlefields average 1:18,245, and Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is one staff person to 126,000 visitors. The staff maximizes visitor services and operations through park volunteers and court-ordered community service workers. The latter assist with general maintenance while the park volunteers help maintain the 20 miles of park trails, provide roving interpretation, conduct living history programs and demonstrations, conduct research, staff the visitor center front desk, and remove exotic and invasive plants. Although the staff is very creative when it comes to providing a quality visitor experience, the fact remains that it is rare to see a uniformed employee outside in the resource unless it has to do with a visitor protection issue. The development of a Friends group could provide funding to increase seasonal and term staff levels, thus allowing the park to conduct more interpretive programs. Through interpretation, the recreational visitor can be better educated on the importance and significance of the park, therefore becoming better stewards of the park's resources.

Management strategies are needed for recent and anticipated land acquisitions, including the Hensley property, and the soon to be acquired Hays and Leavell properties. The possible addition of 58 more acres will protect and preserve the entrenchments, rifle pits and cannon placements for the 1864 battle. With a small staff, there remains the challenge of how to best interpret, manage and protect the additional land without further impact to the staff. At present, the park relies on the support of staff from the National Park Service Southeast Region for expertise with natural and cultural resources, as these are both areas of great limitation amongst the current staff. With other parks in the Southeast Region having similar needs for expertise and support from specialists in the regional office, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the park to get the support it needs.

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Last Updated: March 13, 2014 Contact Webmaster