Safeguarding the past

Safeguarding the past

May 14th, 2010 in Opinion Times

Preserving the nation's historic sites, its greenspaces and its scenic vistas has never been an easy task. The pressures of a growing and mobile population and the country's continuing shift to a suburban way of life and the infrastructure that supports it make it difficult to engage in the important but sometimes thankless task of preservation. Some groups, however, persevere in the necessary work.

One such group is the Civil War Preservation Trust. Its mission is to preserve and protect that conflict's numerous battlefields. The group has built a remarkable and positive reputation over the years and has become widely known to the public both for its overall work and for its yearly list of what it calls the nation's 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields. The 2010 list was released Thursday. As always, the list attracted a lot of attention here. It should. The region is rich in the history of that war.

The names of the battlefields on the Top 10 this year should be familiar to all Americans. Gettysburg, the Pennsylvania site of the war's largest and bloodiest battle, is the most threatened site on this year's list. A group wants to build a casino less than a mile from the park. A similar proposal was beaten back before, but the new plan and the promise it holds for additional development is no less objectionable. It should be rejected.

Approval of a huge commercial center that would include a Walmart at the gateway to the historic Wilderness battlefield in Virginia puts that site in the second spot on the endangered list. A lawsuit to halt the project is pending, but the pressure for development in the increasingly populated area is likely to pose problems for years to come.

Additional places on the list include other sites in Virginia, as well as battlefields in Arizona, West Virginia, the District of Columbia, , Georgia, Kentucky, and Maryland. Those places, of course, are not the only sites rich in the history of the period that face pressure from encroaching residential or commercial development.

The CWPT also provides an additional list of 15 sites of what it aptly calls "at risk sites." This year, the "at risk" group includes sites close to home. Both the Chickamauga Battlefield and Knoxville are included.

The effort to preserve Civil War battlefields -- as well as concomitant efforts by other worthy groups to protect other portions of the nation's patrimony -- is an on-going one. It pits those with a sense of history and an understanding of the need to preserve the past for future generations against those who often put profit above all.

Preservation groups like the CWPT have made significant headway in their efforts, but they are not always successful. The annual list released of endangered Civil War sites is a powerful reminder of just how much work remains to be done.