Many individuals in the region might be tempted to take the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park for granted. In some ways that's understandable. It's been an integral part of the community for more than a century now and as such has become a landmark whose very familiarity somehow makes it less noticeable and important. More attention -- and appreciation -- is merited.
The Chickamauga &Chattanooga park, the United States' oldest and one of its largest and most visited national military parks, includes just under 9,000 acres encompassing more than a dozen sites in two states. That acreage and those sites include some of the most storied and hallowed ground in U.S. history.
The heart of the park is the Chickamauga battlefield in North Georgia. It is the site of the Visitor's Center and the Fuller Gun Collection, a world-renowned exhibit of more than 350 Civil War weapons. Tens of thousands of visitors traverse Chickamauga's carefully tended fields, trails and woods by foot every year. Thousands more take the informative driving tour or seek information from the park's knowledgeable and helpful staff.
That battlefield, though, is not the only site in the far-flung park that attracts visitors. Thousands visit Point Park on Lookout Mountain. Others travel the winding roads of Missionary Ridge to view monuments and to follow the course of a pivotal battle of the Civil War. Still others visit Orchard Knob and Signal Mountain, Both played prominent roles in historic events here, though what occurred at those places often is not as well known as events that transpired at Chickamauga, on Missionary Ridge and on the slopes and atop Lookout Mountain.
The presence of the military park in our midst is a powerful reminder of what took place there and nearby. The park connects us directly to our own and the nation's heritage, to the actions and deeds of those who fought on both sides in the Civil War and to the reconciliation between those opponents in the decades after the conflict. The park is also an economic engine for the region.
It is difficult for officials to ascertain an accurate count of the visitors to the various sites in the park or to properly calculate the economic impact of those who do. There is no doubt, though, that both numbers are gratifyingly high.
The Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is a major component of the region's tourism base. People drive great distances to visit it, perhaps to follow the footsteps of an ancestor who fought and maybe died there or to introduce themselves or their children to a pivotal chapter in U.S. history. Tens of thousands of others come to participate in various re-enactments-- or to view them. Whatever the reason, Chattanooga and the surrounding area benefit from the influx of park visitors.
The military park here and other parks across the country were established to preserve and to protect historic sites, natural landscapes and greenspaces and to help ensure that future generations of Americans can learn about and enjoy the nation's patrimony. Sometimes, those who live in the midst of protected historic and beautiful sites forget about them. We should remember that the parks are here for us, too.