Chickamauga Battlefield, the nation's oldest and largest Civil War battlefield, gets about 1 million visitors a year.
Yet its most heavily used entrance, LaFayette Road, is hardly a grand gateway. A vacant bowling alley, fast-food restaurants and strip malls are some of the sights visitors see before they enter hallowed ground.
Now, however, LaFayette Road is due for a $3 million facelift courtesy of the federal government.
Fort Oglethorpe announced Monday it received the funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission to fix up eight-tenths of a mile of LaFayette Road just north of Chickamauga Battlefield.
"It's going to turn that stretch of road into a showpiece," Mayor Lynn Long said at a news conference at City Hall.
Improvements will include burying overhead utility lines, installing bike lanes, crosswalks, new sidewalks, streetlights and a landscaped median in the center of a the five-lane road to "calm" traffic. The Georgia Department of Transportation will oversee the construction, which could begin as early as spring.
The Appalachian Regional Commission, established in 1965 by an act of Congress, works to improve economic conditions in 13 Appalachian states. This is the largest grant it's ever made in Georgia.
"This project will be a game-changer for Fort Oglethorpe and for Chickamauga Battlefield," said Gretchen Corbin, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, in a statement. Her department houses the Appalachian Regional Commission's Georgia office.
Long thinks the improvements will entice battlefield-bound tourists to stop and spend money in Fort Oglethorpe.
"We want every dime they've got," the mayor said at the news conference. "We want to send them home poverty-stricken."
Long, a former real estate broker, said there's been interest in the past to build a motel and restaurant where the vacant bowling alley stands.
"I think that development can be rekindled," he said.
City officials and residents have worked for years to revitalize LaFayette Road, the city's oldest commercial district. A group of volunteers, including former City Councilman Louis Hamm, traveled in May 2011 to take a "Communities Bordering Public Lands" course at the National Conservation Training Center at Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Fort Oglethorpe's proximity to Chickamauga Battlefield helped it get the $3 million, Hamm said.
"Without it, we could not have gotten this grant," he said. "For a city our size to get this kind of grant, it's an achievement."
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.