Historian Says Best Way To Save Manassas Battlefield Is To Expand Highway Through It

Manassas Battlefield Park has been struggling with traffic for a long time. The site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the battles of Bull Run, it’s rich in Civil War history. The main reason two battles were fought there was that the Warrenton Turnpike, the main road from Virginia to Washington D.C., cut right through it.

That turnpike is now Lee Highway (Route 29) and is busier than ever. The roads are clogged with traffic through much of the day, and historic preservationists have fought any expansion of the two-lane highway because it would encroach on the park. They’ve also fought off a giant strip mall and a Disney theme park.

The traffic problem, however, is only getting worse, especially at its intersection with Sudley Road (Route 234). Traffic gets seriously backed up there, making it difficult for visitors to get around the park and passersby to continue to their destination.

Now Edwin C. Bearss, a Civil War historian and tour guide, has written an op-ed in the Washington Post with a controversial solution — expand the highways and build the proposed Bi-County Parkway, which would skirt the park. He says expanding the roads would be a small price to pay for easier access through the park, and would reduce the noise pollution caused by hundreds of idling cars waiting for the light at the intersection to change.

Other supporters of the park oppose any expansion of the roads through and around the battlefield. In such a busy region, however, history may end up taking a back seat to construction.

Scientists Preserve Cannons That Started The Civil War

Historic cannons from Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, that date to the Civil War have been meticulously conserved and returned to the fort, the National Park Service announced. Some of these big guns, weighing up to 15,000 pounds each, were used to fire on Fort Sumter just across Charleston Harbor. It was this attack on a federal fort that was the official start of the Civil War.

Scientists removed several layers of old paint from the 17 cannons and applied a coat of epoxy to protect them from rust. They also applied a durable coat of fresh paint. The cannons are exposed to the elements as well as salty, humid sea air, so choosing the right coating can make the difference between an evocative, educational exhibit and a rusting heap of trash.

Fort Moultrie is part of the Fort Sumter National Monument and has the world’s largest collection of American seacoast artillery from the 19th century. Last year a team of conservators visited Fort Sumter and treated several artillery shells from these cannons, many of which have been stuck in the fort’s walls since the day they were fired.

New study finds national parks at risk

The National Parks Conservation Association released a comprehensive report yesterday that paints a grim picture for the future of the national parks in the U.S. The report, which is entitled “The State of America’s National Parks,” examines a number of economic and environmental threats to the parks and is the result of more than a decade of research. The non-profit NPCA also calls on the Obama Administration to address those threats while developing a comprehensive plan for the future, ahead of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The report, which can be read in it’s entirety here, identifies a number of challenges to the future of America’s national parks. The threats, which are both old and new, include pollution, invasive species, climate change, and continued funding shortfalls, amongst others. The NPCA goes on to say that many of these threats are already having a real and dramatic impact on the parks. During their research they found that 63% of the parks surveyed had issues with air quality to some degree or another. Others were found to have poor water quality as well, while a staggering 95% of the parks assessed had lost at least one plant or animal species over the course of the past ten years.

According to the NPCA, the largest threats to the parks, and their natural resources, stem from two sources – human activity and climate change. In the case of the former, the development of lands surrounding the park is changing the natural habitats of wildlife and contaminating both the air and the water. It may be the latter that has the most lasting effect however, as the report cites threats to everything from the redwoods of Sequoia National Park in California to the coastlines of Katmai in Alaska, as being dramatically impacted by the changing climate.It isn’t all doom and gloom however, as the report also spotlights success stories in several parks as well. For instance, a comprehensive effort to remove non-native species, including horses, rats, and pigs, from the Channel Islands has helped the native fox species there to bounce back in numbers. Similarly, a “vessel management plan” in Glacier Bay National Park has been very successful in protecting the marine mammals that live there as well. The NPCA says that these examples show that when “National Park Service staff have sufficient financial support, up-to-date scientific information, and adequate training,” they can do positive things.

In order to protect these vital natural resources, the NPCA is calling upon the Obama Administration to create a plan for the long term management of the parks. That plan, they contend, must address the threats to the parks and create a system for monitoring the quality of the air and water found within their boundaries. The organization is also asking the President to issue an Executive Order that will commit federal resources to preparing the parks for their second one hundred years and beyond. The NPCA believes that can only be achieved by fully funding the Park Service to equip them with all the tools necessary to address these threats properly.

