November, 2007

There is a proposal to build a huge indoor water park in the Gettysburg area, four miles south of the battlefield park’s southern boundary and near the gigantic Boyd’s Bears place that is already extant. They have proposed to build the sort of place with tubes and slides, all of that sort of stuff. That it’s to be an indoor facility means it will be open year-round. From what I can see, the developers have not suggested building it near or on the battlefield proper, so it won’t infringe upon any particular battlefield viewsheds.

There are some folks who take the attitude about this sort of thing that the NRA takes: we can’t possibly do anything that might be construed as giving even so much as a fraction of a millimeter, because if we do, the sky will surely fall and life as we know it will end immediately. If General Hossenfeffer’s horse took a big dump there, then it HAS to be a historic spot and we MUST save that spot at all costs, and no matter what. And any and all development is evil, so we have to fight it at all costs, irrespective of whether the opposition is rational, and irrespective of whether the opposition makes us look like a bunch of unreasonable lunatics.

Then, there’s the NIMBY crowd. NIMBY is an acronym that means “not in my back yard”. These folks generally are in favor of progress so long as it doesn’t affect them. Then, they resist it with alll of their heart and soul out of sheer selfishness. We have lots and lots of problems with the NIMBY crowd here in Central Ohio. I can’t tell you how many good ideas were killed by the NIMBY’s. They’re so incredibly selfish that they can’t see beyond the boundaries of their properties and recognize that the greater community might benefit from something that the NIMBY’s might not like. The NIMBY’s seem to be pretty effective in Gettysburg.

Finally, there’s the pragmatic approach. I fall squarely into this camp. Don’t get me wrong–I will fight like a cornered animal to save actual battlefield land that’s endangered. I have done so in the past, and I will do so in the future. I think that my public record of working closely with the Civil War Preservation Trust demonstrates that I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I’ve given my professional time, too. Earlier this week, I gave a wholehearted endorsement of the uphill preservation fight being waged by the Hunterstown Preservation Society to preserve and protect their beautiful little gem of a battlefield.

However, just because General Hossenfeffer’s horse might have taken a big dump on a parcel of ground while going from one place to another does not necessarily mean that the spot where the dump was taken is worthy of preservation. Yet, there are plenty of people who take the position that this is ground that must be preserved (see the NRA-types described above), no matter what.

The fact of the matter is that progress–and development–is inevitable, and I firmly believe that the preservation groups with the most credibility–and the best records of accomplishment–are the ones that recognize this fact and pick and choose their battles wisely. Some fights just aren’t worth fighting, and fighting those fights harms the credibility of those who really believe–as I do–that the key to saving ground is often working WITH the developers than to declare war and reduce everything to a zero-sum game. Earlier this week, I put up two different posts wherein I applauded developers for working WITH preservation groups to save important pieces of ground.

There’s also the issue of limited resources. The simple fact is that there is not enough money to save every conceivable piece of ground. Something HAS to go. Personally, given a choice between saving some old house where General Hossenfeffer had dinner or using those same scarce resources to purchase a parcel of honest-to-goodness battlefield land, that’s a no-brainer for me. I’d rather see the battlefield land saved even if it means sacrificing General Hossenfeffer’s bivouac. Ultimately, that piece of battlefield land is more important.

My opinion is that if we accept the proposition that development is inevitable, and if we also accept the proposition that you can never save EVERY possible piece of historic ground, then the sensible approach is to find a way to work with these developers to the extent possible before pulling out all the stops and going to war right away.

All of which brings me back to the water park proposed for Gettysburg. Let’s face it: Adams County, Pennsylvania is not an affluent community. Its economy is driven by tourism and the apple business. Bringing in tourist dollars generates revenue and creates jobs. So, while I’m definitely not crazy about this idea and definitely think that it’s not something that should be that close to the battlefield, I also recognize that if the water park does not butt up against the battlefield, and if it does not hurt the viewshed, then I say, what’s the objection? What’s the problem? Hence, I am really not sure how I really feel about this proposal. I definitely see both sides of the argument, but when push comes to shove, I can’t come up with a good reason to go ballistic fighting something that will not be built on or even particularly near the battlefield proper.

I recognize that not everyone will agree with me on this and that this is one of those topics that can bring about heated, passionate arguments. I don’t expect you all to agree with me. But let’s keep the discussion about this civil, okay?

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