Why the country’s fascination with the Civil War has actually increased in the past 150 years is a conundrum. Especially for me, for whom my best efforts to let it lie only increases my interest. Perhaps it is not such a mystery, though, that the war should spawn an entire publishing industry, Hollywood epics, reenactments, and even a body of music. One hundred fifty years is close enough for all of us to have had great or great- great grandparents fighting in the war. And even after all these years, highly educated people still debate the causes of the war, while many wonder how much has been learned. Most significant for parks and recreation is the “local” nature of the Civil War, having been contested in such a wide swath of the continent. Thanks to far-sighted citizens beginning in the late 19th century, the movement to set aside parkland to preserve battlefields for future generations to appreciate has made the Civil War much more than an abstraction captured in books and magazines. Most of these parks remain true to the look and feel of a century and a half ago. A trip to Antietam, Manassas, or other battlefield parks is to view time stopped in its tracks. It’s a dense person who doesn’t depart these sites a bit wiser and saddened and appreciative of the scale and magnitude of what occurred there.
Yet for all their worth, Civil War parks have their challenges. Whether local, regional, or national, these parks will always have their funding issues. Then, there are the threats from the outside. Here in Virginia, where so much of the war was contested, commercial development continues to be the largest threat. As land becomes scarcer in the face of a rapidly expanding population, what should be set aside for additional and supplemental parkland is often too tempting for commercial developers. It’s usually after fiery national outcry that would-be builders back off from their ventures. Such activism is the price we pay to assure the preservation of our national heritage. For me, though, nothing puts the issue of war and peace into perspective better than to see these parks coexisting with history as places of recreation where visitors also picnic, cycle, and otherwise enjoy hallowed open spaces.
Parks & Recreation Magazine