Little Round Top at Gettysburg National Military Park is shown in this February 12, 2011, photograph.
Little Round Top is one of the most popular destination for tourists and history buffs, a spot made more popular through the popular media such as the book Killer Angels and the corresponding film Gettysburg. Images of Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine Infantry charging down the slope into and through the stunned ranks of Confederate attackers have been reinforced by Hollywood.
So many other thoughts come to mind with the prominent Adams County hilltop — rubbing the bronze nose of the bust of Paddy O’Rourke, climbing the stairs of the 44th New York monument, the perpetual gaze of the G. K. Warren statue, and the stories of my native Zanesville, Ohio’s hometown hero, artilleryman Charles Hazlett. Sharpshooters from Devil’s Den mortally wounded a Union general on this rocky eminence.
Tour buses abound. Licensed Battlefield Guides show enthralled visitors the sweeping vista and try to get them to understand the tactics of the fighting along Plum Run and on the slopes of Little Round Top. Kids play on the rocks (and hopefully stay off the gun carriages). Tour groups and muster groups walk the terrain. For much of the summer, Little Round Top is a focal point of the battlefield park.
And, it is the subject of close attention from the National Park Service.
The National Park Service issues a quarterly newsletter for the Gettysburg National Military Park. An article in the Winter 2010-11 issue outlines NPS concerns that the massive amount of trampers and tourists are degrading the historic hillside. “National Park Service (NPS) measures to encourage visitors to stay on paved pathways have included signs, bollards and chains along the perimeter of paved walkways, closures of non-paved paths, and placing vegetation in some of the heavily eroded areas. All of these measures have offered very limited success in keeping visitors on paths and stopping the degradation of natural and cultural resources.”
The problem is, “Visitors merely go around the barriers, and open new trails or re-enter eroded areas.” Over time, this contributes to erosion. According to the NPS, “A Cultural Landscape Report for Little Round Top is a park priority for 2011. The intent of this project is to provide solutions for overcrowding and landscape degradation on and around the area known as Little Round Top and to identify appropriate locations for visitor services including restrooms, parking, access and interpretive zones. The park needs to clearly understand the traffic and pedestrian uses of the project area. A traffic use survey/study for vehicles and pedestrians is important and necessary.”
The article continues, “The project goal would be to provide a complete physical history of the project area, according to the standards set forth in the NPS’s A Guide to Cultural Landscape Reports (1998). The report will focus on a detailed site map of the 1863 landscape and cultural features, including land use, topography, built features (including fences and breastworks), circulation (roads/lanes), and vegetation (agricultural fields, woodlots, orchards, etc.). In addition, mapping will include analysis of commemorative features as well as NPS development on Little Round Top. Battle action mapping would also be included.”
The Park Service delayed this study for several years because of a lack of proper funding. The cost is within the 2011 budget, so the much needed assessment will take place this year. We applaud the NPS in its efforts to preserve and interpret the Gettysburg battlefield, and hope that similar efforts can be undertaken at other Civil War sites.
So much has changed in the 50 years since the Civil War Centennial. Many once pristine battlefields have been lost in that time span, including Chantilly, much of the battlefield of Atlanta, Franklin, and so many others. Let’s hope the NPS and groups such as the Civil War Trust can preserve what’s left so that five decades from now, our children and grandchildren are not lamenting additional losses.