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9. Private Ownership, Preservation, and Public Access

Most of the battlefield land in the Valley is privately owned. Only two battlefields offer public access with interpretive facilities for visitors: New Market and Cedar Creek. Two hundred-eighty acres of the core area of the New Market battlefield are encompassed by the New Market Battlefield Park, owned and interpreted by the Virginia Military Institute. The National Trust and the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation jointly administer about 400 acres of Belle Grove Mansion and the Cedar Creek battlefield core. The recently opened Hupp's Hill Battlefield Park and Study Center, also at Cedar Creek, interprets the role of the Valley in the Civil War and also preserves sections of reconstructed and original fieldworks on the property.

Limited public access to several other sites is provided by preservation groups that own battlefield land. A private, non- profit preservation organization, the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS), holds 195 acres at Fisher's Hill, 7 acres at Port Republic, and more than 100 acres at McDowell. The private, non-profit Lee-Jackson Foundation owns 100 acres at Cross Keys and an additional 100 acres at McDowell, adjacent to the APCWS property. These groups allow public access to their properties, but entry points are neither marked nor advertised. This situation typically limits visitation of these properties to the organizations' members or to serious students of the war who come as part of a guided tour. Bus tours of the Shenandoah Valley battlefields are conducted periodically by the Smithsonian Institute, by Civil War Roundtables, and by the APCWS. Interpretation at these sites ranges from none to minimal.

About 170 acres of the First Kernstown core area are held by the Glen Burnie Trust, but access to this land is restricted. Twenty-one acres of the Tom's Brook battlefield core are encompassed by a county recreational park, but no interpretation of the battle is offered, and the site lacks a suitable vantage point from which to interpret the battle action. Seven acres surrounding the significant Civil War fortification, Star Fort, in Winchester, are owned by a private Civil War reenactment group, and visitation of this unmarked site is encouraged. Holy Cross Abbey owns two-thirds of the core area of Cool Spring battlefield and has pledged to preserve the property. The Abbey allows visitation with prior arrangement. At Piedmont, the northern half of the core area has been included in an agricultural preservation district that excludes non-agricultural development for seven years until 1998, when the district must be renewed. Visitation of this site is typically restricted to the public roads and an adequate driving tour of the area has not been published. A small portion of Cedar Creek and Fisher's Hill battlefields falls within holdings of the Shenandoah National Forest. Figure 6 summarizes the current state of public access, private ownership, and land protection.

Beyond these holdings and commitments, the remainder of the acreage of the Shenandoah Valley's battlefields is privately owned and unprotected by any formal designation or commitment. Access to private property at these sites is understandably discouraged under current arrangements. Local landowners repeatedly expressed their anger over relic hunters who trespassed and left a gate open for livestock to escape or a field full of unfilled holes. Landowners do not like to spend extra time keeping track of trespassers.

Many of the Valley's battlefields could be adequately interpreted from the public roads if interpretive materials were produced and disseminated. Some limited access to private property would certainly enhance the experience of visiting the battlefield in many cases and serve to attract more visitors.

Public access to battlefields is a complex issue that can be resolved only by negotiation between a responsible agent and private landowners. Landowners wish to maintain their privacy and security. Many, however, would allow limited or scheduled access to their property if concerns over liability and related matters could be resolved. In some cases, right-of-way easements could be purchased to allow visitors to follow a hiking trail across portions of a battlefield or to reach a vantage point from where the field could be studied. There are precedents for granting this type of access for hiking and nature trails in other States, notably Vermont, where landowners have expressed satisfaction with the Trails for Vermont program. Virginia law waives liability for persons who allow fox hunters on their property. These and other models could be studied for their applicability to Civil War battlefields. The more of these arrangements that can be contracted, the less need there may be at some sites for preservation interests to acquire land or easements to protect and interpret a battlefield. Federal and State governments could develop incentives to encourage landowner cooperation.

There is certainly a national constituency for battlefield landscape preservation. Based on comments received on the draft of this report, the local governments of Frederick and Highland Counties and the City of Winchester, as well as private preservation groups, would support the creation of a park at one or more sites in the Shenandoah Valley.

It is the strong recommendation of the study team that whatever approach to preservation is taken, that local residents and elected officials be included as partners in the process, and that any land acquisition be from willing sellers.


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Creation Date: 3/13/95

Last Update 7/17/95 by VLC