Considering the attendance numbers over the past few years, it is evident that Americans recognize and appreciate the value of their national parks. Hopefully this report will send the wake-up call that is necessary to ensure that those amazing natural spaces will be around in another hundred years so that new generations of Americans can enjoy them too.

[Photo credit: National Parks Conservation Association]

National Parks Gem: San Antonio Missions

The U.S. national parks system certainly isn’t lacking in fantastic destinations for summer escapes. From Yellowstone to Yosemite, there are enough natural and historical wonders to delight and enthrall travelers of all ages. But there are also a number of lesser known parks that are worth visiting as well, offering up their own unique experiences and lasting memories.

Take for example the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Located deep in the heart of Texas, the park is home to four Spanish missions, the first of which was built in 1690, more than 85 years before the United States started down the path to independence. Those missions were originally built to bring Christianity to the local population and prepare them to eventually become Spanish citizens, and they were used for decades in a variety of capacities, even after Spain and Mexico abandoned their claims on the territory.

Located within the park are Mission Espada, Mission Concepción, Mission San José, and Mission San Juan Capistrano. Each has been preserved to one degree or another, and each offers an intriguing look at a chapter in early-American history that is very different from the Colonial Era settings found in the New England states. Visitors can stroll the grounds, discovering what life in, and around the missions, was like in the 18th and 19th centuries, while admiring the historical architecture as well.The missions have played a vital role in the San Antonio community for centuries delivering a religious and cultural impact on the residents that continues even to this day. But they have also proven to be an economic boon as well, as a recent study by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has discovered. According to the study, for every federal dollar invested in the park, $20 in local economic activity is generated. In 2009 for example, $8.2 million in funds from the Park Service, and its local partners, was invested in the park, which created $98.8 million in revenue for the surrounding community and directly impacted more than a 1100 local jobs.

Despite this indelible legacy however, the Missions are facing some challenges to their future. In that same report, the NPCA recommended seven initiatives that if enacted, would help preserve the missions for future generations, while also increasing the economic impact of the park even further. Those recommendations included building a new park headquarters to help enrich the visitors experience, linking the park to the nearby San Antonio river via trails to further connect it to the community, and developing new cultural demonstrations to further immerse visitors in the historical setting. You can read the full NPCA report and recommendations by clicking here.

Like so many of the national parks in the United State, San Antonio Missions is a unique experience unlike any other. It truly is one park that needs to be visited to be fully appreciated. It is a great historical destination that is often overlooked, but when you’re passing through central Texas, take a little time away from the Riverwalk to enjoy a walk of a different kind. One that takes you back through history in a fascinating and unique setting.

[Photo Credit: Liveon001 via WikiMedia]

37 skiers were stranded in Yosemite backcountry

Earlier this week a late season blizzard hit Yosemite National Park, burying the region in snow and leaving 37 skiers stranded in the backcountry. Fortunately they all escaped unharmed, but were given a healthy reminder of the dangers of traveling in the wilderness during the winter.

A group of 21 cross country skiers made their way to the Glacier Point region of the park along a trail that stretches 10.5 miles in length. That trail ends with a spectacular view of Half Dome, the most prominent attraction in the park, and Yosemite Valley some 3000 feet below. A winter hut stands nearby, and most skiers end up spending the night there before making their way back out the following day. A blizzard struck the area on Sunday, dumping six feet of snow on the park. The snow was accompanied by high winds, which made visibility and travel nearly impossible.

When the weather cleared a few days later, the group donned their skis and headed for the Badger Pass Ski Area for help. That journey took a number of hours to complete, with each of the group members taking turns breaking trail at the front of the pack.

Meanwhile, another 16 people were stranded throughout other areas of the park, but eventually made it out as well. The Park Service used snowmobiles to create tracks that allowed some skiers to make it out on their own, while others had to be rescued by Snowcat or snowmobile.

Late in the week, most of the roads into Yosemite were still closed due to the heavy snows. As of this writing, snow chains are still required while traveling along the few roads that are open and conditions are still in a state of flux. Travelers planning to visit the area are encouraged to call 209-372-0200 (then dial 1, 1) for the most recent road conditions before they set out.

Six feet of snow in one blast? Didn’t someone send Yosemite the memo that it’s spring now?