If you take a look at the Civil War Preservation Trust’s 2010 list of most endangered battlefields, you’ll notice that some of the sites included are national parks or have some similar type of protective designation.
On the face of it, this might seem a little odd. You’d assume that once a site becomes a national park, it’s safe and sound. Nobody is going to build a row of condos on federally protected land, and no short-sighted local zoning board can approve a retail development within a park’s boundaries. The truth of the matter, though, is that while designation as a park protects land within a site’s boundaries, threats from outside those boundaries can be considerable.
Anyone who doubts the impact of development outside of a site’s boundaries should visit Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro, NC. This is one of my favorite places, and one of the most important pieces of ground in America, where a British attempt to destroy Nathanael Greene’s army in March 1781 proved so costly that it led to the march to Virginia that ended at Yorktown. It’s a beautiful park, and the NPS has done wonders in interpreting it. I consider it a must-see for anyone interested in the Revolution.
It is sadly, however, crowded by construction. Getting a perspective on the field as it appeared during the battle is extremely difficult, and the park will unfortunately never be able to interpret those parts of the field that lie outside the central core, since they’ve been churned up and built over. GCNMP is a stellar example of what the NPS can do, but it’s also an example of the limitations that urban growth can place on a site.
Development proponents, of course, might call preservationists unreasonable and ask why we can’t be satisfied with what we’re allotted, why we’re always demanding more, more, more. I’d be sorely tempted to ask them the same thing. Preservationists need to remember that every time we draw a line in the sand, someone will be waiting to cross it and force us to draw another. And another, and another. We should be at least as persistent as they are.